OCT Accommodations: Planning Versus Winging It

OCT Accommodations: Planning Versus Winging It

The Oregon Coast Trail weaves in and out of towns and passes through many Oregon State Park campgrounds. Thru-hikers therefore have the opportunity to enjoy a range of accommodations, but this also presents a dilemma: How much should you plan ahead? More specifically, should you reserve accommodations in advance, or are you comfortable winging it?

I will begin by sharing my own thought process, and then offer you some key questions to ask yourself as you begin planning your trip.

I chose to reserve nearly all of my accommodations in advance. There were a number of reasons that I did so, including:

  • Regulations/Availability: Although the entire Oregon coast is public, it is only legal to camp on the coast in certain areas. I’m admittedly still unclear on some of the rules governing this, but my understanding is that you cannot camp anywhere within sight of homes or the highway. In Oregon State Parks, you can only stay in designated campgrounds, and obviously it is prohibited to stay overnight. Furthermore, places to stay overnight are few and far between on some spans of the coast, for instance, along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. This combination of factors inherently reduces lodging options, and I wanted to make sure I had somewhere to stay each night.
  • Timing: My first week on the trail coincided with spring break for most Oregon schools, so I knew people would be flocking to the coast. My hike was slated to end in early May, when the weather would be improving, so I assumed (correctly) that it would be crowded then as well.
  • Risk/Reward: I did not like the idea of completing a long, tiring day of hiking, only to find that where I wanted to stay was already full, and that I would have to continue on. I have heard stories of PCT and AT hikers in this situation, and while you have to do what you have to do, I decided I would prefer to avoid this if possible.
  • Personal Style: I prefer having a well-thought out plan in advance.
  • Safety: It is generally a good idea to leave a detailed plan with a trusted person whenever embarking upon a hike of any length. Since I was hiking 367 miles solo, this was especially important. Having a route and lodging planned in advance would make my whereabouts clear, in case anyone needed to come looking for me.

In many ways, my system worked well for me. The main upsides of reserving in advance, in my opinion, were:

  • Peace of Mind: Why add more uncertainty to an already-challenging hike? Knowing that I had a place to stay each night made me feel more comfortable. Knowing for sure when I would be in certain towns also helped me to plan my resupply strategy and thus feel more secure about my food supply.
  • Motivation: Sometimes the basic necessity of having to push through to get to where I was staying was what kept me going at the end of a hard day.
  • Having a Good Place to Stay: I typically selected my in-town lodging based on reviews, as well as proximity to stores, laundromats, restaurants, and so forth. Doing this research in advance helped my zero days in town to be more restful and productive.
  • Coordinating with Friends and Family: Since I knew where I would be and when, it was easier to coordinate with friends and family who wanted to visit me.

However, there were some definite downsides to making my hike this structured, including:

  • Lack of Flexibility: When I ran into a couple of significant snags, I essentially had to choose whether to divert from my plan (which would necessitate re-doing reservations and returning home later than I intended), to get a ride to make it to my next destination, or to suck it up and shuffle on (which, in a couple of cases, would have likely ended my hike prematurely by exhausting, sickening, or injuring me). All of those options are less than ideal, and having a more flexible schedule would not have forced me to make these choices quite as often.
  • Additional Expense: Reserving online, whether it’s campsites or hotels, typically means transaction fees. Additionally, reservable campsites are typically $17-$21, not including transaction fees (prices subject to change, of course). On the flip side, if you do not reserve in advance, it’s possible you may accrue unexpected expenses due to limited choices. But in my case, there were definitely times I could have saved money by just walking in to the $5 hiker-biker camps.
  • A Lot of Work: Personally, I love both the process of planning trips and also the results: Having detailed itineraries and peace of mind. But it obviously requires a lot of work up-front. For me, it wasn’t a problem, because I had plenty of time to dedicate to planning my trip. But I recognize that not everyone has that luxury, and that not everyone is wired in the same way. For some people, detailed planning could cramp their style.

Indeed, a lot of this has to do with your personality. So now that you understand my thought process, I would suggest asking yourself these questions as you plan your own trip:

  • Personal Travel Style:
  1. Am I more comfortable with having a firm plan and controlling my circumstances, or with being flexible and responsive to changing situations?
  2. Do I want to have a rustic experience, stay in hotels, or a combination?
  • Budget:
  1. How much am I willing to spend on lodging? i.e. Will I focus on staying in the $5 hiker-biker camps (not reservable in advance), do I want to indulge on some nice hotels (reserve in advance), or a combination?
  2. How much money do I want to set aside for unexpected, last-minute changes to my plan?
  • Fitness/Mileage/Goals:
  1. How much mileage do I plan to make each day?
  2. Do I have a defined end-date (i.e. Something I need to return home for) or am I flexible?
  3. Is that realistic for my fitness and for the lodging options available?
  • Legality: Am I more comfortable with staying in purely legal spots (designated campsites and/or motels) or am I comfortable with the idea of “stealth-camping” if need arises? NOTE: This will also, in some areas, influence daily mileage goals. Read more about the legal/practical lodging dilemma, and about specific lodging suggestions throughout the OCT.

Ready to dive further into planning? Get more tips here.

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