We loved the OCT. We had read a lot of negative things about the OCT which we generally just didn't find to be that true. Its definitely not a wilderness hike, but if you realize that and go into the hike with the mindset of what the OCT is really like then we thought it was a really great 400 miles.
Myth of the Bad Things
I'm going to put a different spin than most on these things we read that almost made us not even start the OCT.
This has to be the biggest thing overblown of them all. You'll read that 40% of the OCT is roadwalking. That it's nearly all Highway 101 and that the Highway 101 shoulders are non existent with death defying blind curves. This just isn't true. I kept detailed track and we walked a grand total of 43 miles on Highway 101 (excluding highway 101 miles in town on sidewalk). That's not nothing but it's a far cry from what you'll read elsewhere. And I swear, we had 3' to 6' shoulders almost the entire time. There was really only 1 bad section, the 3 miles after the Haceta tunnel really did have a tiny shoulder with blind curves. I honestly don't know what people are talking about. We would follow a couple past blogs and read about the next section being on highway 101 with no shoulder and blind curves and we'd get there and it would have a giant 5' shoulder and be mostly straight with a few curves. Or at least a 3' shoulder. Most people hitch all these miles. That's fine. But if you don't want to hitch then at least know it's nowhere near as bad as you'll read. Highway 101 really is busy. And loud. And annoying. It's not like I enjoyed it but we always connect our steps and the 43 miles were fine for us.
How did we only end up with 43 highway 101 miles? By catching boat rides across rivers and estuaries. See below. This is the way to hike the OCT, hands down. Also by taking a few of the guidebooks updates that take you on other roads or new trail.
Now there are a fair number of additional non highway 101 road miles. I don't really know how many. I'd guess another 10%-15%. Maybe 40-60 more miles. Mostly smaller and quietish roads. Not always but usually fine. Narrower shoulders frequently but far less and slower cars so not an issue really.
This is a tough one. How hikers do this is all over the place. I've read hikers spending half their nights in hiker/biker campgrounds and other private campgrounds and half their nights in pricey coastal hotels. And I've read of hikers basically stealth camping the entire way. We did the latter. Personally I hate car campgrounds so much I wouldn't have even hiked the OCT if I had to stay in them every night. I thought camping was going to be really hard but it actually turned out really quite good.
It's almost impossible to legally camp the entire way without staying in expensive motels and taking expensive cabs back to town at the end of some days. We saw several blogs where hikers must have spent a ton of money doing this. The best deals for people who don't mind car campgrounds are the walk in hiker/biker sites that many of the state park campgrounds have. They are $ 8 and have showers and USB ports to charge. They range from nice and away from the car campers to practically camped on Highway 101 and terrible. We never stayed in these as I hate camping near other people but that's just me. As for motels there are really only a few towns with anything that resembles an affordable hiker motel (think $ 70 in Lincoln, North Bend, few places like that). Otherwise the coast is very expensive in the summer season.
It's also illegal to camp anywhere in a state park and there are a ton of state parks on the OCT. It's also illegal to camp on the beach in front of a state park. It's also illegal to camp within town limits on the beach which is a huge percentage of the beach for the first 2/3 of the trail. Up north the town limits are basically connected and there almost never seemed to be legal beach camping. And then there are the many snowy plover nesting beach closures (stay on wet sand only). They are everywhere. We used to laugh, technically beach camping is legal in Oregon yet they've found a way to almost make it impossible to actually do so.
So what did we do? We stealth camped a lot. We were very, very discreet and low impact. We never made a fire. We were almost always way out of sight. We didn't kill or remove vegetation and so on. We camped a lot of nights in state parks where technically it was illegal but it's public land so at least there's that. The forest is temperate rainforest and crazy brushy and very hard to get off the trail to camp out of sight. A few times we were on a trail where no tourists walk (usually a headland has one side with trails that tourists walk and the other side no one but OCT hikers walk) and we would just risk it and camp on a small dirt spot next to the trail. We never saw anyone while doing this. We also camped in the dunes a fair bit when they were available. Not always legal but they are covered in invasive European beach grass so it's not like you are camping on a sensitive eco environment. And it's just sand. We also camped on the beach a handful of times, mostly legal. Beach camping isn't as romantic as it sounds. It's obviously very sandy and it's very, very wet with condensation. But beautiful. I always loved our beach camping. We also stayed in a couple of OCT designated free sites (Ecola headland and another in the dunes near the New River) and 3 motel nights.
