Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Ultimate Oregon Coast Trail Camping Guide, Part II (of III, it turns out)

Hiker-biker camp at Bullards Beach, north of Bandon.
Camping isn’t always easy to figure out along the Oregon Coast Trail (see previous post, on March 5, for basic overview). This is not a wilderness trail like the Pacific Crest Trail, where you can basically bivouac wherever, limited only by the availability of water. Here there are more limits, toilets being a big one. Sorry if I seem obsessed with toilets; in fact, I’m quite comfortable with “going” in the wild. But there are a lot of people using the beach in Oregon, and you really must avoid taking a crap in the dunes; OCT hikers should use existing facilities whenever possible. That’s why I tend toward developed sites—I think of it as part of the OCT culture. Plus there are limits on where you can just pitch a tent on the beach; it’s not allowed adjacent to city limits or state parks, and camping right alongside US 101 is neither fun nor a great idea safety-wise, IMO.

So here’s what I know about where you can camp on the north half of the OCT (next post will cover the south half). Someday this may all be captured in an app, but as far as I know, it’s not yet. You’ll want to refer to the maps in my book Day Hiking: Oregon Coast or another source as you read. Mileage figure are approximate.

Astoria to Gearhart (miles 0 to 16)
State Parks allows camping on the beach between Sunset Beach access (about 10 miles south of the start of the trail; toilets at the parking area a short distance inland) and about 0.5 mile south of the 10th Avenue beach access in Gearhart (more toilets in city park at Pacific Way beach access in Gearhart). I stayed at my brother’s house.

Gearhart to Cannon Beach (miles 16 to 30)
Options in this stretch: Seaside International Hostel in Seaside; the top of Tillamook Head, where there is a trailside camping site (the only one like this on the OCT) with three-sided shelters; Sea Ranch RV park in Cannon Beach, which has tent camping sites (NO beach camping allowed on Cannon Beach, strictly enforced). Again, I was fortunate to have a friend to stay with in Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach to Manzanita (miles 30 to 58)
This stretch is thorny. It looks like you could camp on the beach north and south of Arcadia Beach access (not adjacent to state park) or maybe just north of the houses at Arch Cape, but I haven’t tried it. Rangers kick out anyone trying to camp at the former campground at Oswald West State Park. A person might be able to bivouac along the trail out to Cape Falcon or up Neahkahnie Mountain, but it would illegal and there are no developed sites. I myself walked all the way to the hiker-biker camp at Nehalem Bay State Park, skipping the hike up and over Neahkahnie, which I’ve hiked many times; if you haven’t, don’t miss it. There’s a flat-ish spot on the back side of the summit, just before the trail starts to descend down the south side, that would make a great place for a backpacker’s camp, like the one on Tillamook Head, but there’s not one there now.

Manzanita to Cape Meares (miles 58 to 70)
Best options in this stretch: Barview County Park (at the mouth of Tillamook Bay) and primitive camping at the end of Bayocean Spit. (I bivouacked, probably illegally, off the trail that used to lead up Cape Meares but no longer exists).

Cape Meares to Cape Lookout (miles 70 to 81)
I doubt anyone would bother you if you camped at the end of 5-mile-long Netarts Spit instead (if you get a boat ride across Netarts Bay), but strictly speaking it’s not allowed. I camped in the great hiker-biker camp in Cape Lookout State Park.

Cape Lookout to Pacific City (miles 81 to 94)
I’ve seen surfers camped on the beach on the south side of Cape Lookout: it’s legal between here and the community of Tierra del Mar. I myself got a cheap motel room in the middle of Pacific City. I didn’t then know about the hiker-biker camp at Webb County Campground/Park, a short walk inland from beach access at Cape Kiwanda. No camping allowed on the spit at Bob Straub State Park.

Pacific City to D River at Lincoln City (miles 94 to 119)
Camping is allowed on the beach north of Camp Wi Ne Ma (northernmost end of beach at Neskowin).  South of here you enter beautiful, forested Cascade Head Scenic Research Area, where no camping is allowed (understandable, but unfortunate for thru-hikers). I walked all the way to Devil’s Lake State Park, which has the most unpleasant hiker-biker camp on the coast; instead, I was able to get a regular campsite here, which was nice enough and very convenient.

Lincoln City to Nye Beach at Newport (miles 119 to 145.5 )
Between Lincoln City and Newport there aren’t a lot of options: beach is quite developed and highway 101 runs close to it. I camped at Beverly Beach State Park, then the next day walked the short distance to Nye Beach at the north end of Newport, where I knew there was inexpensive dormitory lodging at the Sylvia Beach Hotel. (I love the hotel, but the dorm was overcrowded and noisy.)

Newport to Beachside State Recreation Site, north of Yachats (miles 145.5 to 165)
South Beach State Park, just south of Newport, has a hiker-biker camp. Within a few years there may be a campground with a hiker-biker camp at Brian Booth State Park, near the mouth of Beaver Creek (but there isn’t yet). That would be cool, as the highway runs right along the beach for much of this stretch: not that bothersome for hiking, but not a place you want to camp. Although I see no reason why you couldn’t camp on the beach just south of Driftwood Creek State Recreation Site; not adjacent to park or city limits. I camped at little Beachside State Recreation Site, between Waldport and Yachats; it has a small hiker-biker camp.

Beachside to Washburne State Park/Heceta Head (miles 165 to 185)
This stretch is not good for beach camping. South of Beachside, there’s a Forest Service campground at Cape Perpetua and one at Rock Creek and finally a hiker-biker at Washburne State Park, which by my calculations is the half-way point on the OCT. People apparently camp at Hobbit Beach, though strictly speaking it’s not allowed.

I’ll finish this OCT camping guide in the next post.


  1. These beach-camping prohibitions are EXACTLY why the citizens of Oregon need to take back that which was mandated to them by the Oregon Beach Bill. These prohibitions may be masked in concerns for the environment but are actually just revenue-producing laws for the state, county, city and municipality coffers. It's wrong, and it needs to stop.

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