10 Enticing Oregon Coast Trail Facts

Hiker walking on a path overlooking the Oregon coast

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The Oregon Coast Trail is a seaside hiking path that follows the People's Coast from the California state line to Oregon's oldest city, Astoria, on the border of Washington. Flanked by the Pacific Ocean on one side and primeval temperate rainforests on the other, the Oregon Coast Trail stretches more than 300 miles along beaches, (petite) mountains, and headlands, through 28 coastal towns and public lands where threatened shorebirds and regal bald eagles roost. 

While it isn't Oregon's longest or most famous hiking path—which would be the fabled Pacific Crest Trail, running parallel but more inland for 430 miles through the state—the cross-country route is treasured for its biodiversity, flatness, and coastal culture. Here are 10 things to know before tackling the OCT.

1. The Oregon Coast Trail Is 362 Miles Long

Two hikers walking on path through Oregon's temperate rainforest

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The OCT spans the entire length of Oregon, from the south jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River in the state's northwest corner to the Crissey Field Recreation Site in its southwest corner. There is some debate on how long the trail is officially—Google Maps' pedometer tool calculates it as 425 miles long, but the most official tally is perhaps that of the trail's developer and manager, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, which says it's 362 miles.

2. It Takes About Four Weeks to Hike

Thru-hiking the OCT takes about a month uninterrupted, but there are so many hard-to-resist points of interest—pristine recreation areas, lively beach towns, tourist attractions, and the like—that many will stay on the trail for an extra week or split the journey up into a series of leisurely day hikes instead. To finish the trail in four weeks, hikers must cover an average of 12 miles per day.

3. It's Technically Incomplete

The OCT isn't as developed as the neighboring PCT, which could be a reason for the discrepancy between reported trail lengths. About 10% of the trail—or roughly 40 miles—follows county roads, city streets, and even the famous U.S. Route 101 in some places. The National Coast Trail Association has been collaborating with Oregon Parks and Recreation on a "connection strategy" to fill the trail's 33 "critical" and "unsafe" gaps since at least 2011.

4. Half the Trail Follows Open-Sand Shoreline

Sunset over a beach in the coastal village of Newport

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The National Coast Trail Association says about 200 miles of the OCT follow beaches, all made public in 1967 by the celebrated Beach Bill, a landmark law that released the entire Oregon coast from private ownership—hence its colloquial title, the People's Coast. Pre-Beach Bill, parts of the coast had been fenced off by hotels and reserved for private use only. Four years after the bill passed, development of the OCT commenced.

5. It's Not All Flat, Despite Being a Coastal Trail

The many miles that follow the shoreline closely are relatively flat and easy (save the challenge and annoyance of hiking on sand), but there are a few climbs along the OCT, including the one that leads up to Neahkahnie Mountain. Standing 1,600 feet above sea level, this heavily timbered headland mound within Oswald West State Park marks the trail's highest point. Other hilly portions include Cape Falcon, Cape Sebastian, and Tillamook Head.

6. OCT Hikers Wear Trail Runners, Not Boots

Naturally, hikers avoid wearing beefy hiking boots while walking the OCT. Most boots are designed to be breathable, but even the tiniest holes in mesh can cause the shoes to flood with fine grains, making an already-bulky boot even heavier (and hotter). The ideal footwear is a lightweight trail runner—something wide and with minimal tread. It isn't recommended to hike shoeless, regardless of your natural instinct, as the lack of support and sharp shells can wreak havoc on feet.

7. When to Hike Depends on Water Levels

Hiker on waterlogged Oregon beach, looking out at cliffs

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The accessibility of the OCT varies depending on water levels. Some crossings and headlands become simply impassable during high tide, so hikers must study tide tables beforehand and plan their days accordingly. It doesn't help that the Pacific Northwest is notoriously rainy—the Oregon coast, specifically, gets about 75 to 90 inches of rain per year—and rising river and creek levels can make crossings difficult as well. Most people attempt to tackle the trail during the "dry" season, June through September, when only 10% of the year's rain falls.

8. Most People Hike Southbound

In the winter, extreme temperatures in Alaska clash with the water temperature of the Gulf of Alaska, which creates a low-pressure area and causes coastal Oregon's prevailing winds to blow from south to north. In the summer, the opposite occurs, and the prevailing winds change direction from southerly to northerly. For this reason, most people hike the OCT from north to south to keep summer kinds at their backs.

9. Hikers Cross Paths With Land, Air, and Sea Creatures

Gang of Roosevelt elk grazing on the Oregon coast

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The OCT is a haven for wildlife of all types, from the 200 gray whales that reside off the coast of Oregon year-round to the hearty population of beach-loving Roosevelt elk. Bald eagles winter here while harbor seals and California sea lions can often be seen sunbathing on the banks of the Columbia River near Astoria. Birders flock to the area to observe the western snowy plover, a threatened shorebird that nests on certain Oregon beaches between mid-March and mid-September.

10. There Are About 75 State Parks on the Route

The OCT itself is managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department as part of the state park system, and because the state's entire coastline is public land, it's no surprise that it's composed of shoulder-to-shoulder state parks and recreation areas. There are about 75 of them in total, averaging one state park every five miles. This works in OCT hikers' favor, as most of the parks have drinking water stations, toilets, and campgrounds.

View Article Sources
  1. "Oregon Coast Trail." Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

  2. "About the Oregon Coast Trail." National Coast Trail Association.

  3. "Section 2: Oswald West State Park to Tillamook River Bridge." Oregon Coast Trail Foundation.

  4. "Oregon Climate." Western Regional Climate Center.

  5. "Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises." Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

  6. "Western Snowy Plover." Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

  7. "Oregon State Parks Guide." Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.