Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A hard NO on hiking the OCT in 2020

None of this is possible in 2020: hugging strangers you meet along the OCT, or even camping at hiker-biker camps (this is South Beach State Park)

I finally got the information I needed to make a clear recommendation to those seeking to thru-hike the Oregon Coast Trail in 2020:

Don't do it.

Why? Well, there is the general recommendation to not travel far, to stay close to home, especially as I write this (late June), with COVID-19 cases spiking statewide, including in Lincoln and other coastal counties.

But the unavailability of campgrounds is the clincher. Because much of the OCT goes through developed areas, because you can rough camp in only limited portions of the OCT, the availability of campgrounds is key, both for sleeping and for toileting. Here is the campground situation:

Most coastal state park campground are open. But they require reservations.

No hiker-biker camps are open. They aren't likely to reopen this hiking season. State Parks has a policy of not turning away people who arrive by bike or on foot, but it is unclear how they are going to honor that policy given that hiker-biker camps are closed.

Due to several state budget cuts, several key state park campgrounds are closed, some until the end of July, some until the end of the year. That means, among other things, the water is turned off and the restrooms are closed. Some of these are in key locations where there isn't an alternative for many miles. They are (north to south):

  • Devil's Lake State Park
  • Beachside State Recreation Site
  • Carl G. Washburne State Park
  • Umpqua Lighthouse State Park
  • Cape Blanco State Park

Most or all county campgrounds seem to be open. Most federally managed campgrounds (such as at Cape Perpetua in the north and Oregon Dunes National Recreation area) are also open, but they require reservations, and services may be limited. The few that offer hiker-biker areas probably still will.

Those are the details. Here's the big picture. The availability of potable water, toilets, and drop-in campsites along the OCT is essential for a successful OCT thru-hike, and you just won't be able to count on them being open this year. Much of the fun of an OCT hike is stopping in at coffee shops and chowder shops and microbreweries, but even where indoor service is now provided, it's just not a good idea at this time.

Look, if the OCT was entirely in undeveloped public land like the Pacific Crest Trail is, it would be a different story. But no one (in their right mind) is hiking the PCT this year either.

You could consider a section hike along the Oregon Dunes, rough camping along the way, but you'll need to carry water. Winchester Bay Charters can ferry you across Winchester Bay, and you can fill up on water at one of the campgrounds there. 

Let's hope there's a vaccine by next spring. Meanwhile I strongly urge you to delay your plans to thru-hike the OCT until 2021 or later.