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Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
2,119.00 ft (645.87 m)
Trail type
Shuttle
Distance
36.80 mi (59.22 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Section 3 of the Oregon Coast Trail leads coastal hiker along the uniquely scenic beaches and coastline of the Three Capes Scenic Area. After enjoying the calm waters of Tillamook Bay along the infrequently trafficked Bayocean Road, hikers return to the beach briefly in the isolated town of Cape Meares before quickly ascending the cape's northern slope to find spectacular views of rugged coastline and the beautiful Cape Meares Lighthouse. The majority of the route to Cape Lookout is along roadways with the exception of a brief walk along the beach around Oceanside and Netarts Bay. Adventurers should consider making the brief off-trail trip through the unique Maxwell Point pedestrian tunnel in order to catch a glimpse of Agate Beach. An ideal overnight stop in Cape Lookout State Park will refresh hikers before they make the long trek up and over Cape Lookout, wade through Sand Lake, and continue all the way to Pacific City. Of the 36.8 total miles in this section, 14.4 are on pavement, just 5.4 miles are on dirt trail, and the remaining 17 miles are on the beach.

Tips for hiking the Oregon Coast Trail 

The Oregon Coast Trail offers hikers an opportunity to experience the beauty of Oregon’s coastal landscapes and ecosystems in an intimate and continuous way, and it passes through fragile environments. Your awareness of a few additional items can enrich your overall experience on the OCT and help minimize your impact on delicate environments along the way.

  • Before departing on your hike, learn the Leave No Trace Seven Principles so that you can practice them while you are out on the trail. The more that people incorporate Leave No Trace into their decisions and habits, the better the outdoor experience will be for everyone.
  • Learn about Oregon’s five unique marine reserves. Marine reserves are areas that have been set aside for study, research, and conservation; it is illegal to remove any marine life from a marine reserve, and they are also protected from any development. Marine protected areas, which are often adjacent to reserves, allow some fishing and development. Marine reserves are wonderful areas to observe wildlife and take in Oregon’s beautiful coastal scenery. Fortunately, Oregon’s marine reserves couldn’t be more accessible than when hiking the OCT. From north to south they include:
  • The islands and sea stacks along the coast are protected as part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. They provide crucial nesting habitat for seabirds and pupping/resting sites for seals and sea lions. All seabirds and marine mammals are protected by federal law and are sensitive to human disturbance. For this reason, all islands and sea stacks are closed to public access year round.
  • Portions of the trail meet the ocean's waterline and may only be passable at low tide. Excercise caution and safe judgement; wait for appropriate tidal conditions in these areas, and always watch for sneaker waves. 
  • Pay special attention to areas signed and posted as snowy plover habitat. A handful of Oregon’s beaches and estuaries provides critical habitat for the western snowy plover, a species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed as threatened in 1993. The breeding season for the western snowy plover is from March 15 to September 15, and during this time it is imperative to avoid potential nesting locations in dry sand beach areas. Dogs, kites, bikes, and vehicles are all prohibited from March 15 to September 15, and walking is only allowed on hard-packed wet sand. Please do your part to help this threatened species survive by complying with posted restrictions and completely avoiding closed areas. There are designated snowy plover areas from Fort Stevens to Floras Lake, and hikers should be aware of their locations. To learn more, be sure to check out these snowy plover resources:
  • The Oregon coast is generally a very dog friendly location, and dogs are allowed on most beaches, state parks (when on a leash) and other coastal public lands. However, there are specific times and locations when dogs are not permitted in certain areas, such as beaches and estuaries identified as snowy plover habitat during nesting season. Please pay attention to posted signage and respect times and areas where dogs are prohibited. 
  • For those interested in hiking the OCT in sections, or even just accessing the trail for day hikes, take note that recreation fees and passes are required at several federal recreation sites. If you will be parking at one of the state or federal fee area recreation sites, make sure to pick up the applicable recreation pass such as an Oregon Coast Pacific Passport.