So technically we didn't camp legally a lot but I also don't feel like we were flouting and super abusive of the rules. At this point the State has created a 400 mile route that they advertise but haven't remotely provided a reasonable way to legally camp the whole way. Eventually this will be a problem when the trail inevitably gets more popular. But for now we really enjoyed our camping. It did take some planning, looking ahead for what would be possible and scouting for trees on Google satellite but it was doable and worth it.
Water Hazards and Ferries
The OCT isn't just one long 400 mile beach walk. Frequently there are headlands that can't be passed without going over on a trail. And frequently there are rivers and bays flowing into the ocean that are impassible. In my opinion the only way to truly enjoy the OCT is to catch a boat ride across as many as you can. Basically you have 2 options. You are usually walking down the beach on a nice ocean walk and then you hit a river. You can either divert inland on a medium to long roadwalk (many of them are also highway 101 walks) or you can figure out a way to get a boat ride across and then continue on the other side with more great beach walking. This is obviously the far superior choice. The primary way to reduce the roadwalking on the OCT is to get boat rides across. The guidebook author has a PDF list on her blog that mentions a few commercial places that will ferry you for money or whether it's likely you'll find a fisherman. Some of the diversions are short roadwalks (5 miles or so) and some are longer. We tried to find a balance and choose the one's that were either easy and/or long walks around. If it was a short walk around and hard to get a ride we generally just chose to walk around. We ended up paying for 2 boats and getting 2 rides from fishermen. We also took a kayak across the Smith River when we extended our route into NorCal (see more below). The only ride we really wanted but couldn't get was Coos Bay which is a long walk around but no one we could pay for a ride. It also wasn't a good place to hope for a ride as you have to walk to the end of the spit and hope/wave someone down. If you don't get anyone then you have to backtrack. Typically the best place to find a ride is if the north end is a marina/dock and not just a random spot where the beach hits the river.
See my notes at the end for specifically what we did and other info.
Also, taking a packraft would be an amazing choice. I saw a Facebook post of a guy who did it earlier this year. You could pretty much get across everything with a packraft. Maybe if you were hesitant a couple of the bigger ones you could pass on but the majority of them are fairly short paddles across. We did hear from locals about how the tides really push and pull fast so you'd have to be careful about your timing across and spot.
One thing that at times seemingly constantly kept us busy were the tides. There are a bunch of points/outcroppings that need a low or medium tide. There are a bunch of creeks/rivers that flow into the ocean than need to be crossed at low tide and there are some beaches down south that either disappear at high tide or are harder to walk. All of these things made it hard to hike a full day or camp or just relax. Sometimes we'd find ourself hiking as quick as possible for 15 miles to get to a river at low tide, then cross it at 1:30 pm and only be able to walk 2 more miles to camp as camping after that for a long time was bad. It felt like a lot of hurry and stop or slow down and wait. It took a fair bit of daily planning or planning a few days in advance. There are typically ways around these issues but they always require roadwalking. There's enough roads already, if you don't time these things properly and walk more roads you probably won't end up liking the OCT.
I'm no expert on tides but for us generally the tides were about 6 hours apart and there was 1 lower, low tide and 1 higher, low tide. For example there would be a 0 low tide which is nice and low and then a 3 low tide later that same day which is quite high. So when we had to cross the Sand river at low tide which was reportedly waist deep but we had a 3 low tide, if was actually over our heads and swimming. We seemed to usually have our higher low tide during the day which was a pain some times and the lower low tide overnight when we were sleeping. This was just bad luck, could have easily been the other way and things shift month to month. We had the tide app Tide Now OR which worked well.
