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.
*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 November 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 south to the top of the cape) is currently closed. It could open in time for the summer 2022 hiking season, but it might 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, immediately 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.
CASCADE HEAD: There was a landslide Nov. 12 on Forest Road 1861 about 100 yards west of US 101, completely closing the road. The road is closed every year from Jan. 1 to July 15 anyway (for now). This closure should not impact OCT hikers leaving US 101 just south of Neskowin, hiking over the head on the North and then South Rainforest Trails and back to US 101.
YOU SHOULD KNOW ...
Boat shuttle across Tillamook Bay at Garibaldi: Garibaldi Marina did not offer rides across the bay to Bayocean Spit in 2021 due to lack of staff. They DO plan to resume in 2022.
SECTION HIKE SUGGESTION: Nehalem Bay to Pacific City, 3 to 5 days
Start at Nehalem Bay State Park (end of Section 1) and you'll get one, two, or three boat ferries on this hike, but you may end up doing some road walking and/or bus or cab to get around two of the three bays. I've outlined this as a camping trip, but you can do it inn-to-inn as well. Details, including daily mileage, in Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail.
DAY 1: Nehalem Bay State Park to Barview County Park or RV campground in Garibaldi. Get boat ride across Nehalem Bay.
DAY 2: Garibaldi to Cape Lookout State Park. Prearrange boat ride across Tillamook Bay and plan your trip around that timing. (Or get a motel in Oceanside and break this day into two.) If weather precludes boat ride across Tillamook Bay, consider bus or cab. At Netarts, try hitching a ride across the mouth of Netarts Bay from a recreational boater; if that doesn't work out, hiking the shoulder of Whiskey Creek Road to Cape Lookout SP isn't bad; scenic and not much traffic.
DAY 3: Cape Lookout to Pacific City. Time your hike to wade the mouth of Sand Lake outlet at low tide or plan to hike around Sand Lake. Or break up this day by overnighting at Sandbeach Campground or (for road walkers) Whalen Island County Park.