Too Far from Our Beloved Mountains? Try Hiking the Coast

Esowista Peninsula

A view from the shore along the northern Pacific coast of North America. 2008.

My wife and I got away recently… No, not to Stowe, Vermont yet; we are still collecting and counting votes at, as explained in the May 26th post.  We left the city for the day to visit Assateague National Seashore in Maryland, and it was far from a walk on the beach.  It was a hike.

As hikers, we are mainly seeking nature and solitude when we venture outdoors.  If we can get to our favorite mountain range then great, but that is not always the case.  National Seashores and state parks along the coast may be nearer to us for when we need to hop a pack.

Before you go, determine whether your coastal destination is a sun tanning beach or whether it is natural seashore.  It probably goes without saying, we are not looking for California’s Long Beach or the Carolinas’ Myrtle Beach.  If we are going to cover the shore as a hike, we need to find publically accessible coastline such as Assateague National Seashore.  Consider also visiting in the early spring, late fall or winter when crowds are down.

For a coastal hike, we should come prepared for a hike as normal (see the tab “About Backpacking and Traditional Mountaineering”), but wear quick drying clothes and carry a rain jacket/windbreaker but make our own determinations about footwear, especially if the majority of our route crosses sand.  While it is nice to walk barefoot in the sand, hopping a backpack of any weight for a distance will start to apply pressure to the arches of your feet.  Teva-like sandals may be preferred for light daypacks or full hiking boots if we are carrying anything larger than a day-and-a-half pack.  If our coastal hike will cover mostly rocky outcroppings and some forest, such as those found in the northern coasts or along the great lakes, full hiking boots may be best.

As for traveling and settling, first, expect to cover less ground than we normally do on level ground.  Rocky outcroppings or sand can make for slower going.  Second, if we plan to camping, check with the land management agency on whether camping is permitted and what their rules are for campfires and treatment of human waste.

While traveling a coastal route may usually be fairly direct, navigation charts are still necessary.  A basic map of the area and a compass may be useful especially if we have to significantly alter our path away from the shore.  Also be sure to obtain the current tide charts for your area, if for nothing else, to ensure that our campsite won’t be submerged by evening.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides charts for the United States and Fisheries and Oceans Canada also provides tables.

Lastly, carrying a wildlife guide of birds and sea life of the region is a great way to take in the environment.  There tends to be several distinct habitats along the shore from the sea itself, beach, dunes, grasses and woodlands all with its own residents.  Use the tide chart to know when it is safest to know when it is best to explore the sea bottom at low tide.