The OCT is pretty easy all things considered. At least physically easy. There's a lot of good beach walking or road walking. Most of the trails over headlands or in state parks are in excellent shape. A few are poor and the guidebook updates have info on a couple to avoid. The hardest part about the OCT is managing your camping and the tides (crossing creeks/rivers or certain beaches and headlands). I think any skill level could hike the OCT if they wanted to.
The guidebook by Bonnie is excellent and essential in my opinion. It's titled a day hikers guidebook as her publisher wanted it like that to sell more which makes sense but it's also easy to use for thru hiking. Each day hike connects to the next hike or has a special OCT Thruhiker blurb about what to do next. It takes a little getting used to but is worth having. She's put a ton of effort into it. I believe she hiked again this year so maybe an updated version will be coming out soon. There are also a lot of updates, ferry listings, camping listings and things like that on her personal blog for free. I suggest browsing her last few years of blog entries for those things, it's easy to do quickly.
There is an old, mostly accurate, sometimes inaccurate GPS track which we found helpful from Amy/James at doingmiles.com
. It's about 10 years old and generally pretty good. We found down south most of the state parks trails were grossly undermapped (miles, way more twists and turns). Occasionally the beach access mapped isn't public but in general it was quite helpful.
The guidebook has small maps which are adequate as you don't really need actual topo maps, especially if you use offline maps and the GPS track on your phone.
You do have to be careful about water surprisingly. Most of your water will come from towns and faucets at state waysides. The guidebook does a good job of mentioning these sources but doesn't always get it quite right. It was never a big deal but there isn't necessarily always water when you might want it. I actually drank from a lot of creeks flowing into the sand/ocean. Most people wouldn't probably do this but I'm low maintenance for water and would rather not carry it. Usually anything Creek would be good and anything River would be tidal and therefore brackish/salty.
This is super easy. There are a million places to resupply. Down south a little further spread out but we never carried more than 2 days of food really. The markets though can be very expensive. If you want to save money then shop at big stores and carry more food. Ray's Place which is a big chain was wildly expensive for a grocery of that size, FYI. Fred Meyer is the best but few and far between.
Like 90% coverage the entire way with AT&T and Verizon.
We took 23 days to do the OCT which included all the road walks. Another week for the miles we hiked into California to Arcata. We didn't hike particularly fast as we constantly got caught up waiting or rushing with tides.
I'd recommend the advice we took from Amy/James website and continue another 100+ miles into California on the California Coastal Trail which takes you through the amazing Redwoods down to Arcata. The CCT has a set of old online maps and is walkable like the OCT. Signage is poor but most of the miles are actually on trails in Redwoods State/National parks where signage is good. For the Parks you need a free backcountry permit and must camp in the very few designated sites which actually makes it difficult to hike/camp legally. We basically did though until the last night in the Park.
These are my notes on all the water crossings and a few other things. The mile markers correspond to the GPS track I made from Amy/James.
32-35 - Humburg point and 2 more points - low tide, especially Hug point. We also squeezed through just fine around Arch Cape at low tide.
55 -Nehalem river, $ 10 ferry. Just call when you arrive, they are always around and fast.
64 - Tillamook bay, $ 20-$ 30 ferry (seen differing reports). They were busy so we asked a local. Arrived at first light (5:30 am) and a lot of fisherman were going out. Supposedly need an incoming tide to be dropped off but not really sure about this. There were at least a dozen boats at first light, was easy to get a ride and free.
79 - Netarts, no ferry - on a Saturday there were a few boats in the water. We easily got a ride by asking but could take some time depending on what's around. Good chance you'll get one, I'd suggest trying.
93 - Sand river, low tide - Most reports say this is generally waist deep at low tide. We had a high, low tide (+3) and it was over chest deep near the ocean and anywhere else inland we tried. We walked the 1/2 mile towards the parking area and found a guy with a tiny raft who rafted our packs across and then we walked chest deep across. There was a second channel as well which was only nigh thigh deep.
