California Coastal Trail

Rainforest to desert, and everything in between
Trail at a Glance
Length: 1,194 miles
Route: Coastline of California, from Mexico to Oregon
Completion: 82% of this trail is reasonably safe and recommended.
Hiker Purity: Mixed
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Imagine a trail along the entire length of the California coast, a diverse route from border to border that explores beaches, bluffs, headlands, bays and coves, staying as near the shore as possible for 1200 miles. Visualize a route that passes through wilderness areas, towns and cities, climbs over high ridges, and crosses dozens of streams ranging from seasonal trickles to year-round creeks to major rivers.

Happily the California Coastal Trail (CCT) is no longer all in the mind, but too few people realize the CCT already exists, as diverse a long distance trail as you'll find on the planet. The CCT has been being created, designated and built for twenty years. Finishing it will take several more years of dedicated work, but other long distance trails have also taken years to complete. The Pacific Crest Trail has taken twenty-five years to become almost complete since the first guidebook appeared and it's still not done. The Appalachian Trail took even longer.

California is a land of extremes. It not only has the largest population and third largest land mass of the fifty states, it also has the longest coast of all the states except Alaska. The California coastline stretches, sprawls and twists for 1200 miles from the rain forest north to the desert south.The CCT attempts to visit as much of the coast as possible while traversing the length of the Golden State in a reasonably efficient manner. In some places, topography prevents the CCT from passing directly along the shoreline. In other places, private or restricted property keeps the trail from the coastline. The Coastal Trail takes the through route along the coast, walking a fine line between the practical and the ideal. The CCT strives to see as much of the coast as possible without going far out of the way without good reason. In many places where the CCT misses a corner of the California coast, there will often be a side trail you can take out to a point, down to a pocket beach, or to another worthy feature.

State of the Trail

Does the California Coastal Trail run all the way along the coast? The answer is both a resounding yes and a qualified no. Yes, it starts on the beach at the Oregon-California line and ends, also on the beach, at the California-Mexico border. The CCT, however, hasn't yet been completed ? it's a work-in-progress.

Roughly 62 percent of this current route follows existing trails and beaches. Much of the other 38 percent of today's CCT follows road shoulders on a provisional route that gets you from point A to point B, but isn't in most cases the ideal CCT route. Most of the 20 percent of CCT currently on back roads is reasonably safe to follow. This means that about 82 percent, or around 978 miles of the 1194-mile route is currently recommended as reasonably safe and worthwhile to follow. The other 18 percent follows highway shoulders, which are walkable - but we're working for the day when we'll have safe footpaths for these sections, too.

Of course, if you feel compelled to follow the entire CCT, you can with extreme caution walk the highway segments. Alternately, until the Coastal Trail is complete, you can bicycle these legs or follow them in a vehicle.

Day hikes or Long-Distance Trek? You Choose

Basically you have three ways you can hike the California Coastal Trail. The first and most popular way is to day hike any portion of the CCT whenever you choose. Even if you only walk a mile or two you can still have a quality experience, a little taste of the Coastal Trail.

On the other extreme, we know that a few people will want to through-hike the CCT, that is to walk continuously along the entire 1200-mile trail. Such an undertaking should not be considered lightly Modified types of through-hiking include hiking half the CCT, hiking a set number of miles, whether 50 or 500, walking from Oregon to San Francisco or San Francisco to Monterey, or hiking the CCT through one county.

The third way to hike the CCT is to make it an ongoing project. Hike a section whenever you can and keep a checklist of what you've done, striving each year to cover another span of the trail. Perhaps someday you'll head out to hike that final section, and after it's done, you'll be able to take pride in the fact that you've hiked the entire California Coastal Trail.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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