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.
*Everyone counts mileage on the OCT a little differently. This is the number I came up with for my forthcoming Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail. It differs a little from the figure in Day Hiking: Oregon Coast.
OCT UPDATES TO DAY HIKING: OREGON COAST
As of March 2021
OCT NORTHERN TRAILHEAD IS NOW AT PARKING AREA B, NOT C! At least officially. Work on the Columbia River's south jetty has turned parking area C, the traditional start of the OCT, into a contruction site, possibly for the next three years. As of April 19, 2021, state parks announced that you need to start at Parking Area B, cutting 1.9 miles off the start of your hike. FYI there is no restroom here (but you can still access the restroom at parking area C, just not the trailhead). HOWEVER I have heard from two hikers that they had no problem starting at Area C and just walking past the fencing to get to the start of the trail. I haven't checked it out myself yet, but it may be changing day to day or week to week. Area C trailhead may continue to be accessible, but Area B is a safer bet for now.
OSWALD WEST STATE PARK: The following trail sections are currently closed as a result of windfall from a September 2020 windstorm:.
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. The alternative is to walk the US 101 shoulder, but if it's low tide, also consider this alternative just suggested to me by a current OCT hiker: Within an hour or two of low tide (he says) you can get around Arch Cape on the beach. Then follow the beach 1.3 miles, nearly to the end, and take stairs up to Columbia Street. Follow Columbia east, then south, then east again (becomes Falcon Cove Road) to where the OCT crosses the road just before you hit US 101.
NORTH NEAHKAHNIE MOUNTAIN TRAIL: Only the South Neahkahnie Mountain Trail is open for out-and-back hikes; the north trail may not reopen this hiking season. Check the park website for current conditions. The alternative is to walk the US 101 shoulder.
COASTAL STATE PARK HIKER-BIKER CAMPS: Fort Stevens State Park H-B is supposed to reopen June 1. H-B at Nehalem Bay State Park is open now.
YOU SHOULD KNOW ...
SOUTH OF THE PETER IREDALE: Oregon Military Department frequently closes up to 3 miles of beach north of Sunset Beach access (Beach Access 3 to Beach Access 4) during live fire training at adjacent Camp Rilea. (Crazy, I know (and probably violates the Oregon Beach Bill, but no one has challenged it.) Check the Camp Rilea Range Operations website to see if the range will be hot (beach closed) when you plan to hike through, but know that they will likely try to accommodate you by allowing you time to hike through or possibly even giving you a ride through the closed area. Or follow this detour route.
BARVIEW, TILLAMOOK BAY: I recommend walking the railroad tracks from Barview to Garibaldi (rather than the highway shoulder). The excursion train here goes very slowly and there's plenty of room to step aside.
NEAHKAHNIE MOUNTAIN: There's a new trail section from the south end of South Neahkahnie Trail to the US 101 crossing at Nehalem Road, getting you off the highway shoulder here. (Until the North Neahkahnie Trail to the summit is cleaned up and reopened, however, OCT hikers might choose to just stay on the highway shoulder to Nehalem Road.)
MORE OPTIONS FOR OVERNIGHTING
In Cannon Beach: Wright's for Camping is a private campground catering to tent campers with an inexpensive hiker-biker area, a short walk east of Cannon Beach midtown.
In Garibaldi: Old Mill RV Park is a private RV campground with a little hiker-biker camping area walking distance to cafes, etc.