100 - Nestucca river, walk around (7m)
118 - Salmon river, walk around (7m)
130 - Siletz bay, walk around (4m). Possible local boat ride, not super likely but possible. Popular beach/play/fishing area.
[187 - South of Cape Perpetual Hwy 101 walk for 6 miles. Good shoulder the whole way except for a few blind curves. We walked on the other side twice to avoid curves]
[197 - After Haceta Head is the famous tunnel with no shoulder. Suggest waiting for a break in traffic and jogging through WITH traffic. When a car comes from behind just block the lane and they will follow you and block danger for the extra minute to get through. No cars should really care, this worked well for us. Walking into traffic, if there ended up being 2 way traffic you could get mowed down. After tunnel there are 3 miles of windy Highway 101 with many times little shoulder and blind curves. Not for the faint of heart].
207 - Siuslaw river, walk through Florence
230 (+6 down spit to pickup) - Umpqua river, $ 50 ferry for 2 ($ 40 for 1 + $ 10 per additional person) vs pretty crappy 13 mile walk around. To get a pickup use the number in the guidebook. Texting worked best for me. To get to the pickup, walk to the jetty, go over the small dune and pickup the sandy jeep track. It didn't last long for us an we ended up on soft sand along the jetty. About 3/4 mile the jetty ends on a sandy beach. We got picked us about 300' to the left where it's a little deeper to land. There were a lot of other boats around but you'd have to waive someone down which isn't easy/polite while the are fishing/crabbing/etc. No one was just beached here to ask for a ride.
258 (+9 to pick up) - Coos bay, $ 50 for 2 (15m) - The guidebook suggested guy never returned any of my calls or Facebook messages. We heard he wasn't responsive. I'm guessing he has no interest in doing the ferry service. The walk around is long but not as bad as others as you are only on Hwy 101 across the awesome Coos bridge which has a sidewalk.
281 - 5 Mile point - Low tide. Maybe could scramble the rocks at a higher tide.
291 - Coquille river, walk around (5m) - Other hikers made the bride sound really dangerous but it was fine. The oncoming traffic lane was wide, there was a tiny shoulder and there was even a little platform to hop up on further if you wanted. Sure, it's not amazing but it wasn't a big deal.
305 - New River - By late August the river was nowhere to be seen flowing into the ocean. Weird! Earlier in the summer a couple reported knee high at low tide.
The beach from New River to Port Orford is mostly very hard to walk. The sand changes and never seems to dry. It's wet, soft and frequently steep. Low tides will help you but even then it's tough. We did have a couple good miles from the Sixes river to Cape Blanco.
312 - Flores Lake - Suggest taking Amy/James GPS route as it gets you off the very hard to walk beach and is a nice walk through trees.
317 - Sixes River - easy knee high wade 2 hrs before low tide (+4 when we did it).
322 - Elk river - Knee high at low tide (a high, low tide of +3.5 when we did it). It's also moved 3/4 mile south from the topo map.
333 - Humbug state park campsite. The 1.2 mile trail from the camp to the day use area has been cleared (Bonnie update said it was impassible). Use this as the road has little shoulder and blind curves. After the trail there is 5 miles on Hwy 101 with a smaller shoulder than usual (about 3'). The road is pretty straight and the walking OK, but not amazing.
366 - Pistol river - This was flowing into the ocean pretty good. Hard to say how deep but the hwy 101 walk around for a mile was easy so we did that to not risk a high river and having to turn back.
392 - Winchuck river. Right before the end we used the Hwy 101 bridge to get over this. It's a solid river and it was hard to tell but seemed like it might have been an issue at the ocean crossing.
397 -Smith River - Try Smith River Kayak. For $ 25 the guy let us paddle a tandem kayak across and leave it for him to pick up later. He was laid back.
436 - Klamath river, walk around (5 rd, 3 trail). Does not look easy to find a ride across.
We almost didn't even do the OCT based on what we had read but loved it. Don't expect a wilderness hike, expect what reality is out there and I'd recommend it.