Tillamook River Bridge to Oceanside

After meeting the junction of OR-131 and Bayocean Drive as described at the end of Section 2, hikers will have limited options for transportation along Bayocean Drive as it circumnavigates the remainder of Tillamook Bay. Though this roadway sees limited vehicle traffic, there is very little shoulder. It may be possible to dial-a-bus from the WAVE (Tillamook County's Transportation District) to avoid unsafe walking along this road. Regardless, there are certainly abundant views along this 6.7-mile section of trail over the calm waters of Tillamook Bay.

If you took advantage of the ferry boat ride across Tillamook Bay inlet offered by Garibaldi Marina at the end of Section 2, you'll be starting Section 3 on Bayocean Spit, on the beach north of Cape Meares.

After arriving in the very small community of Cape Meares, Bayocean Road NW becomes 13th Street NW and and then Meares Avenue NW. Follow the road west to where it ends at a parking area to return to the beach. This isolated beach stretches on for miles to the north toward Bayocean Spit, which is another nesting area for the western snowy plover. Please see the Tips section above for information on how to proceed through this sensitive habitat. The road that brought you here once connected to the Three Capes Scenic Route that travels up and over Cape Meares; however, the road south of the community of Cape Meares was closed in 2013. Tillamook County, which is responsible for this road, has been working to obtain grants to begin construction on this section of road affected by a landslide. While this is basically a dead end for vehicles, hikers are able to enjoy some spectacular scenery and views as they walk to the south end of the beach for about 0.3 miles and find the Cape Trail that leads up a few switchbacks through classic coastal forest to the top of Cape Meares after another 0.8 miles.

Once you've arrived at this trailhead at the top of Cape Meares, proceed along the road for 0.5 miles, following the signs toward the state park. This day use area is well kept with paved pathways and multiple viewpoints along either side of the cape leading toward the lighthouse at its end. The views from here are quite tremendous with many sea stacks and rock islands. As is typical with the off-shore stacks in Oregon, a variety of seabirds can be seen nesting and taking refuge. Birds such as the common murre, pelagic and Brandt's cormorants, as well as pigeon guillemonts frequent the area between April and July. If you are hiking in the spring, you may also be lucky enough to see peregrine falcons nesting on the cliffs.

At just 38 feet, Cape Meares Lighthouse is Oregon's shortest lighthouse, but not its least scenic. In fact, the promontory upon which the lighthouse sits provides an ideal whale watching perch between December and January as whales migrate south to their calving grounds. The lighthouse itself was lit in 1890 and remained in service until it was deactivated in 1963. The lighthouse was severely vandalized before it was acquired by ORPD in 1968; the keeper's house was completely demolished, and the four Fresnel bull's-eye lenses damaged by gunfire. Three of the four have since been recovered.

From the Cape Meares Lighthouse, walk along the paved path skirting the south side of the cape and enjoy unobstructed panoramic views of the rocky coast along the town of Oceanside and on to Cape Lookout in the distance. The trail enters the forest and passes by the famous Octopus Tree, which is an atypical Sitka spruce named for its octopus-like shape. It has no central trunk, which is unusual for this type of tree; instead there are about six separate trunks. Views along the rest of the trail are frequent between the trees as you continue on, for a total of 0.8 miles, to meet up with the Cape Meares Loop Road. Follow this road as it winds up and down, passing above the aptly named Short Beach for a total of 2.3 miles, before dropping back down onto the beach in Oceanside. There are virtually no camping areas along this leg of the trail. The soonest an ideal campsite comes along is 18 miles into this section at Cape Lookout State Park, which is about halfway through this whole section. There are, however, some motel and cabin options in Oceanside and Netarts.

The trail drops down to the beach at Oceanside Beach State Recreation Wayside. Off-shore, Three Arch Rocks was designated as a national wildlife refuge by president Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, and it has become Oregon's largest seabird nesting colony. More than 100,000 birds thrive on these rocks that sit half a mile offshore, including the common murre and a large tufted puffin colony. At the north end of the this small beach lies an unassuming pedestrian tunnel entrance that leads through Maxwell Point to a small, beautiful agate beach on the other side.

