Answers to Commonly Asked Questions about the California Coastal Trail

by Bernie Krausse   

A common question that is asked about the California Coastal Trail is whether one can hike the entire 1,200 miles of coastline without a support vehicle.  The unanimous answer is a resounding yes.  Every year many people either hike the entire coast from border to border or section hike their favorite regions without any outside help. Stacey and myself have hiked this diverse trail in sections from about the Oregon border down to Santa Barbara County. We hiked these sections in the fall and winter of 2004 and 2005 when there was less traffic and more rain. The fall hiking was great and there were very few to no people at many of the campgrounds. However, during the winter months it can be really tough, if not impossible, to cross some of the rivers that seem non-existent in the summer months. Therefore, the summer, and especially the fall, months are a good time to hike this coastal walk. We met three other thru hikers this year doing the same route during this time period. Every hiker will have a totally different experience depending on their personal backgrounds, their hiking and camping experiences, their comfort levels, their fears, and how many miles they hike within a days time. Stacey and I hiked anywhere from 15 to 25 miles a day, depending on the hiking substrate and what visual attractions or distractions were in the immediate area.

At the moment there is definitely not an official campground for every hiking day on the route. However, this is not a problem if you are willing to consider a stealth approach. Coastal hikers and bikers occasionally will sneak off into the brush and will disappear out of sight and mind overnight in the more remote areas along the rugged coast. When you get into the towns or cities, there is always the option to take a motel, a hostel, or to take residence at an RV Park. And of course there are many federal, state, and county campgrounds with reasonable hiker rates to be explored.  We didn’t hike the Southern California portion of the route, but we were told by a north-bounder that there are undeveloped headlands where you can find a place to call home for the night in this fairly crowded region.  Often, we didn’t even put up our shelter and slept directly under the stars to watch the numerous satellites and shooting stars that filled up the spaces between the shifting and rotating constellations.

If you are traveling alone or in a small group, you may find it impractical to hire boats or arrange crossings along some of the rivers and bays that may block your forward progress.  In such cases, one can easily take an alternate route of road walking and bridge crossing that is sometimes described in the two Volumes of “Hiking the California Coastal Trail” by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols. The books themselves have sufficient maps and directions to find one’s way. However, in future editions of these books I would hope to see water and food symbols applied to the text and map sections whenever applicable for easy reference and detection by the enquiring long distance hiker.

In addition to the maps found in the official CCT guides, I would recommend downloading and viewing the following maps that would allow you to take some of the many alternate routes or larger loop trails associated to or near the immediate coast:

Higher elevation alternate routes can also be taken throughout the length of California.  One popular alternate route is through the Lost Coast Region.  A trekker could begin the ascent just inland from the coast on the well signed Cooskie Creek Trail eventually leading into the Kings Crest Trail with grand views in virtually all directions.

Yet another plausible alternate ridgeline route could begin in the Point Reyes National Seashore Area, where one could take the Bolinas Ridge Trail near Olema to the ever-evolving Bay Area Ridge Trail. This skyline trail can essentially be taken all the way to the junction of Highway 9 where one could then descend upon the Skyline to Sea Trail through Big Basin State Park till it re-connects with the CCT at Waddell Beach just north of Santa Cruz.

A true back-county wilderness experience could also be achieved by diverting into the Ventana Wilderness in Los Padres National Forest near Big Sur. Seemingly countless miles of trails into the interior could be taken exploring mountainsides covered with vast acres of scrub and chaparral.

Finally, one can diverge from the crashing waves and hustling automobiles of southern California by immersing one’s self in the 60 mile long Backbone Trail of the Santa Monica National Recreation Area.

However, be warned that some of these higher routes lack the water availability that the coastal route may offer. The coastal guide is fairly good about saying where one can get water from all the various state parks and public access points one hikes through along the official route. We were spoiled and acquired piped water for most of our journey except within a portion of Redwood National Park, The Lost Coast, and the Ventana Wilderness where we treated our stream water with two drops of bleach per liter. We usually just carried one liter of water each, but hiking during the summer months one may want to carry two liters or more of water through some drier areas. Therefore, be sure to highlight and look ahead in your guidebook about the potential and known water sources.

