The northern terminus of the Oregon Coast Trail is at the South Jetty of the Columbia River in Fort Stevens State Park.
If you are lucky enough to have a ride out to Clatsop Spit there is a parking area there for you to be dropped off, along with a last minute bathroom.
If, however, you have arrived via public transportation, and you were dropped off at the KOA Camp Store, then your best bet is to walk out Peter Iredale Rd. to reach the coast. After getting a campsite at the Fort Stevens Hiker/Biker Camp, of course.
From here you can walk north along the beach, which is also the Oregon Coast Trail, until you reach the South Jetty. Having reached the northern terminus you can follow the trail south back towards the wreck of the Peter Iredale.
From here cut inland and follow the bicycle path back to the campground and call it a day. This is a great way to see how your pack feels and to work out any small changes that may need to be made.
The next day continue your hike south from the wreck of the Peter Iredale. How far you choose to go will depend on your level of physical fitness and the weather.
Following the coastline south you will notice vehicles driving on the beach between the wreck of the Peter Iredale and Gearhart. This is one of the reasons that camping is prohibited along this stretch. Getting run over in your sleep would probably ruin your hike. You will also notice that it is much easier to hike while walking closer to the waters edge. I called it, "walking the foam line," because of the line of foam formed by the receding waves.
Map #1 clearly shows Sunset Beach State Recreation Site and the Fort to Sea Trail. From the beach however these are not readily identifiable. Likewise Del Ray Beach State Recreation Site just before you get into Gearhart is also very hard to locate from the beach. But that isn't much of a concern, simply follow the coast line until you get into Gearhart, which will be readily apparent by the profusion of condo's and a large beach access road. This is 10th St.
At this point there is a sign prohibiting vehicle access to the beach heading south. This is an important marker because although Map #1 tells you to head inland at the main beach access at Pacific Way St. there is no beach marker telling you where this is located. After the sign prohibiting vehicles it is the fifth main trail heading up into the dunes. There may be more very small trails leading to peoples private homes and there may also be what look like trails but are actually just illusions created by the dunes. If in doubt simply follow one of the trails inland. If you do this before the fifth trail you will end up on a numbered street which you simply follow until it intersects with N. Marion Ave. Take a right and follow this road south until you get to Pacific Way.
If you missed the fifth trail and cut inland you are more likely to end up in someones backyard. Either way you will hopefully end up on Ocean Ave. or E St.
From here Map #1 tells you to follow E St., however at the intersection of E St. and Cottage you will notice a Dead End sign. Simply turn right on Cottage and walk one block before turning left onto F St. This will bring you out to Neacoxie Dr., (there is no sign), which leads directly onto G St. Follow the directions for the road walk into Seaside.
How long will it take? It took me about 6 hours to hike from the South Jetty to Gearhart the first time I hiked this section and that was during a cold rain and headwind.
Just before reaching Seaside, and when following the directions down 12th Ave to the beach, you will notice public restrooms at the corner of 12th and Necanicum Dr.
At the beach you have the option of walking the coastline or follow the boardwalk which runs the length of Seaside. Personally I always opted for the boardwalk as there is plenty of beach walking on the rest of the trail. The boardwalk ends at The Tides by the Sea Hotel. Here you can turn right and walk out to the beach to continue south, or turn left and walk to the intersection of Beach Dr. and turn right. You can follow Beach Dr. to the end or make a slight right onto Ocean Vista Dr. and follow that to the end, either way you will end up at a T intersection. Turn right and the road name changes into Sunset Blvd. as you pass Seltzer Park.
Seltzer Park, though small, has restrooms and an outdoor shower on the men's side of the restrooms.
Captain William Clark, of the infamous Lewis and Clark Expedition, when he climbed the north slope of Tillamook Head, exactly as you will be doing when you head south out of Seaside, called it, "the steepest worst and highest mountain I ever ascended."
I know of one Oregon Coast Trail thru hike that was aborted after hiking out of Seaside with the intention of pushing all the way to Cape Falcon. The climb up Tillamook Head, with the muddy trail and obstacles formed by fallen trees ended up being too much for them to handle physically. From Cannon Beach they returned to the hostel in Seaside spending a few days recuperating.
