Mountain trails have fantastic forest scenery and high elevations, but it can be hard to beat coastal paths with salt-infused air and spectacular views. If the ocean is your adventure muse, lace up your hiking boots and hit one of these beautiful coastal trails no matter the season.
Waterfall Overlook Trail/McWay Falls, California
This 0.6-mile out-and-back hike in Big Sur's Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park provides views of one of the most dramatic settings in California, where the Santa Lucia Mountains run down to the Pacific Ocean. The wheelchair-accessible trail wraps around McWay Cove and overlooks a waterfall that gracefully plunges into the sands of the beach nearly 80 feet below. Seasonally, this trail can be partially blocked due to erosion, but McWay Falls can still be seen from the section of the trail that remains open.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Alaska
The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is the crown jewel of Anchorage’s 135-mile paved trail system. The easy trail hugs the coastline of Cook Inlet and winds for 11 miles from Second Avenue in downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park. Highlights include dramatic views of the Knik Arm, Cook Inlet, and the six mountain ranges surrounding Anchorage, Earthquake Park, and Point Woronzof. Wildlife viewing is abundant with birds, beluga whales, moose, and bears.
Cape Flattery Trail, Washington
This easy 1.5-mile out-and-back Cape Flattery hike* takes you to the northwest corner of the contiguous 48 states, a historic spot overlooking Tatoosh Island and the old Cape Flattery Lighthouse at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The area is home to the Makah Tribe, and a Makah Recreation Pass is required for parking. The trail takes you along a rock spine to a labyrinth of sea caves and stacks where the Salish Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. *Editor's note: The Cape Flattery Trail is currently closed to the public.
Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, British Columbia
This 29-mile trail in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park along the west coast of Vancouver Island is best for multi-day hikes ranging from moderate to strenuous, but it’s possible to create an easy-to-moderate day hike by starting at Botanical Beach and ending at Parkinson Creek—a distance of about 6 miles. Along the way, wander along mature forests and tide pools, but be sure to plan your hike around low tide times.
Whaleshead Beach Trail, Oregon
Take this moderate trail from the Whaleshead Picnic Area along the Oregon Coast Trail to the Thomas Creek Bridge trailhead in the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor to trace the edge of cliffs and get panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. One of the favorite spots along this 6-mile out-and-back hike is Indian Sands, where large sand dunes sit high on the coastal cliffs, between the forest and the ocean. Bring your canine best friend along to enjoy this hike, as dogs are allowed along the trail.
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
Enjoy a 4-mile out-and-back hike along the last stretch of accessible coastline of Kauai’s south shore that hasn’t been developed. The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is an easy hike from the southeast corner of Keonela Bay (also known as Shipwrecks) to Kawailoa Bay along sand dunes, limestone formations, and rocky inlets that offer safe haven for sea turtles and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Take a moment at the Makauwahi Sinkhole, a portion of the largest limestone cave found in Hawaii.
Cerro el Coronel, Baja California
Start near the beach on this nearly 7-mile hike up the Cerro el Coronel, where views range from Point Loma, California, to Todos Santos Island in Baja California. Bring along plenty of water for your journey, and scan for the best hiding place for a treasure trove of gold—because legend has it that the colonel’s stash remains hidden since the early 1800s.
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This article was first published in December 2018 and last updated in October 2021. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.