Lost Coast Trail, finally

trip report by site editor Rick McCharles

For years I’d been trying to find the Lost Coast of California, listed by all one of the best Ocean walks in the world .

… The Lost Coast is a section of the California North Coast in Humboldt County, which includes the King Range. The steepness and related geotechnical challenges of the coastal mountains made this stretch of coastline too costly for state highway or county road builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped portion of the California coast. …

hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

Logistics are challenging:

• 25mi one way
• Mattole trailhead south to Shelter Cove

I arrived at the Bureau of Land Management office in Arcata, California after closing. One of the staff unlocked the door, answered all my questions on the hike, got me tide tables and the booklet called “What You Need To Know Before Backpacking The Lost Coast”.

Thanks BLM !!

A quick summary:

• camp anywhere you like, but in established sites
• beware Bear visits
• severe storms typical
• no bridges, many creek crossings
• be forewarned about ticks and Lyme disease
• all water must be treated
• don’t be surprised to find a rattle snake in a pile of driftwood
• mobile phone coverage unlikely
• it’s remote, rescue slow and difficult

A free self-service permit is required. Get it at either trailhead.

Hike the “low tide” sections while the tide is dropping. If you get “stuck”, you can simply wait for the beach to open.

We talked about the tragedy of 2000 when 2 student hikers and a parent were drowned. Terrible. The rip tides and so-called “rogue waves” are a real hazard here.

My insane plan to park at the North end, then mountain bike with full pack to the South, was … laughable.

Alternatives?

LostCoastTrail.com offers a one way shuttle. Cost about $100 and the vehicle is not always available.

Quickly I decided to hike in and out the North trailhead, doing only part of the Trail.

BLM advised I camp the night prior at Mattole campground. Pit toilets and potable drinking water.

hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

Within minutes I was enjoying the tranquil California coast.

hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

Minutes after that I was questioning my tolerance for hours of trudging in the sand.

Rick hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

Happily, there are often bypass trails higher up on the bluff. I walked a combination of beach and trail.

There is a lot of bird and sea life. I saw no sign of the world’s smartest bears while I was there. Bear vaults are mandatory.

hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

The biggest “challenge” are the creek crossings. I brought a second pair of shoes for water but, in the end, did not use them. On some I simply tramped through. On others I went bare foot.

hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

This ship must not have seen the Punta Gorda lighthouse.

hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

About 3.5mi into the morning I spotted a fantastic campsite just being vacated by other hikers. I grabbed it.

hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

Rick hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

Paradise.

After establishing my base camp and tying my tent down securely against the North wind, I spent the rest of the day with only a light pack. My turn around time was 3:30PM.

Rick hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

A gorgeous day on the Lost Coast. I’ll need to hike the south end next time.

hiking the Lost Coast Trail, California

See all 50 of my photos from this hike.

UPDATE from Buzz:

The BLM station at Shelter Cove is easiest info stop. Shuttle service works well tho the tides weren’t right for me to do the Coast in a day using the Shuttle, so I contrived a great loop starting at the S end. Ran up the fire roads and trails to the top of King Peak – highest in the range, old fire lookout, incredible views – then cranked down to the beach where strangely, someone owns a remarkable house accessible only by boat or small plane. Single bottle fanny pack was fine – all the water is drinkable.

related:

• GORP – Lost Coast Romance

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43 thoughts on “Lost Coast Trail, finally

  1. Lost Coast is great. The BLM station at Shelter Cove is easiest info stop. Shuttle service works well tho the tides weren’t right for me to do the Coast in a day using the Shuttle, so I contrived a great loop starting at the S end. Ran up the fire roads and trails to the top of King Peak – highest in the range, old fire lookout, incredible views – then cranked down to the beach where strangely, someone owns a remarkable house accessible only by boat or small plane. Single bottle fanny pack was fine – all the water is drinkable.

  2. Rick, this is a great hike. I also haven’t done the whole thing, but man, is it beautiful and wild there.

    Love your photos. I’m doing a post on the Northern California Hiking Trails blog and will direct my readers here.

  3. Pingback: Hiking the Lost Coast

  4. Wonderful post! My boyfriend and I are going to be backpacking much of the Northern Coast this summer and are planning to tackle the Lost Coast Trail. We will definitely be referring back to this post.

  5. Pingback: Hiking Trail of the Day: California’s Lost Coast Trail « Hiking Tips Quest

  6. Pingback: my best hikes S.W. USA « RickMcCharles.com

      • Tent? I use a hammock, brother. Lighter and more comfy.

        I’ve been trying to condition my feet for barefoot hiking and was inspired by your story. How were those boulders without shoes? A bitch either way, I imagine. Even with shoes, those medium sized rocks (you know, the ones about the size of small melons) were dangerous on the ankles. You never know when they’ll move or roll. Was that easier or more difficult without shoes?