For me the climb up Tillamook Head was one of the highlights of the Oregon Coast Trail, so much so that I have done this section several times. Don't push yourself so hard that you end up hating it. If, when you have reached the top of Tillamook Head and the Hikers Camp there, and you think that it has taken too much out of you, there is an alternative to the official trail. Simply follow the level walking trail down to the parking lot at Indian Beach where you will rejoin the Oregon Coast Trail. You will miss out on some great views but it is a much easier trail to follow.
Following the trail south out of Ecola State Park there is a short road walk into the town of Cannon Beach before you return to the ocean's edge to head towards Arch Cape. In the right weather this is an amazing stretch of the trail passing, among other things, Haystack Rock.
Map #1 cautions hikers to pass Silver Point, Humbug Point and Hug Point headlands at low tide. The first time I hiked through I could have sworn that I read the tide charts correctly, and yet I had to time my run around the headlands between waves. I was soaked and knocked around by waist deep waves, but I also had a great time doing it. On my second hike through I caught low tide on accident and couldn't believe the difference. Where I had fought the waves before was now a large empty expanse of open beach and tide pools filled with starfish gripping the exposed rocks.
Coming to the end of Map #1 it tells you to leave the beach just north of Arch Cape Creek. But if you haven't seen it how do you know that you are just north of it? All the more confusing if you have hiked during low tide and aren't sure if you have passed two or three headlands. On my first thru hike I wasn't sure if Arch Cape was just another headland or not until I got half way across Arch Cape Creek and decided that the cape looked a little treacherous.
In all the times that I have hiked through here I have always left the beach at Leech Lane. The beach access path from E. Shingle Mill Lane, which the maps call Mill Rd., appears to lead to the back of a private residence.
Follow Leech Lane out to 101 and cross the road going towards the left. Here you will see the wide turning area onto E. Beach Rd. with a sign that says it leads to Shingle Mill Lane. Follow this until it turns left onto E. Shingle Mill Lane, once again the road labeled Mill Rd. on Map #1.
Look for the trail on the right leading to Oswald West State Park.
Just be ready for a climb.
Where to Stay
Many hikers worry about camping along the Oregon Coast Trail through Map #1.
This is mostly due to the no camping restriction between the Columbia River and Seaside.
Generally there are three areas where most thru hikers end up staying.
Fort Stevens State Park has a hiker/biker camp which puts you in a good position, as I've already mentioned, to hike from the northern terminus to Peter Iredale on your first day. Staying at the campground your first night helps you ease into your hike. Unfortunately Fort Stevens is also a bit swampy so unless you are hiking very early or very late in the season be prepared for hordes of mosquitoes. This is where a screened in tent will prove to be invaluable.
The last two times I stayed at the hiker/biker camps there I spent most of my time on the beach to escape the mosquitoes, returning to camp only well after sunset.
The bathrooms near the hiker/biker camp are also not that great. Cross the road and use the bathrooms, and large private showers you'll find there for a much better experience. Or use the ones by the registration office.
Because of the camping restriction along the beach, partly due to the fact that vehicles can drive in the sand, you will have to hike from the wreck of the Peter Iredale into at least Seaside. Though it may be tempting to sneak into the dunes for the night most of the area along this stretch is a live fire impact area. But the walk is anything but strenuous and the hike into Seaside wont take as long as you'd think.
The one alternative is to stealth camp in the dunes in Gearhart. Not allowed, but an option in a pinch.
In Seaside you have the option of staying at the Seaside Hostel, which is only two blocks off the OCT. Instead of turning right onto 12th Ave and crossing the bridge continue following N. Holladay Dr., labeled Holliday Dr. on Map #1, two more blocks south to 10th Ave. and the hostel will be on your right.
Seaside International Hostel
930 N Holladay Dr
Seaside, OR 97138
I have both stayed at the Seaside Hostel and stealth camped in Seaside on many occasions. The problem with stealth camping is that Seaside is a tourist town, and it also draws a lot of homeless people who travel along 101 and panhandle on the boardwalk. So there is some competition for out of the way spots to sleep. Most of the homeless usually sleep in the dunes or a few places out by Safeway, but I have never had a problem in Seaside. Don't think that just because someone is homeless and camping on the beach, and maybe drunk, that they are a threat. After all, isn't that what you will be doing?
