I hiked the OCT in June-July 2022 with my friend Julie. The advice below is what I would tell a friend setting out to hike it in 2023. The trail will likely change; this is a snapshot in time.
The Oregon Coast Trail is not a typical long-distance hike. Some major differences are:
- It is a combination of beach, forest wilderness, town, and road.
- Camping is, for most nights, not free.
- Water must generally be carried farther than average and should be taken from spigots and other clean sources, not filtered from streams.
- You’ll see people – but not many other hikers.
My overall advice: Hike and love the Oregon Coast Trail for its differences. Don’t go into it expecting wild, rugged, rocky mountains. Don’t anticipate long stretches of wilderness. Don’t compare it to (insert wilderness trail here).
It took us 31 days to complete the trail. That included 4 zero days, but does not include days traveling to/from Oregon when we didn’t hike any miles.
Here is the breakdown of where we stayed:
- Official Hiker Biker Camps: 14 nights
- Hotel/Hostel: 7 nights
- Dispersed Campsites: 4 nights
- Private Campgrounds: 2 nights
- County Campgrounds: 2 nights*
- Not Totally Legit (though not immoral) Campsites: 2
*Both the campgrounds in question created little hiker biker areas, but it appeared to be at the whim of the campground hosts, as opposed to the state park hiker biker camps where there’s a designated area always.
People can and have hiked it faster. But why?
Oregon is home to a lot of drifters and that can lead to some challenges for hikers. While I do not think transients are inherently dangerous, that does not mean that locals or tourists feel that way. We were often mistaken for being homeless or transients. In one restaurant, we had to pay for our meal before sitting down. Once we paid, the staff were super friendly and apologetic for their policies, not that we minded. There were sometimes no benches or picnic tables in places where I thought there would be, in part because of the drifter population (I guess?). We still found people to be overwhelmingly helpful, but when you are talking to locals, it may help to introduce yourself with a short bio, like, “Hi, I’m Jo and I’m hiking the Oregon Coast Trail from Astoria to California,” to let people know what you are up to. You may share a campsite with a transient or two; it is almost certainly not going to be a problem. I think they, like hikers, just want to be left alone to do their own thing.
Due to agricultural and road runoff, normal filtration of water is not recommended. Instead, hikers should expect to hike from water source to water source. Most towns have somewhere to fill up. I might have purchased water once or twice, but it was generally free and fine.
That being said, I did filter water twice – both on really long stretches where I felt relatively okay with the source of the water and I didn’t have much choice anyway. I think Julie didn’t filter water at all. Bring your lightest-weight filter, because you will barely, if ever, use it.
SHARING THE BEACH.
Part of the coastline is shared with vehicles. There was one rather unpleasant day of hiking in a very busy off-highway vehicular hell. Usually though, it was not a problem.
Some portions of the beach, generally around towns or where there is easy road access, are very busy with foot traffic. It can be challenging to pee in these situations.
Because the trail goes through towns so often, it can be super easy to fall into an over-resupplying mode. Just because you CAN resupply every day or couple of days, does not mean you should. I definitely should have just carried a few days of food and not tried to resupply as often. My bad.
Take advantage of the weirdness of the trail. I probably ate ten bagged salads on the trip. On any other trail, this would not be possible. Rather than stop at a restaurant at every town, buy something special at the store.
We took 3 of our 4 zero days in towns due to Julie’s work situation, but I think the most restful zero day was the one we spent at Bullards Beach State Park Hiker Biker Camp – even though we walked 5 bonus miles that day! Take advantage of the very cheap and nice camping options and zero at a hiker biker camp. Many are near a town, so packing in special zero-day foods would be possible.
Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail by Bonnie Henderson is a must-own. The book is heavy, but it is worth carrying. Or you can get a digital version. Maps are at the OCT Foundation website, but their sections do not align with how the guidebook splits sections. Neither is wrong, just be aware of the discrepancy. The link to Bonnie’s website is: https://hikingtheoct.com/ and note that she has updates to the guide on this site. Very helpful. She knows her stuff.
TRANSIT TO AND FROM THE TRAIL.
There’s a bus from Portland Union Depot to Astoria and cabs in Astoria, so it’s pretty easy to get to the north end from a major airport. The bus was bookable through the Amtrak website.
If you want to book a roundtrip ticket flying in and out of Portland, here is the solution we found:
The Point Bus runs from from Brookings to Cave Junction.
In Cave Junction, for inexplicable new-owner reasons, the bus company makes everyone change to Josephine County Transit. It’s just a matter of getting off one bus and transferring to another. It’s not a problem, it’s just dumb.
We arrived in Grants Pass one hour after the Greyhound’s scheduled departure. There was a middle-of-the-night departure but that felt sketchy. Would not recommend. Instead, we booked a cheap motel room. We also had a chance to do laundry and enjoy the really cool town.
The next day, Greyhound left town at 1pm. (Fun fact: different bus stop than Josephine Public Transit!)
Greyhound drops off at/near Union Station, so it’s super easy to grab nearby MAX light rail to the airport.
Given the time and expense of getting back to Portland, it’s probably financially wise to fly out of Medford instead, which I think is easier to get to.
The Oregon Coast Trail is a young trail and still incomplete, but it is likely to never be completely off of roads. This is because many portions of the coast are not sandy beaches, but rocky cliffs dominated by private lands and/or general inaccessibility. Don’t let that scare you from the trail. The bus system is cheap and easy to navigate, and the drivers are sweethearts. If you set out to connect every step and never utilize transit, you are putting yourself at risk and are unlikely to have anywhere near the fun we had. Have more fun. Bus around the roads when you can. Don’t be a purist. The purism concept doesn’t really work on the OCT.