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 January 2022
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 trail section from
Arch Cape (Shingle Mill Road) to US 101 has reopened after the September 2021 windfall was cleared. trail sections are currently closed as a result of windfall from a September 2020 storm. But NORTH NEAHKAHNIE MOUNTAIN TRAIL remains closed; state parks hopes to reopen it by summer 2022. Only the South Neahkahnie Mountain Trail is open for out-and-back hikes. Check the park website for current conditions. The alternative is to walk the US 101 should either all the way to Nehalem Road, or walk up the access road to the South Neahkahnie trailhead and pick up the OCT heading south (longer, but less highway walking).
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.