Hiking out of Seaside you have the short but strenuous climb up Tillamook Head going into Ecola State Park. At the top of Tillamook Head are three hiker cabins, each with four bunks. There is also a covered picnic area and bathrooms available but no running water. It it a great place to stop for the night, and not just because it is free.
Each of the cabins is on a first come, first serve basis. But I have never had any problems with over crowding. Just get there early enough and claim a bunk, then head out to watch the sunset, or explore the abandoned bunker like some people do, which I cannot recommend because that area is off limits, and not known to very many people anyway.
Is it possible to hike from Fort Stevens all the way to the shelters at Tillamook Head?
Yes, is the short answer.
If you are in shape, and the weather holds, and you get an early enough start.
On a northbound hike I was trying to save money and planned to hike from the shelters on Tillamook Head to Fort Stevens to avoid spending the money on a hostel stay in Seaside. The hike got off to a bad start when I failed to realize just how much light the canvas roll down doors on the shelter actually blocked. Instead of setting my alarm and getting an early start I didn't get on the trail until 10am. Then for some reason I decided to take a long, four hour lunch in Seaside to charge my cell phone and upload pictures. By the time I left Seaside it was getting late.
I would have made it to Fort Stevens by sunset at the latest had I continued hiking. Still enough time to get in by headlamp and setup for the night. But the long break in Seaside had me feeling lazy, and maybe for the sheer novelty of it, I stuck out my thumb while walking the beach. The very next pickup truck stopped, and I hopped in the back. That 10 or 20 minute ride at 40 mph saved me at least an hour or two of hiking and I got into camp early enough to hike back out to the beach for sunset.
Heading south on the Oregon Coast Trail from Ecola State Park is a long stretch that will hinder many peoples thru hike because of the lack of a place to legally camp. Why the Oregon State Parks Department hasn't set up some kind of official option for hikers in Oswald West State Park is beyond me. Though I have been told that they overlook hikers who camp off the trail, out of the way, and using Leave No Trace principles, it would be nice to have an official place to stay.
That isn't to say that there aren't many places to stealth camp, and one of the more popular choices from other hikers I have talked to is on top of Cape Falcon. If you choose to use this option, doing so is at your own risk, and please be discreet and respectful of the park.
Since there is no official camping in Oswald West there is an alternative, but far less attractive, option to use the bus that runs along Route 101 to get back to the Seaside Hostel where you could stay a night before returning to tackle the climb up Arch Cape and Cape Falcon at the beginning of the next day.
Or you could use the same bus to return to Cannon Beach and hike back up to the shelters on Tillamook Head. That would require hiking back down to Cannon Beach the next morning to catch the bus to the point where you left the trail.
Either way you would have to call ahead or try to flag down the bus from Manzanita heading north at E. Shingle Mille Land, aka Mill Rd. on the map, where it meets Route 101.
The North by Northwest Connector Route 3 bus only runs twice a day from Manzanita into Cannon Beach, but at least it runs seven days a week. The Route 20 bus, aka Gray Seagull, only runs into Manzanita once a day, Monday through Friday, but continues on through Cannon Beach into Seaside.
Resupply along the entire Oregon Coast Trail is never a problem and Map #1 is a good example of this.
First, if you are taking public transportation out to Fort Stevens State Park chances are that you will be stopping off at the Fred Meyer in Warrenton. A great place to pick up as much food as you want to carry. Not that you need much. Even if you got all the way out to Fort Stevens and realized that you forgot to pack a dinner or snacks for the next day there is a KOA Campground store across the street from the entrance to the park. A little more expensive than the Fred Meyer, but only a quarter mile from the hiker/biker camp in the state park.
And a dinner and a few snacks will get you through the short hike into Gearhart where you can easily resupply, or even stop and eat lunch.
Seaside is only a bit further, and has not only a large Safeway and several other smaller stores, but tons of restaurants and fast food. I have spent hours in both the Safeway and McDonald's charging my electronics and utilizing their wifi.
Just remember to pack water for your hike up Tillamook Head if you plan on staying the night as there is no potable water up there.
Two or three days worth of food leaving Seaside is more than enough to get you well into Map #2.
And you have the option to pick up a few extra things in Cannon Beach the next day if you wanted to add a little variety.
The Mariner Market on N. Hemlock St., which is the main street through town, is a small grocery store with a deli.
Also while in Cannon Beach you can stop by the visitors center for free Oregon Coast Trail maps and tide charts.