Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Bird is the Word: Making Room for Snowy Plovers

Western snowy plover. Photo by Michael L. Baird

If you've been on the Oregon Coast Trail, you've seen signs about snowy plovers: the little shorebirds that nest right on the dry sand. Anything that flushes them from their nest leaves their eggs vulnerable to predators. Their numbers are way down on the Oregon Coast, which is why they're listed as a threatened species. To encourage successful nesting and to try and get their populations back up, various state and federal agencies agreed on a management plan that lowers threats to this bird without actually blocking humans' access to the beach (at least the wet sand portions) as guaranteed in the Oregon Beach Bill. In short: mid-March through mid-September (prime OCT hiking season), parts of the dry sand and dunes are off-limits to people as well as to dogs (on or off leash) and even kite-flying. Read details here. (But this USFS page is pretty useless to thru-hikers because it doesn't have any maps. Good luck.)

I was contacted by Lisa Romano of the Siuslaw National Forest (manages land adjacent to much of the central coast and Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area) who asked that I spread the word. The USFS has noticed a lot of OCT thru-hikers camping in plover-restricted areas, and they acknowledge that it's probably because people peeling off the PCT this summer haven't done a lot of homework and thus aren't aware of these restrictions or why they're in place. Also, most of the signage about this is at the trailheads, not on the beach itself, so thru-hikers may not see it. And as I mentioned, I don't know of any good maps of the off-limits areas that are detailed enough to be useful to an OCT hiker. (USFS says they're working on putting more detailed maps together in time for the 2018 hiking & plover nesting seasons.)

I have mixed feelings about this whole program myself. Habitat loss, not kite flying, is why the birds are in decline. Much of that is from widespread planting of European beachgrass, which continues and which is changing the nature of the shoreline environment. It seems silly to me to put so much effort into preserving nest sites for one particular species when we're in the middle of the largest, fastest extinction event in the history of the Earth. Literally. You know that, right? Humans caused it, and we need to deal with it. And really, our only chance of slowing that process is if more humans can get outside and see what's out there in the wild world and start to care and start to focus on widespread HABITAT CONSERVATION so that whatever species that are still here can maybe not die off. So I really really hate to see barriers put up blocking people's access to natural areas. On the other hand, the Oregon Coast is hundreds of miles long, and all they're asking is that you walk on the wet sand and that you maybe walk a mile or two farther before putting up your tent.

SO PLEASE DON'T CAMP IN THE IDENTIFIED SNOWY PLOVER NESTING AREAS OF THE BEACH. Which is frustrating, I know, because there are already so many restrictions about where you can camp on the beach (not adjacent to city limits, not adjacent to state parks.) I think all these areas are all mentioned in my book Day Hiking: Oregon Coast, in the OCT sections, EXCEPT I failed to mention that not only is camping not allowed at the mouth of Tenmile Creek (in the Oregon Dunes south of Winchester Bay) but for 1.5 miles south of the creek as well. USFS folks suggest thru-hikers on the central coast look for trail posts in the dunes and follow trails inland a bit, past the foredune, where you're free to bivouac (as long as it's in the national forest. Including the Oregon Dunes. But not on Cascade Head. Sigh.) 

A little bird ID clarification: An OCT hiker I follow on Instagram mentioned the joy of walking along the shoreline with flocks of snowy plovers rising from the waves. If they're in flocks, they're NOT snowy plovers. They might be sanderlings, which forage at the edge of the waves, often in large groups. It's common to see them in winter on the Oregon Coast. They tend to head north around April to breed; maybe some are back, or maybe some don't leave at all? I don't know, I'm not really a birder. But they're not snowy plovers. Plovers tend to be loners and are SUPER hard to spot because they blend in with their surroundings so well. If you see one, consider yourself lucky ... and keep your distance. They're easily spooked.
Sanderling. Photo by Dick Daniels
I'll give Lisa Romano the last word:

"I had the unique pleasure earlier this week of seeing some day-old plover chicks that were being banded. These little guys are the size of a cotton ball and have perfect camouflage, so they’re really impossible to see out on the sand. Even the most careful hiker can inadvertently put these chicks at risk, which is why we have these restrictions. We so appreciate everyone out there sharing the beach with these little guys!"
Plover chicks a few days old. Photo by Adam Kotaich/USFS

Friday, July 7, 2017

Congratulations, OCT Class of 2017

PCT refugees hiking the OCT this year: Front-page article about you in today's Daily Astorian.