Then there is the matter of food and re-supplying. Stacey and I would typically buy 5 days, or a hundred miles of basic food supplies at the larger towns at supermarkets, and would then sometimes stop in the small towns to enjoy differing types of snacks at the general stores or at the many assorted restaurants one can find. The distances between the re-supply points varies dramatically. Some stores may only be ten miles or less apart from one another while others can be 40 or more miles apart from each other. For example, The Lost Coast is an extended stretch where you will have to carry more food than normal as well as in the areas you choose to take side trips. Also, be warned that south of Big Sur there are several small resorts with stores that have very inflated food prices.

If you find yourself reading this information, it is a sure sign that this coastal wonderland on the border between the land and sea is a domain that is calling for you to test its waters. It is an opportunity for you to not only explore Nature and the Wildlife therein, but to also explore the Nature of your own inner Self.

Enjoy each Moment along whatever Path in Life you may follow.

Bernie Krausse (Wayfaring Bern)

Approximate Mileages between Major Re-Supply Points Along the California Coastal Trail: 

Oregon Border to Crescent City
~ 33 miles(Alternate Route around the Smith River)
Smith River has a market
Safeway and other food markets in Crescent City

Crescent City to Eureka
~ 105 miles(Alternate Route between Arcata and Eureka)
Klamath has a small market
Orick has a small store
Trinidad has services
Arcata has large supermarkets

Eureka to Shelter Cove
~ 75 miles(Alternate Route from Eureka to Ferndale)
Ferndale has stores and services
Petrolia has a small store
Shelter Cove has a small store

Shelter Cove to Fort Bragg
~ 67 miles
Westport has a small store
Fort Bragg has large supermarkets

Fort Bragg to Gualala
73 miles
Mendocino has services
Little River has a store
Albion has a store
Elk has a Store
Point Arena has services
Anchor Bay has a store

Gualala to San Francisco
~ 130 miles(Alternate Route via Tomales and Point Reyes Station to Bolinas Ridge Trail to Pantoll; Detoured around Bodega Harbor)
Stewarts Point has a store
Ocean Cove has a store
Fort Ross Store north of Fort Ross
Jenner has a store
Bodega Bay has a store
Valley Ford has a store
Tomales has a general store
Marshall has a store
Point Reyes Station has a market
Stinson Beach has a store
San Francisco has many stores

San Francisco to Halfmoon Bay 
~35 miles
Daly City has stores
Pacifica has a Safeway on Linda Mar
Princeton has some services and restaurants
Halfmoon Bay has a supermarket

Halfmoon Bay to Santa Cruz
~ 53 miles
San Gregorio has a general store
Davenport has a store
Santa Cruz has several supermarkets

Santa Cruz to Monterey 
~ 46 miles
There are many stores and services between Santa Cruz and Capitola
Moss Landing has a few stores
Sand City has many stores
Monterey has many stores

Monterey to Big Sur 
~ 50 miles plus up to an additional 50 miles of side trips
Carmel has a medium sized store in walking distance of the beaches
Carmel highlands has a small orologi replica svizzeri store
Big Sur has a store at the Big Sur Lodge and at the Big Sur Post Office

Big Sur to Cambria 
~ 97 miles
Gorda has a very expensive store and restaurant
Ragged Point Inn has food and some supplies
Piedras Blancas Motel has a very small store
San Simeon Acres has a few small stores
Cambria has a large market

Cambria to San Luis Obispo 
~ 43 miles(Alternate Route around Morro Bay to South Bay Blvd to Turri Road to Los Osos Valley Road)
Cayucos has services
Morro Bay has many stores
San Luis Obispo had supermarkets

San Luis Obispo to Lompoc 
~ 71miles
Avila Beach has some services
Shell Beach has some services
Pismo Beach has grocery stores
Grover City has stores
Guadalupe has small markets
Casmalia has a small store
Lompoc has large supermarkets

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