Oregon Coast Trail Notes

This post is primarily intended for folks who are thinking of doing the OCT. My wife, Roberta, and I started from the northern terminus June 19,2019 and finished 27 days later on July 15. We took three rest days (two planned and one just because).

Our primary navigation tools were Bonnie Henderson’s Day Hiking Oregon Coast: Beaches, Headlands, Oregon Trail and a set of routes I created using he Gaia hiking app.

Some overall comments
  • The OCT is unlike any other thru-hike I have done (Colorado Trail, PCT, Ouachita Trail).  It is not a true wilderness hike but it is wonderful nonetheless. The views are stunning.
  • You can leave your water filter at home – we never had to treat or filter (though we carried treatment tabs as backup).
  • You can stay in hotels if you like – we did about 50% hotels and 50% RV parks/campgrounds (this was a compromise with my wife). We never rough camped – though you can if you want. However, there are lot of rough-camping restrictions, unlike most other thru-hikes.
  • You can eat at restaurants. We had some lovely dinners and lunches along the way. 
  • Roughly 15% of the hike (55-60 miles) is on Highway 101.
  • Another 12-14% (~50 miles) is on side roads.
  • About half the hike is on the beach (~190 miles)
  • The remainder (~20%, 75 miles) is on traditional trails.
  • You have to do some boat rides to get across some of the bigger bays and rivers. The alternative is a big road walk. The boat rides are fun. We did three and would have done more if we could have.
  • You must pay attention to the tides. You can’t get around some points except at low tide. Nor can you cross some rivers. We waded the Sand Lake outlet at exactly low tide and the water reached to just below our waists. It was our hardest crossing
  • We classified the crossings as “jumpers” or “waders.” We had lots of both; both were fun. When we started the trail we would stop at each crossing and discuss it for a while, looking for the best spot. By the end we would barely break stride, stripping off our shoes and socks to cross.

Beach

The beach sections are mostly wonderful, with packed sand that makes for great walking. The only really nasty part was from south of the New River to Port Orford, where the sand was grainy and soft, and the slope got steep.  I think the beach was my favorite part of the hike because it was so different than anything we had done. We often walked many miles without seeing another person – it felt like we had these glorious beaches all to ourselves. And they are glorious. 

Roads

The road walks were mostly good and a nice change from the beach and trails. They often went through little towns and neighborhoods with lots to see.  A bonus: you hit little towns and parks almost every day so you don’t have to carry a lot of food or water. We happened to pass through Yachats around noon, so stopped at a little pub with a view of the ocean for lunch.

Trails

Usually (though not always) the trail sections were the way to get from one beach to the next, over a rocky promontory (e.g. Cascade Head, Cape Sebastian).  These were the source of  the truly stunning views, and some beautiful forests.

The quality of the trails and signs varied dramatically, from well-marked, well-maintained foot paths to poorly maintained, steep, unmarked trails.  You will lose this trail.  We had a pretty decent GAIA route plan, Bonnie Henderson’s guide and blog posts, and we still got off trail four or five times.  Of course you’re never really lost – just not on the trail. It’s all part of the adventure.

Highway 101

Not fun. Ever.  Definitely the worst part of the OCT. The shoulder varies from nice (~ 3 feet) to nonexistent. I strongly recommend wearing a reflective vest, bright clothing and flashing lights (we used bike lights).  We almost always walked facing traffic (except where the other shoulder was better or on a blind corner). Vehicles, including RVs and semis, are often doing 60-65 (speed limit is 55 most places). The road noise makes conversation impossible.  The tunnel, just south of Heceta Head is a nightmare with no shoulder. We could not get a ride so ended up jogging to get through as quickly as possible. 

Because of the highway we quickly gave up the idea of walking every mile. By judicious use of local cabs, hitching and buses we managed to keep our longest 101 stretch to roughly 5 or 6 miles.  We probably eliminated half the highway miles (~25 miles) this way.  It is definitely the worst part of the OCT and our only big criticism of the trail. Our advice is to take advantage of the buses and taxis to stay off the longer highway stretches.

Trail tips

Note the OCT mile points are estimates .

