“Do you like long walks on the beach?” my friend teased; referencing how I’d earlier rolled my eyes at this cliché interest listed on a facebook profile. I smiled, and had to admit the irony of my judgment as I looked around at the giant boulders jutting from the ocean and the seemingly endless expanse of flat sand and pine-dotted cliffs we had yet to pass. Except, her remark well summarized our attempt at following the Oregon Coast Trail (OCT), which hugs the Oregon coastline from the Washington to California borders, as a thru-trail. We had essentially embarked on one damn long walk on the beach.
I had originally chosen the OCT because of its easy access to food, well maintained campgrounds, and the seeming simplicity of the route. The first two held true, but aside from several patches of well-marked trail that took us through lush temperate rain forest or long stretches of beach parallel to highway 101, the trail wasn’t always obvious. At times I felt like we were chasing an elusive creature with a map – printed from the Oregon Parks Service website – about as good as the one used by the kids in Astoria-filmed “The Goonies”.
It wasn’t until about 92 miles from our starting point in Tillamook, outside Yachats, that we saw our first sign demarcating the trail and unexpectedly hiked 2.2 miles of steep incline. By chance alone we met a pair in Neskowin who informed us the next 6 miles of trail would actually be a technically closed maze of fallen trees. While later en route to Humbug Mountain from Port Orford, high tides made a beach hike impossible, forcing me into the bike lane along a curving, 3-mile stretch of highway 101 during a heavy downpour.
Eventually, the beach hikes became too monotonous and we agreed to simply pitch our tents in a hike-heavy area (such as Humbug Mountain), do a day hike, and move on. At one point, a hip, artsy 20-something couple from Portland offered us a ride to Newport and we immediately ditched our plans in exchange for a beer at the Rogue Brewery. But even in despite of our questionable actual-miles-hiked log, the OCT had an abundance of surreal landscapes, wildlife, and picturesque vistas for us to gawk at. In fact, the trail’s habit of meeting back up with 101 and winding through some of Oregon’s sleepy (and at times quaint, quirky, or just plain creepy) coastal towns made simply finding the trail half the challenge. Some stretches (such as Yachats to Florence) resembled the challenging, seaside, dirt trails we had expected, while others (such as Lincoln City to Waldport) were lacking enough in nature to send us to the nearest bus stop.
Although the OCT is totally feasible as a thru-trail, I’d follow the majority on this adventure and hike it as a series of smaller day hikes. That is of course, unless you truly enjoy long — seriously long — walks on the beach…
Oregon State Parks Website: includes PDF downloads of maps for the OCT
The Great Outdoors: a basic, practical overview
Day Hiking the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson: includes information on thru-hiking the OCT