        -Matt

  7. I just posted an ad on craigslist this morning looking for a hiking companion. I want to hike the Lost Coast Trail the first full week of October (furlough time off from work) and do not feel comfortable going alone (although I do plan on bringing my dog along). I am not in great shape but am a good endurance, average pace hiker. 42 year old female, professional, and not a flake. I am married and we have a 9 year old daughter.
    Do you know of any resources to find someone of like mind and or schedule?
    Thanks for any input.
    Valerie
    sodyblue@gmail.com

  8. Just did the Northern part with a friend of mine… awesome unforgettable experience! Just wanted to add its actually 200 for the shuttle now! This is why my pal and I opted to do only the northern half. We had originally hoped to head up Rattlesnake Ridge from Miller Flats but realized that water sources are scarce in the mountains. If you hope to do this loop make sure you bring a bag/large container to hold treated water. Also, tides charts are only so accurate… with the bigger swells we got stuck at a spot midday and had to camp out for 6 hours or so. We thought we had planned it so well! Be prepared for anything… LOTS of bears… tracks allover the beach!

  9. Hi, I am hiking this with two friends in April and trying to figure out when to request the shuttle back to our car. We are planning to spend our first night (a Saturday) at Mattole Recreation Site and then get an early start to our first day of hiking. Is it realistic to think we could hike Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday morning and then get a shuttle back from Black Sands Beach to our car Tuesday afternoon/evening? Or would that make the days too long?

    • That section took me two days/two nights both times I did it, including inclement weather. Just make sure you’ve got a tide chart, as you’ll want to time your hikes so you’re at low tide through certain areas.

      Also, there is a lot of boulder-hopping, so pack light. That’ll prevent injury but keep your pace up, too.

      Water is so plentiful along that route, you really don’t need to carry more than a liter, which also lightens the pack.

      Happy Trails,

      -Wandering Tramp

  10. Leaving in less than 3 weeks for our 5th annual trip to the Lost Coast. If there is heaven on earth, this is it. I love going in April or May because you have the warm hues of the coastline, the rolling hills of green grass mixed with purple shades of wild lavender, blue sky, and tons of wildflowers. All equal up to the best pictures ever! The only thing that I don’t enjoy are the ticks, but you just gotta deal with it. We treat our dog with Frontline before and she runs ahead knocking all the ticks off the grass and killing any that grab hold of her. Works great!

  11. We are planning on going the last weekend in June…hopefully the flowers will still be blooming! Also – has anyone hike South to North? That’s what we are thinking of doing….???

    Any other advice is greatly appreciated….. that water info was great to hear!

    Carrie =)

    • There are always and abundance of flowers which just adds to the beauty of this hike. I think it is the most beautiful when the wild lavender blooms all over the mountains and bluffs and you have that beautiful contrast of the green grass and dusty purples. I hope you have the right timing for it! :) I went 2nd week in May and the lavender hadn’t even started to bloom. Have a great trek and don’t forget your camera!

      Kara

  12. Warning!!! Make sure to take extra care when checking yourself for ticks during and after you get home from this hike, especially when hiking spring/early summer!! Unfortunately, we became too complacent this year and my husband found a tick in his arm after we got home. He also waited too long, because he’s a man, to get into the doctor and it eventually developed a large rash around it and transmitted Lyme disease to him. After just a couple weeks he had all the symptoms. His knees swelled up and his body felt like it was riddled with arthritis, etc… Relax!!! Tick bites and Lyme disease are nothing to freak out about. They are simply cleaned, treated and/or cured with antibiotics. The issues are when you wait too long to go to the doctor and/or you let it go unchecked, cleaned and treated that the Lyme disease can be transmitted and the effects of it become a long term problem. I absolutely do not want to discourage anyone from trekking along this amazingly, gorgeous hike, we do it every year! Just please make sure to keep up on checking yourself and your buddies and if you DO get a tick in you, don’t be a jackass and wait to take care of it. Thanks!

  13. Where is the info office in shelter cove? we are going to a loop starting from there (we dont want to pay the $$ for shuttle) and i cant find out where the BLM office is there. Can you give me an address, a link, or a phone number? Thank you very much ahead of time!!

  14. OK what about November? Anyone ever try it? I want to go from the North end to the south taking about 4 days. Let me know! Thanks.

  15. My husband and I are planning a trip sometime in the window of May 25-29. If anyone is interested in coordinating a shuttle, please message me at johnsreceipts at hotmail (disclaimer, we check this address only about once a week).

  16. Leaving tomorrow morning to hike the Lost Coast…again. 6 years in a row! Just can’t get enough of that beautiful place.

  17. What are the opportunities to do day hikes here? Are there places at either end of this trail for us to stay in a hotel / motel, and do a couple of long day hikes? Does it even make sense to try this as against back packing and camping? thanks.

    • Well, I only know the south end…so far…. We’re going to backpack it in a couple weeks (me and my son and his girlfriend). So the south end has nothing nearby, but lots of cute B and B about an hour drive between Fort Bragg and Usal Road. Fort Bragg is a fun town, combo of hick and touristy. It’s where the real people live, as opposed to Mendocino. I have day hiked from Usal Beach. Stunning vistas, lots of wildlife, definitely worth it. Don’t know about accommodations on the North end, but from the map looks like you could do some loops.