Manzanita 101 Bypass (OCT 50)

The following isn’t mentioned in Henderson’s book but described in her 2019 blog update: 

Another alternative to the official route down the highway: consider just crossing US 101 at the bottom of the road and walking through Neakahnie Estates (a gated community). The gate is usually open, and they don’t seem to mind if people do. If you walk down Meadow Loop and keep turning right, you’ll reach a signed beach trail. Follow it down a steep hill, and keep going west on residential streets to a short path alongside a creek to the beach. You’ll avoid a long highway/road stretch.

We were tired at this point (after having done Neakahnie Mountain) but decided this was a better alternative to the highway. It is. You have to get down to the paved road that parallels the beach in the subdivision next to the beach. We never saw the “signed beach trail,” we just kept going downhill trying to avoid the obvious private areas, until we hit the road. 

Nehalem Bay Crossing (OCT 58)

We made the mistake of listening to a passing park ranger and ended up on the sandy horse path that meant a long slog through soft sand to get to the beach opposite Jetty Fishery.  We definitely don’t recommend this – follow Henderson’s instructions to the “rough little trail along the north jetty.”  It’s got to be better! Seeing a pattern? Listen to Bonnie!

Garibaldi (OCT 65)

For the 1.5 mile walk into Garibaldi the guide suggests  “the highway shoulder is very narrow, so I took my chances with another pair of hikers and walked on the railroad  tracks (without incident).” We definitely agree. The tracks are for an infrequent tourist train (that moves at about 10 mph) and are much preferable to the highway.

Bayocean Spit, Garibaldi (OCT 65)

Definitely take a boat from the marina to cross Tillamook Bay. It is a pretty, 20-minute boat ride that eliminates an 18 mile road/highway walk.  It cost $40 for the two of us.  Just call the marina to set it up.

Cape Meares Trail (OCT 70)

The guide book recommends bypassing this trail and walking Meares Ave then Bayshore Drive because of “deteriorating trail conditions.”  We elected to try the trail and it was good except for the start at the beach.  Our notes:

Catching the Cape Meares trail from the beach is tricky! Look for a large tree trunk sticking out toward the sea, just past that you will see a small stream. Some nice person has rigged a blue rope with knots you can use to pull yourself up onto the high bank through rocks in the creek. After that the trail is good.

Sand Lake (OCT 88)

The guide book recommends attempting the crossing only at low tide. We agree! We waited to within 10 minutes of low tide. This was our toughest wade  – water was nearly up to our waists. If you can’t get across there is a campground on the north side where you can try to get a ride (a guy in a dune buggy told us to stop by and he would give us a ride around the lake if we could not get across).

Cascade Head (OCT 104)

We elected the third option in the guide book (“Via Harts Cove and Cascade Head Preserve”).  To catch the trail at the end of South Beach Drive – walk around the back of the second water tower (follow the fence line). You will see it directly behind the water tower.

The trail up is narrow, muddy (it was raining the day we did it) and unmarked. We lost the trail twice but managed to find it again. Once you hit Harts Cove Trail it gets easy. We did have some views on the way down the Nature Conservancy Trail but it was completely socked in at the top when we were there (and blowing pretty good too).

Leaving Depoe Bay (OCT 130)

By this point we were starting to hate highway walking. Fortunately there is a bus you can grab heading south from Depoe Bay to eliminate a couple of highway miles (drop off at Rocky Creek Viewpoint) or ~ 4 miles (Otter Creek Viewpoint).  The bus stop is in front of the Depot Bay Mall 101 and we caught it at 7:48 AM – Northwest Connector, North County Route.  It made for a much more pleasant start to our day.

Devils Punch Bowl (OCT 135)

I stashed my pack behind the fence at the top of the trail that leads down to the beach while we walked down to the Devils Punch Bowl viewing area for some pictures. We were only gone a few minutes but someone stole my rain jacket (and wool hat) out of the outside mesh pocket of my pack. Just a heads up. Keep an eye on your stuff! 

Exiting the beach just before Waldport (OCT 160)

Looking at my maps, I foolishly thought there might be a simpler way to get to the Highway 101 Alsea River Bridge from the beach via the Waldport KOA. After scaling a nearly vertical sand cliff and ending up in someone’s backyard we realized there isn’t. Follow Henderson’s directions – they are the best  way to get to the bridge. Lesson: Pretty much every time I thought I knew better than the guide, I was wrong.