It's great seeing all the thru-hikers on the beach. I'm frustrated when I hear about people having trouble at various spots, like walking or hitchhiking around Tillamook Bay (it's really easy to get a ride across to the spit with a boater, seriously!) or the scary highway at Cascade Head (you don't need to hike the highway here!) You don't need to BUY my book (Day Hiking: Oregon Coast, 2015 edition); you could borrow it, scribble notes, whatever, but please check it out along with the update PDF in the last post. The book isn't ideally formatted, but it really does have a lot of good info about hacking the OCT (as opposed to following the official online state park maps, which are pretty much useless).

What I liked about the article most: state parks seems to understand that they need to make some changes to make camping more available/legal/accessible. And it acknowledges that thru-hikers may be camping illegally but they know how to leave no trace and are good stewards of this amazing resource.

Notes from my sister-in-law Jeanne, the spectacular Gearhart trail angel:

"Just learned from a thru-hiker (via Instagram) that the surf shop at Devil's Punchbowl (just north of Newport) is right on the trail and that the owner just gave him a steal of a deal on a full-day rental surfboard (he routinely gives big discounts to OCT hikers) 

"Also a blond OCTer left her cell phone in the Rite-aid in Newport. The manager is holding it for her." 

If you don't know, there is now a Facebook group for Oregon Coast Trail Class of 2017 (I couldn't find it, but I suck at Facebook). You might find it helpful.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Your 2017 OCT route updates! (with more updates)

Tanner, Ryley Bri, and Pete chilling on trail angel Pat Wollner's deck last weekend in Gearhart.
This post is dedicated to all the 2017 Pacific Crest Trail refugees snowed out of the Sierra and defaulting to the Oregon Coast Trail this summer! A totally different experience. But awesome in its own way. Not a wilderness. Definitely an adventure.

On Gearhart Beach, with Tillamook Head in the background.
I’ve been kind of haphazard (and sometimes late) about annual updates. Turning over a new leaf this year. I'm attaching a PDF of my 2017 OCT Update sharing with everything I know about trail conditions this year, plus any changes that have occurred (that I know about) since my book came out in fall 2015, PLUS corrections of just plain mistakes.

I apologize for the somewhat awkward format of the OCT trail guide in Day Hiking: Oregon Coast. The editors really wanted it to be mainly a day hiking guide, since not that many people actually thru-hike the OCT. Not anymore! My sister-in-law Jeanne, in Gearhart, told me this morning that she looked up the beach and saw at least five groups of backpackers heading south. I think this is the year the OCT gets discovered. Maybe it will spur parks officials to make some much-needed improvements, like adding a few backpacker campsites and filling some of the remaining trail gaps.

A few words to PCT refugees, in particular, just setting out on the OCT:

  • My book does include, I think, every water stop; look at the NOTES section at the start of every trail or beach description for mention of toilets or water. This is a big difference between PCT and OCT: given the non-wilderness nature of the trail, you want to be using toilets wherever possible. Fortunately there are lots of toilets.
  • Hitchhiking (to avoid walking highway stretches etc,) on US 101 is a lot tougher than in the forest, when heading to town from the PCT for some resupply or whatever. However there are (infrequent, but) local public buses on most of the coast. And taxis.
  • Some river/creek crossings are easy, some not, and it changes from year to year. If it’s iffy, plan to hit it at low tide.
So open this PDF for your 2017 OCT Update (last updated 7-7-17)

OCT 2017 HIKERS: If you have more updates (especially on south coast, where I don't go so much), email me and I'll incorporate them.Thanks!

Nicole hitting the trail after a night in Gearhart.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Two updates for the north end of the Oregon Coast Trail

Hey, it's getting to be OCT hiking season: the river levels are down, the weather isn't great yet but should be pretty soon, and it's just time to hit the trail. I have a couple of updates that might be helpful to this year's hikers, in addition to updates I posted in the middle (or near the end) of last summer.

1) Ecola State Park: The OCT over Tillamook Head is fine (rooty, rocky, muddy as usual, but fine), though there was a big landslide there prior to last summer that I believe you still just negotiate around (photo at left), and crews expect to be busy through June getting the trails in this park back into shape. The big news this year is that the next section of trail (from Indian Beach to Ecola Point, 1.5 miles) has had a major slide. That portion of the trail is closed as a result, and the rebuild, if/when it happens (not this summer) will take the trail off the shoreline and way up onto the ridgeline. Read the advisories from Oregon State Parks. I heard from someone who went ahead and walked it anyway and said it could be done, but park rangers are begging us not to do it; it harms the forest, is dangerous, etc. Instead, just walk the (narrow, paved) park trail to Ecola Point. (I believe that road is also closed at the moment to cars but should be reopening for the season.) Be aware that this is Oregon's most-visited day use park; watch for cars!

