When you think about hiking, you probably envision a trail in the mountains, the desert, or the woods.
But what about the beach?
Sure, the beach is for swimming. Lounging. Relaxing in the sun. But it can also be a fantastic place for a hike.
Summer is the perfect time for a coastal hike. Fair weather throughout most of the country makes for ideal trail conditions, plus — depending where you are — you might even be able to cool off with a dip.
Even if the water’s too chilly or rough, hiking along the coast is usually cooler than hiking inland. And the views — they never get old.
We’ve rounded up a list of some of the best coastal hikes across the country — from Atlantic to Pacific (and some in between!). So pack your swimsuit, sunscreen, and the rest of your essentials, then head to the beach for a memorable summer hike.
1. Ocean Path Trail, Maine
In Acadia National Park, a dramatic coastline prevails. The rough ocean crashes against a rocky coast, which — while generally not a sandy spot to sunbathe — is beautiful nonetheless.
The Ocean Path Trail covers just over 2 scenic miles of Acadia’s rocky coastline. This is a busy trail in a popular park, so don’t expect to have it to yourself. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect this seaside walk — it’s still a magical walk.
Starting at Sand Beach (Acadia’s sliver of sunbathing territory), the trail leads to Otter Cove to the south. Ocean views are plentiful throughout the hike, with a special detour at Thunder Hole. This sea cave — during the right conditions — shoots a wave of ocean spray up to 40 feet in the air while creating a thunderous, loud roar. Granite cliffs and views of nearby mountains round out the hike, which you can retrace back to Sand Beach.
2. Lost Coast Trail, California
When you think of the California coastline, you might think of palm-lined beaches, cliffside mansions, or the famous Pacific Coast Highway. But the 25-mile Lost Coast Trail in Northern California is a far cry from all that. Instead, it’s a remote, seaside wilderness unlike any other stretch along the California coast.
The trail winds between the Pacific Ocean and the King Range National Conservation Area. This is rugged country, full of rocky beaches, rolling meadows, and towering mountains. Take a shorter day hike, or plan to backpack the entire route.
Hiking this trail requires both a permit and thorough knowledge of the tides. There are some sections of the trail that are only passable during certain conditions. For both the permit and the tides, you’ll need to plan ahead.
3. Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall, Washington
Since Cloudline is based in Seattle, we had to include a beach hike in one of our nearby national parks — Olympic. While this park is known for its diversity of landscapes — mountains, rainforests, and ocean — we’re heading to the beach for this scenic coastal hike.
A 1.5-mile hike takes you from the parking lot at Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall, a huge…well, hole in the wall. Waves have carved away at the rock, accessible only at low tide, where you can explore the tidepools full of vibrant sea life. The “trail” is the beach, so expect it to be a little rough. You’ll have to navigate through sand, (sometimes slippery) rocks, and driftwood that might lengthen this relatively short hike.
While the scenery — sea stacks, tidepools, and evergreen forests — is spectacular, you shouldn’t overlook the wildlife. Look for sea lions, whales, otters, sea birds, and eagles along the way.
4. Lakeshore Trail, Michigan
We’ve covered the East Coast and the West Coast, but we can’t forget the fresh coast. The five Great Lakes create over 4,500 miles of coastline — that’s more than either the East or West Coast. The nation’s longest freshwater coastline belongs to Michigan — aptly named the Great Lakes State — and it’s here where you’ll find one of the most unique beach trails on our list.
The Lakeshore Trail traces the Lake Superior shoreline within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The trail runs the length of the park — roughly 43 miles — while tracing this scenic section of the 4,800-mile North Country Trail.
The landscape is a mix of northern forests, rocky cliffs, a lighthouse, and surprisingly sandy beaches. Streams, rivers, and waterfalls all flow into the big lake, where a vast, blue expanse stretches north to Canada.
Hike a short section, or make it a multi-day trek. Explore the forests, marvel at the rocky formations, relax on the beach, and — if conditions allow — take a chilly dip in the northernmost Great Lake. If you plan to camp overnight, you’ll need to pick up a permit.
5. Great Island Trail, Massachusetts
What’s more quintessentially beach than Cape Cod?
Known as one of the country’s most popular vacation spots, Cape Cod National Seashore is a laid-back region with plenty to explore. Lovely white beaches, peaceful marshes, picturesque lighthouses, ponds, wildlife, and lots of cultural history make Cape Cod a fascinating place to hit the trail and dip your toes in the water.
The Great Island Trail is roughly an 8-mile loop traversing through forest, shoreline, dunes, and even a historical, 17th-century monument. Water views are jaw-dropping and plentiful. This is the perfect trail to show off this part of the country’s diverse coastal landscape. Plus, it’s a pleasantly quiet and uncrowded trail for such a busy park.
6. Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
If you’re looking for a beach hike that’s every bit as challenging as it is breathtaking, the Kalalau Trail might be the one for you. On the Island of Kauai, Kalalau Beach is a remote paradise on the rugged Napali Coast. Think towering mountains, lush canyons, and tiny spits of gorgeous white sand dotting the rugged coastline.
There’s no easy way to access Kalalau Beach — you’ve got to go by helicopter, boat, or the 11-mile Kalalau Trail.
To hike the trail, you’ll need a coveted permit. You’ll also need a lot of nerve, grit, and determination to cover 11 miles each way over this strenuous, even precarious, trail. You’ll gain and lose a lot of elevation as you traverse 5 different valleys on your way to the beach, and you’ll have to navigate the infamous Crawler’s Ledge. It’s likely one of the most gorgeous trails you’ll ever hike — and arguably one of the most difficult.
If you can, spend two nights on the beach so you have the time to rest and enjoy it before making the return trip.
7. Tahoe Rim Trail, California & Nevada
We couldn’t ignore the largest alpine lake in North America while rounding up a list of our favorite beach hikes. This massive, crystal clear lake straddles the California-Nevada border in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail circumnavigates it.
While you may think of skiing when you hear “Lake Tahoe,” this destination is also known for its mountain-rimmed beaches.
The Tahoe Rim Trail makes a great backpacking loop, but you can also take a day hike from one of the 8 trailheads. Whether it’s waterfalls, mountain peaks, or wildflowers you want to see, the Tahoe Rim Trail has a section for you.
You don’t need to worry about a permit for the majority of the trail, but you will need one for both day hikes and overnights in the Desolation Wilderness.
Hit the Beach — And the Trail
Whether you visit one of these beach trails or find one closer to home, we hope you get out for an unforgettable waterfront hike this summer.
Tag us on Instagram with #Cloudlinesocks to share your highlights from the trail and tell us where your beach hikes take you.