Near Agate Creek (OCT ~178)

After walking the highway shoulder for a couple miles (the portion south of Cape Perpetua campgrund) we were supposed to “find a way to squeeze between houses and get back to the beach” (Guide, p. 157).  We tried but found nothing but fences, “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs. We even tried getting to the beach at an RV Park (Sea Perch RV) but got rousted by the manager who kicked us out. This turned a highway-beach-highway section into a 5-6 mile highway section. Maybe there is a way to get to the beach but we could not find it. And we hate highway sections. The last 2.5 miles were particularly bad with narrow shoulders.

Heceta Head Tunnel (OCT 186)

The 101 tunnel just south of the Heceta Head lighthouse is, in our opinion, crazy dangerous. In hindsight I think we should have tried harder to hitch a ride through the tunnel. We asked one guy (who said no) and had our thumbs out for 10 minutes or so before deciding to go for it. The tunnel is short, no more than 100 yards. But there is no shoulder, none. Two cars passed us while we were in the tunnel and they both moved over. If there had been a semi or big RV heading the other direction they would not have been able to move over.  I’m not sure what would have happened. OK, I can imagine what would have happened.

Sea Lion Caves (OCT 187)

We hit this attraction right at opening (9 a.m.) and stopped to do the tourist thing. We recommend it – it was $13 each and we spent 30 fun minutes gawking at the sea lions. 

Florence (OCT 204)

We needed supplies, so rather than follow the guide directions into Florence, we exited the beach near Heceta Beach Road which we took east all the way to 101 (about 2 miles north of Florence). Not a lot of shoulder but little traffic so not a bad walking road. There is a Fred Meyers just south of where the Beach Road hits 101. And the local bus (“Rhodi Express”) picks up at the Fred Meyers. For $1 each, we rode into Florence. Sweet! Even if you elect to hike into Florence (which you can do without using the highway) the bus can be used to get back to the Fred Meyers. We took our second rest day here and saw the July 4th fireworks over the river. 

Florence was a great little town but a warning about the laundromat (Green Lightning Laundry). They use a complicated system that involves having to load money onto a special card and then using the card to use the machines.  Someone helped us but not sure we could have figured it out otherwise.  And the laundry soap dispenser was empty; a nice woman gave us some.

Tahkenitch Campground (OCT 220)

If you elect to stay here (we did) it is a tough 2 mile slog through soft sand to the campground  which is right on noisy 101. You have to slog in reverse in the morning to get back to the beach. A nice spot otherwise.

Winchester Bay – Umpqua River Crossing (OCT 225)

We arranged a ferry with Winchester Bay Charters while we where in Florence. We had good cell (T-Mobile) coverage on the spit that forms the north jetty, which is important since you need to call them once you are ready.

From the map I thought we might be able to cut across the spit but this is not possible. You have to hike to the end of the spit (where it meets the jetty) and then take a path that looks like an old jeep track back north along the river side of the spit to get to the sand beach where you can be picked up. You can not walk the jetty – it is too rough.  Nobody said anything about tides but they really cannot pick up at low tide. We ended up waiting an hour or so for higher water to get picked up.

Horsfall Beach (~OCT 230)

The beach from Winchester Bay to the Coos River is a big dune buggy area. We were there on a beautiful weekend day so they were out in force. Things were OK most of the day but as the tide came in we were forced up on to the soft sand broken up by tire tracks. This made for some slow, hard hiking.  And it was noisy.

Coos Bay/Cape Arago (OCT 250)

After exiting Horsfall Beach there is a  long road/highway walk around the bay . It is followed by Cape Arago which, if you elect to hike up, you have to retrace your path because there is currently no trail down the south side.  The most expeditious route (according to the guide) is a ~11 mile road walk to Seven Devils State Park.  Too much road for us. We elected to take a taxi around Coos Bay  (stopping in North Bend at Mom’s for a lovely breakfast) all the way to Seven Devils SP. In hindsight I think hiking at least that portion of Seven Devils Road that is unpaved would have been OK – it has very little traffic.