      • Hey Lost Coast Explorers! I’ve hike it many times from Westport to Shelter Cover to Ferndale and back down and up and over and over and can give you the lowdown on most of the terrain near the water.

        If you’re a newby to the Lost Coast, here are a few tidbits I’ve learned over the years:

        1. Be prepared for a little wet and learn to enjoy it. Leaver your cotton at home and bring only synthetics and wool. The rain comes worst from the brushy plants on the south end from Usal to Wheeler, not from the clouds themselves. The trail is high and full of wispy grass (and wonderful coastal strawberries in the summer!!!). But them plants will soak your pack and pants pretty bad if you haven’t got full coverage down below (read: rain pants–a MUST HAVE except in height of summer). And that kind of moisture can get gnarly at night when the wind blows. I’ve got some shiverin’ stories to prove it.

        2. Know the many shapes and colors of poison oak, especially ’round the middle parts of the full trek. Carry a stick to push it out of the way and you’ll keep your pace just fine. Around the flats, I wait for low tide and dodge the trail as the P,O. is just a PITA round there.

        3. I recommend filling up with water after Needle Rock and before that first steepass ridge ‘neath Kings Canyon area (“Whale Gulch”, I think it’s called, last good water for many a mile and a gnarly crossing in winter, where the real fatty elk hang out ruttin’ in September, take pics but don’t taunt ‘em), and…

        4. Jotting down the tide info when you hit Black Sand Beach if you’re headed north. Sucks to get trapped on a rock cove if you’re not into the kind of thing (I frankly seek it).

        5. If you plan to go way up and over to Ferndale (coastal trail over the wall toward Arcata, worth the jaunt for the trail farther north!!!!), bring a raft or hole-free garbage bag to cross the Mattole anytime other than high summer. It’ll also come in handy around Patrick’s Point headed toward the lagoons (also a coastal trail thing, you’ll know if you’ve done it).

        6. Bring extra sunglasses as your first pair will probably get sandblasted toward the northern end of the Lost Coast (if you’red doin the coast trail, you’ll find plenty of free pairs of sunglasses along the way won’t need to budget for it),

        7. Also, watch for timber rattlers in all that drift south of Matolle, best to pull out your headphones and enjoy the tunes of coastal wind around that area so you can hear them clickin. They won’t bite so long as you’re payin attention and don’t step on em.

        8. Forget the bears and all the talk, they’re really not a problem if you keep your food close and never leave your pack. Use your grinds as a pillow and you’ll be fine. The fuzzies are a curious bunch around there but never bug you if you pay heed. Your biggest worry is not critters, but rangers checking on your permits asking about “official bear canisters”, just tell em you’re a fast paced long distance hiker not startin fires and doing Usal to Matolle in 2 days and they’ll leave you alone.

        9. And, of course, take your time on the rocks, especially the volleyball size ones (as they roll unexpectedly) and the dark green slimy ones (you’ll slip on your ass right quick), since screwing up your knees and ankles on the final stretch–esp. past Spanish Flat–is easy to do when you’re boldering and joint issues are a bitch on long hikes.

        The whole venture is always a blast if you have the right attitude and, for a wilderness soul, worth every minute. It got me so addicted to the wilderness that I’m moving my arss to the Trinity Alps to live alone in the mountains for a year. Just think of the great things it’ll do for your unique psychological situation! If you wanna come along, lemme know. I’m leaving end of August.

        Oh, and 10. Lots of great snakes to barbecue if that’s your thing. Especially north of Jackass. And the driftwood lights up like waxed magnesium. A lighter and this mornin’s toilet paper will get a little blaze burnin bright in nothin flat. And those snakes are just the right size where, with a little salt and cayenne, you can chomp em bones & all for a right fine meal after a long day’s hike.

        And finally, 11 (I hate round numbers). Maybe try camping out in the lighthouse on the final stretch, it’s a trip and a great break from the wicked wind around that point. Just pack down your food since field rodents frequent the area (they won’t touch you, just nibble on your food supply if you don’t secure it, but they’ll skitter around and make you lose sleep if you’re not accustomed).

        And 12. Save pack weight on the southern parts and don’t carry more than quarter liter of water (if that). There’s water every mile or two, especially on the beach, and it’s some bitchin-ass water, too.

        Sheesh!!! Just talkin about this makes me wanna head up now!!!

        Cheers and happy trails, plenty more advice where this came from if you catch me when I’ve got WiFi on this cracked iPhone I found hikin north on Hwy 1…

        -Hobo Cynic (“Vern” if you’ve met me on the trail) Keep on truckin!!!!!!!!

      • any recommendations for a backpack trip, mid July-with a about a 5hr hike into a basecamp then day hikes?

      • Wow, thanks Vern!! What a fount of info you are! Now I’m really fired up and ready to go! Hope I do run into you on the trail someday…

  18. Anyone going July 7th to 11th or thereabouts, maybe we could save some mulah on the shuttle. Planning on Usal to Shelter Cove, but could do the North instead if someone else is. Get in touch via email.
    Val

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