Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail Creates a Link Between Willamette Valley and Pacific Ocean
Oregon’s next big hiking destination may be where you least expect it.
As the state’s most popular destinations and trails continue to crowd, ardent adventurers may be looking for something new with more space to roam. The new, 62-mile Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail offers just that in a well-marked, temperate route linking the central Willamette Valley to the Pacific Ocean.
The original foundation for the “C2C Trail” was conceived in the early 1970s but was delayed until the formal Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail Partnership was established as a nonprofit in 2004. A group of dedicated Partnership volunteers worked with private landowners and various government agencies to build necessary portions of the trail through an early 2020 trail rerouting and final sign placement last August. The finished route is the result of 40,000 volunteer hours and $20,000 in donations; it was originally slated to open in 2020 as the final pieces came into place, but the pandemic pushed the official opening back to this spring.
In short, the trail is quintessentially Oregon: expansive temperate forests, backcountry roads, picturesque rolling hills, and (for now) solitude. The C2C Trail begins in downtown Corvallis along a bike path and, once it leaves Philomath, heads through logged forests, passes in the shadow of Marys Peak, and follows a mix of country and private roads skirting a northern chunk of the Siuslaw National Forest before spilling out hikers and bikers at Ona Beach, a few miles south of Newport.
The C2C Trail can be done in either direction and typically takes 2-6 days to complete, depending on your transportation of choice. Alternatively, there are several options for day hikes and smaller adventures within the trail that we’ve outlined below.
Thru-Hiking the Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail
Whether you’re training for a bigger thru-hike, or looking to check another off your list, the C2C is an excellent, lower-challenge option. The highest point on the trail is 1,800 ft., and the gradual terrain is marked by just a few significant climbs in between several much more gradual shifts in elevation. The biggest challenge for backpackers may be the lack of water sources along the way, with the midway stop at Big Elk Campground being the only reliable place to refill. (Some streams can be found along the trail—but may dry by mid-summer. Hikers should consult trail maps and reach out to the Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail Partnership for more tips on finding water.)
Whether at Big Elk or elsewhere, there are plenty of places to set up camp in the National Forest lands, and trail organizers did an excellent job of marking the path the whole way. Signs are clear, easy to spot, and designate where campfires and camping are allowed— and where they aren’t. (Be sure to follow Leave No Trace guidelines wherever you are.)
Also be sure to check the Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail Partnership website site before leaving on longer treks, as certain detours are in place during the rainy season to protect habitats, and for the most updated permit requirements.
Day Hiking the Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail
Since the trail is split up into even chunks, there’s ample opportunity to take advantage of myriad day hiking opportunities. Heading west from Big Elk, the C2C starts on gravel before ascending into the forest once again either on pavement (biking route) or traditional trail dirt. Families could choose shorter walks—but, really, hikers could go as long as they please simply following the trail markers.
The route closer to the coast would be a fine choice on a warmer day and offers a bit of a varied landscape due the marine influence.
Biking the Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail
Perhaps the most unsung appeal of the C2C Trail is the impressive biking. While the trail is officially designated for hikers and backpackers, hardy bikepackers might find special solace in tackling the mix of highway & backcountry paved curvature and gravel along the way.
The biking routes overlap the hiking routes at times and feature a nice mix of winding forest roads along with feasible climbs and mellow descents.
Once out of Corvallis and Philomath, the trail winds largely into rural forest roads with nothing but open gravel and tarmac straight to the ocean. The specific bike paths are clearly marked, but the C2C website reminds riders that after leaving the old farming town of Harlan, “you are on your own, as we make no assurances regarding safety, difficulty, signage, or possible errors in our route description”.
Prepared bikers needn’t worry, though. The C2C is a largely accessible and approachable introduction to uninterrupted gravel riding and longer bikepacking. Until the trail grows in popularity, you’ll probably find yourself passing only the occasional resident or hiker en route to your destination.
Before You Attempt the Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail
You’ll want to keep the following in mind before attempting the Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail:
- A specific portion of the C2C requires a free permit from Starker Forests (good for one year). Call 541-929-2477 to obtain the permit if you might hike that section of trail, or visit the company’s office (7240 SW Philomath Blvd., Corvallis, 97333) between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
- All C2C dirt trails have Oct 16-May 15 closures to bicycles and horses. Some detours are in place, but certain portions of the trail have no detour for bicyclists. Check the official C2C website before venturing out to check the latest trail conditions.
- Bugs are active, especially in the warmer months, so bring bug spray.
- While there are few wildlife issues to worry about along the C2C, cougars and black bears do call this area home. (Black bears are largely not aggressive, and cougar incidents typically occur only with solo hikers.) Both encounters are rare, but be sure to familiarize yourself with best practices before heading out.