Bring bug spray and accurate tide charts, for starters. As for destinations, there are several long stretches of the Pacific coast hardly trodden upon by humans. The unforgiving landscapes will make you feel like an early explorer from hundreds of years ago—except with thousands of megapixels at your disposal to capture the moment. These three hikes, one each in Washington, Oregon, and California, are the most captivating.
The Best Beach Hikes: Oregon Coast Trail, Oregon
The rugged, 382-mile Oregon Coast Trail traces Oregon’s entire shoreline, from the Columbia River to the California state line. What sets the 30-mile stretch from Brandon to Port Orford apart is that Highway 101 veers several miles eastward, away from the coast, meaning that crowds stay far from the shore. The surf-pounded path crosses the Elk and Sixes Rivers, rounds the tip of Cape Blanco State Park, and cuts through the Floras Lake Natural Area. Plan on spending about four days on the hike.
The Best Beach Hikes: South Coast Route, Washington
Washington's vast Olympic National Park has no shortage of quiet, hidden beaches along its more than 60 miles of rainforest-fringed Pacific shoreline. The best is the 17-mile section of the South Coast Trail from Third Beach Trailhead to Oil City Trailhead, which takes takes two or three days to complete and crosses rivers and fields of driftwood along the way. Bring your camera to snap pictures of the sea stacks, which jut like teeth above the waters just offshore, and plan your trip for midweek to avoid other hikers.
The Best Beach Hikes: Lost Coast Trail, California
In many ways, wild, misty Humboldt County in Northwest California seems like its own world—from the Douglas firs and giant redwoods that inhabit so much of its 2.3 million acres to the vast hidden pot farms for which the area is infamous. But nowhere is the otherworldliness more captivating than on the 25-mile Lost Coast Trail through the King Range National Conservation Area. Go on a weekday and you'll share the sights with seals and little else as you trek across jagged ridges and through stands of old-growth trees.