Oceanside to Pacific City

To rejoin the OCT from Oceanside, walk south along the beach as it curves into and skirts Netarts Bay (avoid at high tide) for a total of 2 miles before hitting the pavement again in the small town of Netarts. From here the road that circumnavigates Netarts Bay can become quite busy with limited shoulder space, if there is any at all. Utilize your preferred method of transportation and follow Whiskey Creek Road for a total of about 6 miles, following signs for Cape Lookout State Park and its developed campground. This would be an ideal park to camp in; pitch a tent in the hiker/biker camp and take advantage of the flushing toilets and potable water.

The OCT resumes at the south end of the park at the very large trailhead parking lot. Enjoy views of the beach through the trees as the trail suddenly starts to climb a few switchbacks. A significant amount of trail maintenance is obvious through here with substantial bundles of rocks installed on the steeper segments to prevent additional trail erosion. In fact, a short section of trail had to be recently rerouted due to severe landslides. Views are frequent and scenic as you climb higher above the Pacific as it meets the rugged cape coastline and the mellow beaches to the north. After about 1.25 miles the trail crosses over Cape Creek via an impressively long wooden suspension bridge. The space between the creek beds here allows for airy views of the incredibly dense coastal forest. The classic players are all present, including the prominent Sitka spruce trees and sword ferns.

The trail climbs another few switchbacks for 0.8 miles to the top of Cape Lookout (886 feet) and the Cape Trailhead. At 4.8 miles out and back, you may find this a worthwhile side trip given the sweeping panoramic views at its point. This is also a good spot for whale watching should you be there in the proper season. About 0.25 miles down this trail there is a plaque memorializing the plane crash of a B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber that occurred under foggy conditions in 1943. Nine of the 10 crew members all perished in the crash that was supposed to be a routine training mission. Instead, the plane missed clearing the cape by 50 feet and flew into the forest traveling at 200 mph.

The trail descends the south side of the cape for another 1.6 miles via several switchbacks and along thick trail walls of ferns. Take a moment to admire the impressive amount of life thriving in these woods. Even giant ferns are growing in the crooks of old-growth Sitka spruce tree branches. There is one viewpoint, complete with a bench, overlooking the beach and the south side of the cape jutting out to sea. After the trail dips down onto the beach, it's a straight and obvious beach walk for another 12.4 miles to Pacific City with one potentially difficult obstacle to cross. Be sure to enjoy the views to the north of the impressive cliffs on Cape Lookout.

Large brown pelicans and a variety of gulls (western, glaucous-winged, and Heerman's) seem to frequent these beaches. As hikers approach the Sand Lake Recreation Area, the pleasant and familiar dull ocean roar may be drowned out by loud off-highway vehicles (OHVs). Just south of the recreation area, the eponymous Sand Lake sits as a potentially difficult crossing. Be sure to time this crossing at low tide, because the only alternative is to backtrack 0.5 miles north to Galloway Road in the recreation area, follow it to Sandlake Road, and circumnavigate the lake, joining the beach again in Tierra del Mar. This detour would add approximately 6.75 miles to your trip. At low tide, adventurous hikers can find the best possible route to wade through the lake. It may take a bit of navigating inland and through soft, mushy sand. If you are prepared, and the tide is not moving swiftly, hikers could potentially swim across the inlet of this tidal-filled lake.

Once you've congratulated yourself for safely crossing this major obstacle, continue on a pleasant, mellow beach walk along Tierra del Mar beach to Cape Kiwanda. Vehicles are allowed on the beach here, so be mindful of drivers. Dispersed beach camping is also permitted here. There may be plenty of seasonal creeks pouring onto the beach. Climbing this cape is not an easy feat; the steep sand dune looming on its north side ascends nearly 200 feet. Once you are at its top, impressive and unique views of the fragile sandstone that make up this cape abound, including the ever-present Haystack Rock sitting off shore. In addition to having the same name as Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock, this monolith also was once Oregon's shoreline, eroded down by the beating ocean over millions of years. It now, undoubtedly, hosts thousands of seabirds. If you have the time, explore the network of trails that exist all over this cape, but be sure to heed to the restricted area signs and barriers.

