Whether you’re a beginning hiker or an advanced trekker, the Pacific Coast region offers a wealth of hiking trails that are perfectly suited just for you, your friends or loved ones. For many hikers, the preferred destination is the legendary Pacific Crest Trail, one of America’s first National Scenic Trails that extends 2,650 miles from the desert and Sierra Nevada regions of California, through the Cascades of Oregon and Washington and then into British Columbia, Canada. But what if you prefer equally scenic hiking trails that run closer along the Pacific Coast, with its spellbinding views of not only the Pacific Ocean but also the natural beauty it’s so famous for. For just a few ideas, here are five of the best hiking destinations on the Pacific Coast.
Big Sur, California
Extending nearly 90 miles along the rugged California Coast, Big Sur is often considered to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s also, quite easily, one of the best hiking destinations on the Pacific Coast, with breathtaking ocean views all along Highway 1 between Carmel and San Simeon, and the vast Los Padres National Forest that appears to act as a fortress-like sentinel for the California Central Coast. Many of the most popular hiking trails are found near the small community of Big Sur, such as Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Ventana Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, world-renowned for its moderate, .6-mile Overlook Trail to view its famous McWay Falls, one of the most photographed attractions in Big Sur, along with the equally famous Bixby Bridge. However, the northern section of Big Sur should not be ignored, with the 500-acre Carmel Valley Ranch, Garrapata State Park and the must-see Point Lobos State Reserve, which landscape artist Francis McComas once called it the “greatest meeting of land and sea”, all blessed with several hiking trails to meet any level of ability.
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Dana Point, California
Orange County is easily best known as the Southern California home to Disneyland, the world-famous park named the “Happiest Place On Earth”. But this sun-drenched county just south of Los Angeles is also famous for its sandy beaches that run along a small segment of the California Coastal Trail. While the beaches of Huntington, Newport and Laguna get most of the attention, Monarch Beach in Dana Point also ranks among the best destinations on the Pacific Coast for hiking, especially when bounded by the Dana Point State Marine Conservation Area, Dana Point Headlands and world-class luxury resorts like the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and the AAA Five-Diamond Monarch Beach Resort. Among the best spots for hiking in the Dana Point area are the easy .9-mile Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center Trail, the out and back, 7.6-mile Salt Creek Trail from Salt Creek Beach Park, Dana Point Beach Trail and the 3.9-mile Doheny Beach Trail, which actually can be extended another three miles to San Clemente State Beach. In addition to the superb accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton and Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point offers several other moderately priced hotels as well as camping at Doheny State Beach and San Mateo Campground.
Oswald West State Park, Oregon
Situated about 10 miles south of the City of Cannon Beach, Oswald West State Park is home to a particular stretch of the Oregon Coast Trail. Named after the 14th Governor of Oregon, the state park encompasses 2,448 acres but currently is open for day use only. Nevertheless, with no entrance fee, four miles of spectacular coastline and miles upon miles of family-friendly hiking trails, Oswald West State Park is, quite simply, as good as it gets. Recommended trails for casual hikers include the out and back 4.9-mile Cape Falcon trail and 1.3-mile Short Sands Beach via the Cape Falcon trail. Visitors who desire a longer trek can opt for the 8-mile, out and back Neahkahnie Mountain trail with an elevation gain of 1,991 feet. During the summer months, visitors are urged to arrive early although the four parking lots aren’t likely to be filled all day. Overnight visitors may wish to book reservations in nearby Cannon Beach at places like Cannon Beach Hotel, Inn at Cannon Creek or Hallmark Resort Hotel and Spa.
Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Located about 30 miles northwest of San Francisco in Marin County, Point Reyes National Seashore is the only National Seashore on the Pacific Coast. Occupying more than 71,000 acres, this park preserve is well noted for its amazing backcountry campsites, approximately 150 miles of hiking trails, an abundance of marine life and some of the cleanest beaches in California. Information on more than 50 trails are found through AllTrails but recommendations can vary from an easy hike of up to an hour to more strenuous treks from three to six hours or more. Among the best-rated hiking trails at Point Reyes are the 1.9-mile Chimney Trail, the moderate 9.4-mile Tomales Point Trail and the very popular Alamere Falls Trail, a moderate 7.9-mile via the Coast Trail from the Palomarin Trailhead to Alamere Falls, a rare tidefall that flows into the ocean and just one of two in North America, with the other being McWay Falls in Big Sur. Available lodging is likely at a premium at Hostelling International Point Reyes but backcountry campsites may be available through Recreation.gov. However, backcountry sites can only be accessed by hiking, biking, riding a horse or by boat.
Shi Shi Beach, Washington
Despite the likelihood of crowds over summer, Shi Shi Beach is as one recent visitor described as “unforgettable, amazing and breathtaking”. A part of the sprawling Olympic National Park in northwestern Washington state, Shi Shi Beach features a moderate, out and back trail that can lead simply to the beach or a bit further to the highly recommended Point of Arches rock formations. Day hikers must purchase a $10 Makah Recreation Pass that can be purchased at several businesses in Neah Bay and is valid for the entire calendar year. Overnight visitors must purchase both a Makah Recreation Pass and a wilderness camping permit at the Wilderness Information Center (WIC) in Port Angeles. Due to the climate, hikers should expect muddy conditions from the trailhead down to the beach and overnight campers should make sure to camp above the high tide mark. Directions to the trailhead to Shi Shi Beach and additional information can be found through the Washington Trails Association, Makah Tribal Council, and the National Park Service.
About the Author:
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who has covered national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University and a member of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).
He is a lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, in California.