Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A DIY Guide to planning a section hike on the OCT

If you go in June and manage to time your arrival on the beach at Ecola State Park on a minus tide, you might be able to walk the beach all the way from Indian Beach to Cannon Beach.

Brooke wrote to me a couple of months ago asking advice for where to go for a section hike of several days on the OCT. I promised to get back to her right away with some ideas.

I still haven’t.

I get a little overwhelmed by the options when people ask for my advice on what section of the OCT to choose for a section hike. So I’ve decided to start my answer to Brooke by posting this DIY guide, which might help her (and you) settle on where to do an OCT section hike of a weekend or week or whatever you can squeeze into your life.

Then I promise to post some specific suggestions for 3-5 day section hikes! Really.

First, some (overly) broad generalizations about the OCT, north to south:

NORTH COAST: View south
from the top of Neahkahnie
NORTH: More people and artsy-touristy towns; nevertheless, long stretches that are far from US 101; fair amount of lodging (if you’re considering inn-to-inn); camping a bit challenging in places; spectacular scenery; bay mouth crossings can be managed pretty easily.

CENTRAL: Lots of towns, and US 101 tends to be fairly close; lots of lodging; lots of bays, but most are easy to cross on bridges or hitching rides with boaters.

SOUTH: Highway 101 is close in places, but overall much more remote; spectacular; no lodging for long stretches; obviously farther from Portland and Eugene, so it’s a longer bus ride (but still doable); south of the Umpqua River and Coos Bay (which might require some research to find someone to take you across by prearrangement), no big bays to figure out how to get around/across.

Here are some other considerations for section hikers:

the OCT down the south side
of Cascade Head.
If you’re just going out for a few days, you are probably not training to hike 15 to 20+ miles a day, right? Maybe 10 to 15, max. So that limits your ability to hike from one state park hike-biker camp (or other legal campsite) to another. You will want to do your homework (but you are anyway, right?). You may also need to be a little more creative about where to stay (shorter/longer days, hotel or motel room in places, or stealth camping …)

Again, if time is of the essence, you might want to prearrange boat rides across bay mouths that aren’t easily crossed with bridges. It's part of the fun, though it can be expensive (especially if you're solo). You might have to do some calling around; my book lists some charter operators who will provide rides for a fee by prearrangement.

break before crossing
New River.
Since you’re only out for a few days, I doubt you want to spend much of it on the highway shoulder. So you want to avoid those sections that necessarily include a long stretches of road walking—particularly long slogs on the shoulder of US Highway 101. (For thru-hikers, a certain amount of road-shoulder walking is just part of the deal.) North to south, these are stretches you might want to avoid on a section hike:

6 miles from Pacific City to your return to beach north of Neskowin.

4 miles (or several miles more, depending on your route) over Cascade Head and then south to Lincoln City.

Between Cape Perpetua and Heceta Head, you’ll be on the highway shoulder in two stretches for at least 4+ miles, then shortly thereafter another 4+ miles between Heceta Head and your return to the beach north of Florence.

From mouth of the Siuslaw, it’s about 5 miles by road (not highway) to Florence, then another 3 miles (partly highway) to return to beach. Florence is a good place to start a section hike, however; either suck it up and walk the 3 miles to the beach, or call a cab.

From Charleston to your return to beach, it’s almost 12 miles by road (a quiet backroad, not US 101), or at least 5 miles if you cut over Cape Arago on gravel logging roads.

Between Humbug Mountain and Nesika Beach you’re on US 101 for about 8 miles (broken in middle by a couple of miles of beach).

The OCT effectively ends at Lone Ranch Beach, at the south end of Boardman State Scenic Corridor. From here to the California border it’s about 14 miles, mostly on roads (but mostly off US 101).

And by public transportation, I mean bus. You can fly into Portland, Eugene or Medford (or take the train to Portland or Eugene), but from there you need to take a bus. It’s easy to search for bus transportation between these cities and the coast. Sunset Empire Transportation District serves towns on the north coast, and Tillamook County Transportation District serves towns on the north and central coasts.
Lone Ranch Beach: From here, you're mostly on road shoulders to reach California and complete the OCT.