2) Barview County Park to Garibaldi, at north end of Tillamook Bay: I suggested, in my book, that you consider walking the railroad tracks about 1.5 miles instead of the highway shoulder. This is totally unofficial and up to you (both have risks). I will add that the the only train that operates on those tracks is an excursion train that runs between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach, between 10 am and 3 pm daily mid-June through Labor Day (weekends only May 21 to mid-June and all of September). So if you walk it in the early morning or late afternoon, you shouldn't have a problem. (Especially if you spend the night at Barview, just get up and get going early). Unless they happen to have a special train scheduled! Or you could take a break and catch the trail from downtown Rockaway Beach to Garibaldi. Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The OCT in 28 days

This is it; the start of the OCT on  wide, long Clatsop Beach (the widest beach on the OCT, but not the longest)

Maybe you really don’t want to hike 20-mile days on the Oregon Coast Trail (see last post). Maybe it’s not supposed to be such a grind. Maybe you don’t plan to do the whole thing anyway. And you’re willing—nay, eager—to stay in a motel now and then. Try this 28-day itinerary that’s something like 10-15 miles/day (I think). It requires some lodging other than camping. Here I include only legal campsites (scofflaws have more options, though not necessarily better options). I leave it to you to figure actual daily mileage (with help from my Day Hiking: Oregon Coast).

NEXT UP: Gonna take a shot at a 10-miles-a-day itinerary, which will lean toward inn-to-inn and cab rides to avoid road stretches. Slackpacking, I believe it's called. Yum.

D1. McMennamin’s Sand Trap
D2. Backpacker’s camp on Tillamook Head
D3. An inn in Arch Cape (there are two)
D4. Nehalem Bay State Park
D5. Barview County Park or primitive camping at the end of Bayocean Spit
D6. Cape Lookout State Park
D7. Webb County Park at Cape Kiwanda

Detour out to the end of Cape Lookout for this view. 

D8. Devil’s Lake State Park (or a motel in Lincoln City)
D9. Motel in Depoe Bay
D10. South Beach State Park
D11. Beachside State Park or motel in Waldport
D12. Cape Perpetua Scenic Area campground
D13. Washburne State Park
D14. Harbor Vista County Park

Bunches of seals lounging at the mouth of the Siltcoos

D15. On the beach near Siuslaw River or inland 1 mile to Carter Lake CG
D16. End of Umpqua Spit
D17. Bluebill Campground
D18. Sunset Bay State Park
D19. On the beach near 7 Devils State Recreation Site
D20. Bullards Beach State Park or motel in Bandon
D21. Bivouac at New River site or go all the way to Boice Cope County Park at Floras Lake

Heading back out on the OCT after a night at Boice Cope County Park

D22. Cape Blanco State Park
D23. Humbug Mountain State Park
D24. Camp on beach north of Gold Beach, or motel in Gold Beach (and get a ride on the road portions of this day's route)
D25. On the beach north of Myers Creek? At Crook Point?
D26. Whaleshead Beach Resort
D27. Harris Beach State Park
D28. Finish it off!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

OCT in 23 days: How long I hiked and where I slept

It begins!
It’s the first week of March, it’s snowing, so naturally many of us are starting to make our plans for summer backpacking. Personally, I’m hoping to complete my last unhiked section of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon. I recently picked up a great new guidebook apparently written just for me (and all the other Oregon PCT section hikers, who far outnumber thru-hikers): Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon (Mountaineers Books). It’s too heavy to stick in your pack, but it’s just the right weight for spring reading and planning at home in front of the fireplace.

One feature that I love in that book: For every section, the author spells out recommended itineraries for those who wish to hike roughly 10 miles a day, or 15, or 20. I wish I could say my Day Hiking: Oregon Coast offers thru- (or section-) hikers that level of detail, but it doesn’t. (Frankly the much smaller number of hikers on the OCT, compared the PCT, makes publishers shy about producing an equally detailed book about backpacking the OCT.) Also finding campsites is more problematic on the OCT; you can’t just throw down your sleeping bag any old place like you can on the PCT, so 10-mile days aren’t always an option (unless you stay at motels, take the risk of camping illegally, take cabs now and then, etc).

