DISTANCE: 73.1 miles (60.9 with boat shuttle across Tillamook Bay)*
ELEVATION GAIN: +4800 feet
HEADLAND SUMMITS: Cape Meares (490 feet), Cape Lookout (831 feet), Cape Kiwanda (90), Cascade Head (1340)
It's not as far from civilization as parts of Section 4, but the Tillamook Coast has the most remote beaches and trail hiking on the northern Oregon Coast Trail.
This section of the Oregon Coast Trail begins in what’s called the Three Capes region, for the trio of headlands that begin at the south end of Tillamook Bay: basalt Cape Meares
and Cape Lookout followed by sandstone Cape Kiwanda. Soon you encounter another looming cape—Cascade Head, the site of Oregon’s only United Nations Biosphere Reserve—and then one more headland south of the Salmon River before hitting the long beach at Lincoln City.
There are also a number of river and bay mouths that present challenges to OCT hikers. To begin with, there’s the mouth of Tillamook Bay. Then you meet Netarts Bay, Nestucca Bay, and the Salmon River, all of which must be dealt with by catching a boat ride—not a sure bet at any of these crossings—or walking, busing, hitching, or taxiing around. For most of this section, US Highway 101 is far inland, but there are local roads that offer access if needed. Views from the headlands are spectacular, as are the forests of large trees and the long beaches, on some of which you will probably be alone. There are a lot of lodging and camping opportunities, though they may require you to hike a good distance to reach.
*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 June 1, 2021
CAPE LOOKOUT: The September 2020 windstorm really slammed Cape Lookout. The trail to the end of the cape and the OCT south trail are open but the OCT north trail (from the campground to the top of the cape) is closed and may not reopen until May 2023. Plan to walk the road to the top of the cape (little traffic, adds 1 mile, and only if you have to backtrack to the campground entrance from the hiker-biker camp). Then, at the top of the cape, walk to the end of the trailhead parking area and pick up the trail heading west, immediatly turning left onto the south trail. Alternately, if you don't plan to wade Sand Lake outlet, continue on Cape Lookout Road and then Sandlake Road to Sitka Sedge State Natural Area to get back on the beach.
COASTAL STATE PARK HIKER-BIKER CAMPS: All hiker-biker camps should be open now.
YOU SHOULD KNOW ...
Boat shuttle across Tillamook Bay at Garibaldi: Garibaldi Marina has decided to NOT offer rides across to Bayocean Spit this summer due to lack of staff. They DO plan to resume in 2022. In 2021, consider asking for a ride from boaters at the marina, or taking cab or bus around the bay, or (last resort IMO) walking the highway shoulder.
Cape Meares: Bayshore Drive is now the preferred route up Cape Meares; the middle portion is closed to traffic due to landslides. The old "high-tide trail" up Cape Meares might be hikeable but it's no longer being maintained.
Netarts Bay: Big Spruce RV Park is no longer offering rides (for a fee) from the Netarts Boat Ramp across Netarts Bay to Netarts Spit, but you might be able to hitch a ride with a recreational boater in summer. Otherwise the walk around the bay on what becomes Whiskey Creek Road isn't bad; it's the same distance as walking the ocean side of the spit, and there's not much traffic.
Sand Lake: Oregon State Parks now officially recommends walking around Sand Lake Estuary on back roads rather than wading the mouth, which is possible only at low tide and even then can be iffy. If you do walk around it, consider overnighting at Whalen Island County Park (reservations required, but the campground hosts might find a spot for drop-in OCT hikers; the fee is on the spendy side). Return to the beach on trails through newish Sitka Sedge State Natural Area just north of the community of Tierra del Mar.
Nestucca Bay: Nestucca Adventures is a kayak and stand-up paddleboard business in Pacific City. You may be able to arrange a ride in a Zodiac from its dock on Brooten Road (a short walk north of the traffic light in Pacific City) downstream nearly 4 scenic miles to the beach just inside the mouth of the Nestucca, if conditions and schedule permit. Mornings, before the business opens, is the most likely time to arrange a shuttle.
Cascade Head: The new North Cascade Head Rainforest Trail now takes OCT hikers off the highway starting 1.9 miles south of Neskowin beach access; where the highway starts to climb the headland, look west a quarter-mile past the "Leaving Tsunami Zone" sign for the end of a guardrail and a little unsigned trail climbing a berm and heading into the woods. It leads 2.5 miles up the hillside to Road 1861, where it connects to the South Cascade Head Rainforest Trail down the other side. The south trail is clear, and the USFS said the north trail would be open by July 15, but I hiked most of it June 2 and it's fine now. (Could use some brushing out for the first half-mile or so, but otherwise it's clear; trees downed by a landslide have been cleared). I think the USFS just doesn't want people crossing Forest Road 1861 until July 15, when the road opens, which is ridiculous.
Salmon River to Road's End, Lincoln City: Here's currently the quickest way to get off US 101 and back on the beach south of Cascade Head. From the bottom of the South Rainforest Trail (Three Rocks Road and US 101), hike the highway shoulder south for 1.9 miles to gravel N. Clancy Road. Walk up N. Clancy Road 0.7 mile to where it tops out, and turn left up a driveway (may have a swing gate). Go straight where the driveway curves left, and you’ll immediately be on a Siuslaw National Forest connector trail. Follow that trail 0.9 mile to a trail junction, turn left, and continue another 0.9 mile to paved NE Devils Lake Boulevard. Turn right and follow it 0.2 mile to where it ends at a cul-de-sac. Take the trail on the left side of the cul-de-sac that leads 0.2 mile to a footbridge over Logan Creek and walk around a gate at gravel NE Sal La Sea Drive. Turn left and follow that road 0.5 mile to NE Logan Road. Cross it to return to the beach at Roads End State Recreation Site.
MORE OPTIONS FOR OVERNIGHTING
Tillamook Bay: If you can't get a boat ride across and end up hiking the highway, tent camping is available at Tillamook Bay City RV Park ($$), just south of the town of Bay City and 5.6 miles south of Garibaldi. You may find other private RV parks with tent camping in the area. Otherwise, the
only camping on this leg is dispersed camping on Bayocean Spit in the vicinity of Crab Harbor (not clear on whether that's now strictly legal, so as always, leave no trace), especially if you can get a ride across the bay from Garibaldi Marina.
Sand Lake: The Forest Service is creating a couple of hiker-biker campsites on the north side of Sand Lake (just west of Fishermans Day Use Area), sort of attached to Sandbeach Campground. They're not quite done at this time (March 2021) but might be by the start of the main 2021 hiking season. May or may not require reservations; check at recreation.gov. (Not set up yet, but I think you'll need to search for Sandbeach Campground and look for hiker-biker sites). USFS told me there should be at least one drop-in site.
Neskowin: A couple of options for camping here. You could bivouac at the north end of the North Cascade Head Rainforest Trail just off the trail at a tiny flat spot 0.4 mile in from US 101, where the trail veers left and rises (and possibly at 0.6 mile as well). For an entirely different experience, Neskowin Creek RV Resort allows hikers and cyclists to tent camp; call ahead for a reservation.