Proceed down the south side dune of the cape into Pacific City. This small beach town has become quite a tourist destination for surfers, beachgoers, and microbrew enthusiasts; the local brewery has a prime location right in the sand adjacent to Cape Kiwanda. Exit the beach onto Pacific Avenue as the trail begins Section 4.

Risks of hiking road sections 

Although officially designated as a trail over 40 years ago, the OCT is an ongoing project and not yet a single continuous hiking trail. Gaps in the trail, usually caused by rivers, bays, or rocky headlands, require hikers to walk along busy roads (often U.S. Highway 101) that are not designed for pedestrian use. Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and other public and nonprofit agencies, including local cities and counties along the Oregon coast, are working to eliminate these breaks by establishing trails to connect trail segments and beaches. 

In 2016, the Oregon legislature enacted legislation requiring OPRD to complete an action plan that will identify steps needed to complete the trail. This planning effort will identify key stakeholders and document the current status of trail completion, evaluate and assess alternatives for completing trail segments, and seek funding to complete new trail sections. 

Until the trail is completed, OCT hikers will have to decide whether they choose to walk along the shoulder of the highway that is, in fact, currently an official part of the trail. It is important for OCT hikers to understand the risks of walking along the highway portions of the OCT. The most prevalent dangers are being hit by a vehicle or being struck by debris kicked up by or flying out of a passing vehicle. In addition, some highway sections along the Oregon Coast Trail are longer and more difficult than others. These highway sections are detailed in each section's guide. 

Public safety is of the highest concern at Outdoor Project, and we do not condone walking along roads without a designated pedestrian path. We support utilizing other modes of transportation to connect the trail and beach sections such as public transportation, private shuttle or taxi, biking, ferry, or completing the Oregon Coast Trail in hiking sections to avoid the highway altogether. Two great resources for finding alternative transportation are Google Transit (Google.com/transit), Visit The Oregon Coast (visittheoregoncoast.com/transportation/), and an internet search for taxis or other transportation alternatives in the town nearest to the trail break. There are also ferry services available to cross the Nehalem River, Tillamook Bay and the Umpqua River, and these will greatly reduce the amount of highway miles one must walk. Note that ferry boats do run on a regular schedule and must be reserved in advance. More information on each of these ferries is found in Section 2 and Section 6. 

This guide provides information needed for hikers who do choose to walk the trail in its entirety, including those portions along the highway. We urge those hikers to exercise caution to ensure a safe and enjoyable hike on the OCT.

For further information on the Oregon Coast Trail, be sure to check out these articles:

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

2

Pros

Old-growth forest. Big vistas. Bird watching.

Cons

Tidal lake wading. Road travel.

Trailhead Elevation

3.00 ft (0.91 m)

Highest point

856.00 ft (260.91 m)

Net Elevation Gain

853.00 ft (259.99 m)

Features

Flushing toilets
Potable water
Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Old-growth forest
Big vistas
Lighthouse
Wildlife
Big Game Watching
Bird watching
Fishing
Horseback riding

Typically multi-day

Yes

Suitable for

Biking

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide + Map

Comments

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A profound concept originally envisioned by governor Oswald West, in 1967 the Oregon legislature ultimately realized his vision of making the entire Oregon Coast forever open to the public in a piece of landmark legislation titled the Oregon Beach Bill, officially making all 363 miles public land. "The People's Coast" is truly a one-of-a-kind coastline, a unique blend of mountains and rocky stacks, towering old growth forests, marine sanctuaries, tide pools and kelp forests, charming towns, historic fishing communities, world-class golfing, breweries, and simply jaw-dropping scenic beaches. We encourage you to plan your next trip at visittheoregoncoast.com or by calling (541) 574-2679.

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