From Sunset Cliffs to Cape Arago, some of the best hiking trails run along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. Here are seven must-hike trails along the Western coast.
Shi Shi Beach, Washington
The hike on this beach could be one of the most gorgeous walks you will ever take. Situated on the Washington coast, this stretch of sand features tide pools, sea stacks, and headlands, all surrounded by coastal forests. This eight-mile hike round trip starts at the trailhead near the fish hatchery on a newly refurbished part of the trail. You’ll eventually cross bridges and boardwalks as you descend deeper into the Olympic National Forest, Eventually, the sand will disperse. After walking another mile you will arrive at Point of Arches, a mile-long parade of rocky sea stacks. Be sure to check in at the ranger station for parking and permits.
Ecola State Park, Oregon
This Oregon State Park has a network of trails including an eight-mile segment of the Oregon Coast Trail, and a two-and-a-half-mile historical interpretive route called the Clatsop Loop Trail. Whichever you choose, you’ll encounter tide pools, surfers, elk, bald eagles and driftwood bleached white by the sun and the salt water. Views are breathtaking and be sure to watch out for migrating whales in the winter and spring.
The Lost Coast, California
The Lost Coast is so named because of the difficulty of putting a road through, and even walking over the cliffs and the beach below is a slow-go. Fortunately, there are some trails along the coastline that will get you down to the beach where the sand is both soft and rocky at points. The trail stretches 25 miles, from Mattole Beach in the north to the village of Shelter Cove in the south. You can walk small stretches of the trail in an afternoon or grab your backpack and take your time. Be sure to watch the tides and the weather, because both can put a damper on your hike if you don’t pay attention.
Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Just a 90-minute drive from the city of San Francisco in nearby Marin County is Point Reyes National Seashore. After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll find yourself winding through farmland with dairy cows and folks selling organic milk by the side of the road. All along the road the trails are marked, and there are plenty of them; the national seashore has about 150 miles of hiking trails, so there’s a path for every level of hiker. If you’re up to it, consider hiking the Tomales Bay Ecological Reserve, a 9.5‑mile trail with 482 acres of salt marsh and tidal flats consisting of pickleweed, arrow grass, gum plant, saltbush, and salt grass, as well as plenty of birds including Osprey. This is only one of the trails at the national seashore, so if you have a month to wander the shores of Northern California, this is the place to be.
Salt Point Bluffs Bluffs State Park, California
The panoramic views of this 20-mile trail will take your breath away. Pounding surf, massive kelp beds, and open grassland forests can be enjoyed by hiking, horseback riding, and camping. The trail boasts six miles of rugged coastal trails that lead to the ocean. Sandstone from these bluffs were used to make the streets of San Francisco back in the 1800s. The weather in San Francisco is always unpredictable, and even more so along this trail, so pack for cold and wet weather even if the sun is shining as you set out for your hike.
Cape Flattery, Washington
This trail is found at the furthest northwest tip of the contiguous United States and is a wonder to behold. It starts on a gravel road, and quickly leads into a forest and then onto a boardwalk so that hikers won’t be stuck in the mud. Make sure you check in at Washburn’s general store for a permit, which is run by the Makah Tribe. This area is one of the most popular on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula and this trail, while short at 1.5 miles, is worth running into a few other hikers to enjoy this coastal beauty.
Tillamook Head, Oregon
Like many trails in this area, the Lewis and Clark expedition was here and the men were awestruck by the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest. Upon arriving at Tillamook Trail, Clark marveled, “I behold the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed.” For the best hikes at Tillamook Head, it’s best to start at the Indian Beach picnic area, which is clearly marked. After walking 1.2 miles, you will find an area for backpackers with open sided shelters and bunk beds. You will also pass a World War II bunker covered in dark green moss, and eventually, end at an abandoned lighthouse nicknamed “Terrible Tilly.” You can return the same way, following some switchbacks that will take you past Clark’s favorite viewpoint.