10 of the Best Coastal Hikes in America
Find a friend who likes long walks on the beach and get ready for La Sportiva's top 10 coastal hikes...
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Who doesn’t like a hike with a view? Especially if that view includes sandy beaches, rugged coastline, or sea caves. With thousands of miles of coastline in the United States running through old-growth rainforests and over sandstone cliffs, there’s a lot of trails to choose from. We've eliminated some of the guesswork by putting together a list of 10 of the best coastal hikes from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean (and one in between).
Weather on the coast can be a unpredictable, so be sure to stuff a super light, waterproof shell into your pack (like the Hail jacket- available for Men and Women), and grab a pair of the Nucleo High GTX hiking boot. Highly breathable and waterproof, the Nucleo will protect your feet no matter what hike you decide to take on.
1. Ocean Path, Acadia National Park, Maine
Difficulty: Easy** Distance: 4.2 miles round trip**
Explore coves and cliffs on the Ocean Path Trail in Acadia National Park. Photo: Stephen M. Murphy
Take a walk on this waterside path that links Sand Beach and Otter Cliffs, passing tidal pools, coves, and granite rock formations along the way. Ocean Path makes for a quick, family-friendly jaunt, but it would be just as easy to spend an entire day exploring the coves and forests found here. Don’t miss Boulder Beach, a jumbled stretch of rocks the size of bowling balls, and bring a picnic to enjoy by Thunder Hole, which growls and roars as waves crash into the shore. The entire path faces east, making it the perfect spot to catch an Acadia National Park sunrise.
There is a fee to enter this national park.
2. Provincetown Dunes, Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 2.8 miles round trip**
Earn access to a quiet, uncrowded beach by taking this trail over the Provincetown sand dunes. At the top of the first dune, you’ll see the ocean in the distance- keep going through patches of low-lying scrub oak and wild roses until you get there. You’ll also pass some of Cape Cod’s off-the-grid dune shacks—simple buildings that have long served as studios for the artists and writers that flock to Provincetown.
There is a fee to enter this national park from late June through early September, and weekends from Labor Day until the end of September.
3. Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Cedar Island Ferry to Jockey's Ridge State Park Segment, North Carolina
Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 81.5 miles one-way**
Look for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in North America, along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Photo: John Buie
This epic beach walk stretches from Cedar Island Ferry to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks, with two ferry rides linking up the slender sand bars. The final segment of the 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail starting in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, most of this section passes through Cape Hatteras National Seashore. If you are visiting in the summer, keep an eye out for the loggerhead sea turtles and piping plovers that lay their eggs along the edge of the water.
There is no fee to hike the trail, and there is no shelter system along the way, so plan ahead.
4. Cape Perpetua Hike, Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon
Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 6.5-mile loop**
On this 6.5-mile loop, you’ll explore the network of trails through Siuslaw National Forest along the rugged lava cliffs, passing rocky coves and collapsed sea caves with intriguing names like Thor’s Well, Cook’s Chasm, and Spouting Horn. After all the crashing waves and jagged rocks, the trail turns inland through a dense, old-growth forest, where Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, and western hemlock tower in the perpetual coastal fog.
There is a fee to enter this national park at the visitor center in the Siuslaw National Forest.
5. Dungeness Spit Trail, Washington
Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 11 miles round trip**
This is a great one if you like looking for sea glass or watching shorebirds. Starting with a short walk through the forest, a somewhat steep descent leads down to the beach and out onto the sandy spit for the next five miles. You can turn around anytime, but the full trail goes all the way out to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, where there is a museum and public restroom. The best time to visit is low tide, and the area is a National Wildlife Refuge, so leave your four-legged companion at home for this one.
Don’t forget to pay the entrance fee at the kiosk in the parking area.
6. North Coast Route, Olympic National Park Wilderness Coast, Washington
Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 20 miles one-way**
The wild, wet Olympic National Park Wilderness Coast offers more than 70 miles of rugged coastline, and this 20-mile route from Ozette Trailhead to Rialto Beach is among the most scenic. The course alternates between walking on the beach to steep trails overlooking the water; plan to use ladders and ropes to clamber over rocks. Enjoy spending your time spotting sea stacks, watching bald eagles, and spying critters in the endless tide pools.
You’ll need a national parks pass, a wilderness camping permit if you are backpacking, a car shuttle (i.e., parking a car at each end), and bear canisters. There’s not much in the middle, so if you just want a day hike, plan to go out-and-back from either Ozette or Rialto Beach.
7. Coastal Trail, Quoddy Head State Park, Maine
Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 4 miles round trip**
Be prepared for challenging and steep sections as you explore the balsam forests and rocky coastline at the easternmost point of the continental United States on this scenic trail. Plan your trip for the summer to watch for the humpback, minke, and finback whales that feed along the coast. For the ultimate West Quoddy Head experience, head to the park to catch one of America’s first sunrises, then stay to watch the enormous tides, with a waterline that moves up to sixteen feet in six hours.
There is a fee to enter this state park.
8. Lakeshore Trail, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Difficulty: Moderate** Distance: 42.4 miles one-way**
The Lakeshore Trail is part of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail and is one of Michigan’s most popular hikes. The entire trail takes about four days, complete with hiking along cliffs and sweeping views of Lake Superior, sand dunes, waterfalls, and lighthouses. Campsites along the way (reservations may be required) make it easy to tackle shorter sections to hit some of the highlights.
There are no entrance or day use fees, but you’ll need to buy a permit for overnight camping.
9. Lost Coast Trail, Mattole to Black Sands Beach Section, California
On the Lost Coast Trail you’ll find black sand beaches and rocky outcroppings tucked into a series of steep valleys. Photo: John and Jean Strother
Difficulty: Strenuous** Distance: 25 miles one-way (northern section)**
California’s Highway 1 winds through coastal hills and veers past the cliffs of Big Sur, then shifts inland to avoid this rugged 80-mile stretch of coast. But this craggy section is perfect for an adventure on foot, especially the trek from Mattole to the charcoal gray Black Sands Beach, the product of erosion from the nearby shale cliffs. Travel past rocky outcroppings tucked into a series of steep valleys through some of California’s wildest and most unpredictable weather (i.e., pack your rain gear). Make sure you know the tide schedule.
To keep the area pristine, overnight access is limited, so thru-hikers must arrange a King Range Wilderness permit well in advance (see the website for camping zones), and park a car at each end or take advantage of the shuttle service. If you prefer a day trip, plan for an out-and-back from either trailhead.
10. Kalalau Trail, Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii
Difficulty: Strenuous** Distance: 11 miles one-way**
Access to the island of Kauai’s Napali Coast is limited to air, sea, or hiking trail, and the Kalalau Trail is one of the best ways to experience it. The route starts at Ke’e Beach, traveling through tropical forest, past isolated beaches and sheltered valleys on its way to Kalalau Beach. Crumbling cliffs, humidity, heat, and some serious hills make this a challenging trek for even experienced hikers, but Kalalau Beach is worth every bit of sweat—one mile of perfect white sand surrounded by thick jungle and painted cliffs.
If you are hiking past Hanakāpīʻai Valley, which is just two miles in, you’ll need a camping permit to be on the trail whether you are camping or not.
Originally written by RootsRated for La Sportiva.
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