DISTANCE: 68.3 miles*
ELEVATION GAIN: +5000 feet
HEADLAND SUMMITS: Tillamook Head (1200 feet), Arch Cape (540 feet), Cape Falcon (980 feet), Neahkahnie Mountain (1560 feet)
From the viewing platform at the trailhead, you gaze down Oregon’s longest, widest beach to a distant blue hump—Tillamook Head, where you will make your first headland ascent. Section 1 of the Oregon Coast Trail is a great introduction to this epic trail because it offers a generous taste of what the OCT is all about. Spectacular views from beaches and high points abound, weather permitting. Popular coastal towns, beaches crammed with tourists, and main streets full of good restaurants and cafés contrast with lonely beaches and forested headlands with little-traveled trail stretches. One bay mouth is easily crossed by boat with no prior arrangements. There are lodging options for inn-to-inn hikers if you reserve ahead, though they may require some long days of hiking in between.
Section 1 also offers hikers some logistical challenges that, though unique to this stretch, are emblematic of the kinds of situations a hiker is likely to find on the Oregon Coast Trail and are atypical of other long-distance trails. Legal camping is scarce in places, and you may have to choose among stealth or dispersed camping, long days of hiking, or perhaps a night in an inn. You’ll need to time your walk south from Cannon Beach carefully in order to hit Hug Point at low tide; if you're timing is off, you can leave the highway at Arcadia Beach and walk the highway shoulder for a mile—one of only two short highway stretches in this section.
*Due to slight variations in the route, everyone counts mileage on the OCT a little differently. This is the number I came up with for my guidebook Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail. It probably differs a little from figures you may find elsewhere.
As of late September 2021
YOU CAN STILL START THE OCT AT PARKING AREA C, AT THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA. In April Oregon State Parks announced that the trailhead had moved to Parking Area B, possibly through 2024, due to construction work on the Columbia River's south jetty. In fact, you can still start at Area C, but rather than walking south between the official trailhead posts (now fenced off), take a little trail east through the pines, parallel to the access road, then veer south to where it connects to the old trail and to routes down to the beach. You may be able to use this detour throughout construction. The parking area restrooms are still open, but access to the viewing platform is blocked.
OSWALD WEST STATE PARK: The following trail sections are currently closed as a result of windfall from a September 2020 storm.
ARCH CAPE TO US 101 CROSSING: The middle part of this 1.4-mile trail stretch is currently impassable; check the park website for current conditions. (It may reopen as soon as October 2021.) The alternative is to walk the US 101 shoulder 1.2 miles from Leech Lane (including through the highway tunnel; there is a narrow sidewalk) to where the OCT crosses US 101 (look for trail post on right across from the second big highway pullout on your left past the tunnel). There's another possible alternative, if conditions permit: If it's within an hour (or maybe two) of low tide (and it's not raining), you can cross Arch Cape Creek and walk around Arch Cape to the beach on the other side, but it involves crossing a good-sized field of boulders, many of which are very slippery when wet. If you try it, I suggest staying high and ducking through the large hole/arch in the rock. When you finally reach sand, walk the beach south 1.1 miles until you see wooden stairs leading up the bank, about 0.3 mile before you would reach the foot of Cape Falcon (you won't see the stairs until you're upon them). At the top of the stairs, continue east a block to Cove Beach Road, take it south to Columbia, turn east again (becomes Falcon Cove Road) and continue nearly to US 101 (gaining 430 feet elevation) to where you can rejoin the OCT where it crosses Falcon Cove Road.
NORTH NEAHKAHNIE MOUNTAIN TRAIL: Only the South Neahkahnie Mountain Trail is open for out-and-back hikes; the north trail may not reopen until the end of the 2022 hiking season or later. Check the park website for current conditions. The alternative is to walk the US 101 shoulder.
SECTION HIKE SUGGESTION: Columbia River to Manzanita inn-to-inn, 5 days
This is a great one for hiking inn-to-inn, though lodging on the north coast is expensive. You'll need to reserve ahead. Do all five days or just two, three or four. Of course you can camp on this stretch, but there are some long distances between legal capsites. Details, including daily mileage, in Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail.
DAY 1: Columbia River to Gearhart. McMenamin's Hotel is a good option.
DAY 2: Gearhart to Seaside.
DAY 3: Seaside to Cannon Beach. Up and over Tillamook Head.
DAY 4: Cannon Beach to Arch Cape. Limited lodging in Arch Cape, including vacation rentals and a couple of inns that may require 2-night stay; arrange this night first. You may need to bring your own dinner and breakfast.
DAY 5: Arch Cape to Manzanita.