Five Mile Point (OCT 270)

The guide suggest getting here near low tide – we did and can confirm it would be very hard to get around at high tide. 

New River (OCT 283)

Pretty easy wade at low tide, only up to about our knees.  However, from the New River (or a mile or so south) all the way to Port Orford the sand becomes really hard to walk. Soft and steep. Low tide helps (it gives you more options) but this was a tough part of the trail.

We stayed at Boyce Cope Camp Ground. We only saw two people on this part of the beach but one of them, a bird naturalist,  told us we could get off the beach about a mile north of the campground.  It was right past a Plover keep-out area and led to a packed earth trail just behind the dunes.  It eliminated the last mile of tough sand walking. 

Sixes River (OCT 288)

The guide says this river varies from year to year. We got there about 2 hours before low tide and had an easy wade.

South of Port Orford (OCT 318)

From Humbug Mountain to Nesika Beach there is a lot of highway walking. We elected to take a taxi for most of this (to Honey Bear RV – just opposite the Ophir Rest Area).  We can recommend Honey Bear as a nice place to stay – they have a dedicated tent camping area, a restaurant (only open on the weekends) and a limited store.

Gold Beach (OCT 334)

We stayed at a RV park (Turtle Rock RV) a couple miles south of Gold Beach. Can’t recommend this place – it was very noisy though it did have a good Mexican restaurant right next door. 

Cape Sebastian (OCT 337)

We tried to follow the guide but somewhere between “The trail levels out, passing two OCT posts in a row…” and “the trail emerges into a grassy viewpoint…” we lost it. The overgrown jeep trail narrowed to a single trace and finally forked around a tree. One side had a downed chain with “danger” tape wrapped around it – never a good sign. The other fork dropped into a small creek bed and just stopped.  We looked for a while but could find no sign of a trail.

We backtracked about 200 yards to a trail junction that had a post that said “Highway 0.7 miles”. We took it to 101 then south to the Cape Road which we took to hook back up with trail at the north parking lot. No idea what we did wrong.

North Boardman – OCT Connector Trail (OCT 350)

The guide says this portion of the trail is “narrow and rough, often slumping down the cliff, but it seems to be brushed out yearly…”  We made it about 200 yards before a very poor trail stopped at a solid wall of brambles. The trail was completely impassable without machetes. 

North Boardman Corridor (OCT 350-370)

The trails on the Boardman are mostly nice but there are a lot of them, and they merge and fork with no signs, so be prepared to get off trail a few times. At one point we ended up about 50 feet above a pretty, secluded beach (not Secret Beach). We used at rope someone had placed down a nearly vertical cliff, but saw no way down to the beach. We backtracked.

By the way, there is no legal camping in the corridor so we slack-packed from Brookings. We had a cab pick us up at Arch Rock at the end of the day, spent the night in Brookings, then took a cab back to Arch Rock to walk back to Brookings. Then the final 8 miles or so to the state line and another cab back to Brookings. This worked well – and it made for really light packs.

We had trail problems in the Boardman twice, both leaving beaches.  The north access to the beaches tended to be well travelled, nice trails; the southern exits less so.  The southern end of China Beach has no trail marker. Fortunately a couple of campers on the beach gave us directions: Just north of the main arm of China Creek there is a small (three stone) cairn. If you scramble up the creek bed here you will hit a trail that follows the creek on the north side all the way up to 101. We saw no other trails and we walked all the way to the end of the beach. The trail was steep and washed out in a few places.

Second, exiting the southern end of Whaleshead Beach. There is a tilted trail post above a washed out portion of the bluff. If you scramble up to the post you will find a narrow grass trail that leads up, following several trail posts (which are needed – the trail is not clear). The trail exits the grassy hill into the forest where it gets very steep. This trail had two nasty washouts. If the trail had been wet (it was a dry day) we would not have been able to get by the second.

Grissey Field Welcome Center (OCT 375)

Definitely stop in at the park welcome center if you can. I think they were more excited that we were about us having completed the OCT. They took our pictures and had us sign a log. It was a perfect way to end a wonderful hike.  The woman behind the counter said that about “nine people a month” were finishing the trail.  This explains why, over 27 days, we bumped into only one other thru-hiker.

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