I do want to be helpful. So here I will list, for the first time all in one place (I think), my daily mileage and campsites for my 23 days on the OCT—with some notes about other lodging options in those sections. It’s just what I did—not necessarily recommending all my choices. If you don’t have a relative to crash with in Gearhart at the end of Day 1, for example, you will have to make other arrangements. Mileage is a little rough but should be close, and is rounded off to closest mile. Bear in mind that I was a woman hiking alone—not fearful, but unenthusiastic about camping alone in odd spots and cautious about safety. NEXT BLOG POST: A 28-DAY ITINERARY

DAY 1: Columbia River to north Gearhart (12 miles)
Stayed at my brother’s house. As of this writing, state parks folks allow beach camping from Sunset Beach access to the Gearhart city limits (use the toilet at Sunset Beach or just off the beach at Pacific Way in Gearhart, by the tennis courts). This is also a good stretch to consider paying for a room (at McMenamin’s Sand Trap, for instance).

Day 2: Minus tide at Ecola State Park
Day 2: Gearhart to Cannon Beach (18 miles)
I stayed with a friend in Cannon Beach. Could have cut the day short and camped atop Tillamook Head, or camped at luxe Sea Ranch RV park or hotel in Cannon Beach. Absolutely no camping on the beach in Cannon Beach/Arch Cape.

Day 3: Cannon Beach to Nehalem Bay State Park (23 miles)
Long day, so I walked the highway at Neahkahnie Mountain rather than sticking to the OCT over Neahkahnie (saved about 2.5 miles and 1200 feet elevation gain). There is no legal camping between Cannon Beach and Nehalem Bay SP; I wish there were. There are a couple of inns in Arch Cape. Camping no longer allowed in Oswald West State Park. (Might find a spot to bivouac, but it would be illegal and there aren’t a lot of flat, open spots.)

Day 4: Nehalem Bay SP to Cape Meares (15 miles)
I bivouacked along a trail (that has since been destroyed by landslides) just outside of the community of Cape Meares. Better options: Barview County Park or more primitive camping on Bayocean Spit. Or book an Air BnB room/house in community of Cape Meares (no commercial lodging there).

Day 5: Trail up Cape Meares
Day 5: Cape Meares to Cape Lookout State Park (11 miles)
My favorite hiker-biker camp of the whole trip. This section also has lodging options in Oceanside and Netarts (but no other legal rustic camping).

Day 6: Cape Lookout SP to Pacific City (14 miles)
I treated myself to a motel room in “downtown” Pacific City; didn’t realize Webb County Campground (with uninteresting but convenient and cheap hiker-biker camp) was just east of the Inn at Cape Kiwanda, a mile or so before getting to the center of Pacific City; would have stopped there. Also beach camping is OK (and looks awesome) at north end of beach south of Cape Lookout; this would be a great option if you need to get up early to hit the outlet for Sand Lake at low tide.

Day 7: Pacific City to Devil’s Lake State Park (22 miles; hitched a ride for 6 of those miles)
Devil’s Lake SP has a crummy hiker-biker camp, but I was able to get a regular campsite in better spot. I hitched a ride for part of this day (one of the road portions) and walked another road portion (ick). No camping allowed on Cascade Head (sadly). Could camp at north end of Neskowin Beach, and I see no reason why you couldn’t camp on the beach north of Road’s End (north of Lincoln City), but that would require backtracking. There is lots of lodging in Neskowin and Lincoln City.

Day 8: Beverly Beach SP
Day 8: Devil’s Lake SP to Beverly Beach State Park (19 miles)
Plenty of accommodations in this section, but no legal beach camping. (You could camp on the beach south of Beverly Beach, but not very private.)

Day 9: Beverly Beach SP to Nye Beach, Newport (7 miles)
I planned this as a quasi-layover day. Stayed at a hotel in Nye Beach.

Day 10: Nye Beach to Beachside State Park (20 miles)
I loved this day, despite road being close. Other sleeping options: South Beach State Park or lodging in Waldport.

Day 11: Yachats 804 Trail
Day 11: Beachside SP to Yachats (5 miles)
Lots of accommodation options in Yachats, or walk about 7.5 miles farther to campground at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. (I did not overnight in Yachats; had to quit here due to injury. I picked back up the following summer on what we’ll call …)

Day 12: Yachats to Carl Washburne State Park (15 miles)
Other options: not the beach in this stretch, but try Rock Creek Campground, or I suppose you could veer off the OCT (a mile or less) and find a spot to bivouc in the forest along Gwynn Creek or Cummins Creek (legal; it’s Forest Service land).

Day 13: Washburne SP to Florence (18 miles)
I stayed at a friend’s place in Florence. I think you could camp at Baker Beach (slight detour inland; now just a day-use area, but looks like people do camp here; has toilet), could camp at Sutton Campground (slightly longer detour inland) or right on the beach in this section. Two other options if you want a shower and a toilet: Harbor Vista County Park, or the RV park right in downtown Florence, where you could walk to a great restaurant meal. J I would so do this.

Day 14: Oregon Dunes NRA
Day 14: Florence to just north of the mouth of Tahkenitch Creek, Oregon Dunes (15 miles)
Can camp on the beach anywhere along here; I went inland slightly to a nice little spot along the creek.

Day 15: Tahkenitch Creek to mouth of Tenmile Creek (20 miles)
Bivouacked on the beach, but this particular site on the beach is now off-limits to camping due to snowy plover restrictions. Plenty of other options, including anywhere on the beach outside of plover restriction zone (such as at the end of Umpqua Spit), grabbing a room in Winchester Bay, or detouring inland slightly to Umpqua Lighthouse State Park.

Day 16: Tenmile Creek to Sunset Bay State Park (15 miles)
That’s the mileage I walked; doesn't include my boat ride across Coos Bay to Charleston. Other options in this section: detouring inland from Horsfall Beach Access 0.75 mile to Bluebill campground (quiet, toilets); getting a room in Charleston; camping at Bastendorff Beach County Park (I prefer hiker-biker at Sunset Bay).

Day 17: Fivemile Point
Day 17: Sunset Bay State Park to Bullards Beach State Park (19 miles)
Can camp pretty much anywhere on the beach in this section, north of the state park.

(I actually took a layover day at Bullards Beach, but let’s pretend I didn’t.)

Day 18: Bullards Beach to Boice Cope County Park at Floras Lake (20 miles)
Tough hike on soft sand much of the way. Could opt for motel in Bandon, could bivouac at one identified site along New River north of Floras Lake, could book a room at lovely B&B at Floras Lake.

Day 19: Floras Lake to Humbug Mountain State Park (24 miles)
A beautiful stretch; no need to hike this far in a day! Could bivouac at Blacklock Point, or camp at hiker-biker at Cape Blanco State Park. There is lodging in Port Orford (if you have $$, check out Wildspring Guest Habitat).

Day 20: Sisters Rocks
Day 20: Humbug Mountain SP to Gold Beach (25 miles)
More than 7 miles of road walking this day, starting with the 5 miles south of Humbug (the brief off-road/beach stretch, then more road); next time I’ll try to sweet-talk another camper at Humbug into giving me a ride to Euchre Creek. Grabbed room at the Motel 6 in Gold Beach. You could camp on the beach north of community of Nesika Beach (but too close to the highway for my taste) or north of the mouth of the Rogue (again, not remote). I’m thinking you could also set up your tent at the RV park at the Gold Beach Marina (a short walk to a restaurant meal.)

Day 21: Gold Beach to Pistol River (15 miles)
Camping tough in this section; no good options. Should be able to camp on the beach where you start up Cape Sebastian (remote, far from highway) or maybe just as you hit the beach after hiking over the cape (but it’s closer to the highway). Here’s what I did: at Pistol River, I called a cab in Brookings and spent the night at Harris Beach State Park. Took a cab back the next morning to where I left off.

Day 22: Pistol River to Harris Beach (22 miles)
After a long hike through Boardman State Park, I spent a second night at Harris Beach. Some folks (illegally) bivouc in Boardman State Park. You could rent a cabin at Whaleshead Beach Resort (mostly an RV park; no tent camping). Personally I would try that (but haven’t, so can’t recommend it).

End of the OCT at Crissey Field
Day 23: Harris Beach to the California border/Crissey Field State Recreation Site (9 miles)

Plenty of lodging in towns of Brookings and Harbor. Most of this final day is road walking FYI.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Oregon Coast Trail the Easy Way

I suspect most of the people who chance on this blog are do-it-yourselfers. But sometimes it's nice to get a little support. Which is why I feel I would be remiss if I didn't mention that registration has just opened for CoastWalk Oregon 2017, an awesome supported three-day walk on the Oregon Coast Trail. I happen to work for (and volunteer for--pretty much spend most of my waking hours trying to figure out how to support) North Coast Land Conservancy, which CoastWalk Oregon benefits.

It's designed as a kind of complement to Paddle Oregon and Cycle Oregon, but it's only three days, and it's only 75 people, so way more intimate. It is not as all-inclusive, however; you need to arrange your own lodging and buy most of your own meals. Most of the registration fee is a straight-up donation to NCLC, which is transforming the Oregon Coast by conserving wetlands and forest and prairies and every other type of native habitat they can get their hands on.

Go to for details. Or check out the sweet little 1-minute video at

And feel free to contact me for more details. I scouted the route, and I'll be at the Welcome Party Thursday night and on the trail early each morning putting up wayfinding signage at trail junctions. It was a blast last year (the first year). At least one participant used it as a sort of test run; he's planning to hike the entire OCT himself this summer. Whatever it takes to get outside!