Revised 1/26/2017

Important Update: Due to increasing crowd sizes, BLM has mandated permit quotas for overnight camping.  More info below.

The Lost Coast Trail

I had an amazing short five days hiking this California coastal trail.  Quintessential Northern California coast – tall cliffs, giant redwoods, moody fog, and abundant wildlife.

Lost Coast Trail Description

The Lost Coast Trail is divided into two sections.

The northern section starts at Mattole Beach and is 24.6 miles on mostly level terrain, following the beach and meadows.  It goes through the King Range National Conservation Area and ends at Black Sands Beach, Shelter Cove.  It’s very sandy and makes hiking a little more difficult.

The southern section starts at Hidden Valley (near Shelter Cove).  You can exit at either 9 miles at Needle Rock, or you can continue another 8 miles to Wheeler Camp and go back to Needle Rock.  You can also continue 12 miles past Wheeler Camp to Usal Beach and shuttle back for a total of 29 miles.  This section through the Sinkyone Wilderness is more strenuous with steeper terrain, going atop bluffs and through old-growth forests.

Read about my second trip on the northern trail.

Ocean Views

Gallery: Lost Coast Photos

Lost Coast Trail Transportation

You’ll need to leave cars at both ends of the trail if you don’t take the shuttle service.  If you can afford the ~$100/person for a shuttle, I’d recommend it since it makes things that much more convenient – less driving for you.

It takes about two hours to get from Black Sands Beach, Shelter Cove, to the Mattole Beach trailhead (start).  North to south is the preferred direction, so that’s how the shuttle services are arranged.  Your vehicle will be waiting for you at the south end of the trail on your last day.

mattole beach

Campers gather at Mattole Beach at dusk

The road is narrow and winding and it makes some people nauseous – our driver, Sherri, always carries ginger gum in the van for those people.

If you leave a car at the south end of the trail at Usal Beach, be aware that the six mile road into this beach is very narrow, rutted, and gets very slick in rainstorms.  Driving is sketchy even in 4WD vehicles during storms.  Low-clearance, 2WD vehicles are not recommended.  You can find this road at PCH mile marker 90.9, about 15 miles west of Leggett.

Thanks to David for notifying me that Sherri’s service is no longer available.  I have not used the two services listed below.

Lost Coast Trail shuttle service:
Mendo Insider Tours, 707-962-4131, mendoinsidertours.com/tours/private/.  Email.
Lost Coast Adventure Tours, Blu, 707-986-9895 or 707-502-7514, www.lostcoastadventures.com.

Food & Bears on the Lost Coast Trail

Bear Tracks

Black bear tracks on a rainy day near Big Flat.

There’s a decent general store in Shelter Cove, and they’ll most likely have any last-minute food & sundries you may need (but they’re not a gear outfitter!).  So you really only need enough food for 3-4 days even if you’re doing both sections, as you can restock in Shelter Cove.  They do not carry specialty backpacking food.

There are plenty of freshwater stream crossings throughout the entire route – just make sure you have a purifier.  My lightweight backpacking purification options work well on this trail.

There are black bears on the Lost Coast!  On my last trip I saw bear tracks on the beach in five separate locations.

The BLM mandates that all backpackers have a hard bear-resistant container to store all food and scented items.  Don’t think you can get away with avoiding this – in addition to getting fined by a passing ranger, you will have a large, furry, hungry creature with giant claws tearing your tent open while you sleep.

Bear canisters are available for rent at some of the ranger locations, or you can purchase something like the BearVault if you’re going to be making more trips into bear country.

lost coast trail fog

Weather & Tides on the Lost Coast Trail

Fall & winter backpackers will see nighttime temperatures in the 40s and daytime temperatures in the 60s-70s, with a lot of rain.  Spring & summer backpackers will see warmer temperatures and mostly dry conditions.  Showers can develop at any time though, so it’s a good idea to bring a light poncho, a rain cover for your backpack, and a rainfly for your tent, even in the summer. Heavy winter & early spring rains can make some of the numerous stream crossings extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Some sections of the trail can be inaccessible at high tide.  Maps (linked below) do indicate these sections.  It is imperative to know the tides.  You do not want to be starting an inaccessible section as the tide is rising – you will get swept out to sea, and it’s happened before with loss of life.

Link to NOAA Tide Table – Shelter Cove

Higher Tide

This small section of the trail wasn’t quite below the falling tide yet – no problem!

Lost Coast Trail Permits (2017 Update)

Quotas are new for 2017.  Crowd sizes have been increasing ever year, and Memorial Day weekend 2016 set a record with hundreds of people on the coast at once.  This is a problem!  There just simply isn’t enough room on the Lost Coast to support this many people – camping spots are limited.  Wilderness areas are impacted when backpackers are forced into areas that they normally wouldn’t go.  The Lost Coast Trail is constantly eroding.

You can get a permit at Recreation.gov.  You can no longer get a walk-in permit at the trailhead, but you may be able to try the ranger station.  Quotas for trailhead entry are as follows:

  • 60 people per day during the high season from May 15 – September 15.
  • 30 people per day from September 16 – May 14.

I know, quotas suck because you might not be able to get in when you want.  But trust me, you don’t want to share this serene, narrow trail with 200 other people.

Miscellaneous

  • My base pack was almost 30 pounds, which was completely unnecessary.  I’m now down to a 15-pound base pack with these techniques.
  • No special permits are required for individuals.  You can fill out a free permit at the self-serve kiosk at the Mattole Beach campground (this campground has a $8/night fee).  See previous section for new permit requirements.
  • Beginners may not want to backpack the Lost Coast, but if you’re in great shape, go for it.  Most of the trail is either soft sand, hard pebbles, and small boulders, so it’s not like the packed trail that most people are used to.  It will slow you down.  There are numerous campsites along the trail though, so don’t worry about rushing it.
  • There’s a lot of outstanding nature along this trail – whale watching, seals, sea lions, Roosevelt Elk, deer, black bear, birds of prey, and amazing wildflowers, especially in the spring.  Bring some binoculars or a telephoto camera lens if you can afford the weight (I always trim my pack to make room!).
  • Sand stake

    Sand stake for beach camping

    There are a number of buildings along certain sections of the trail.  All of them are private seasonal cabins, except for the Punta Gorda lighthouse, which can be explored.  Please respect the private buildings.

  • There are no latrines – bring a trowel.  Dig your cat hole below the high tide line if possible, otherwise at least 200 feet from the nearest campsite and water source, 6″x6″x6″.  You must pack out your used TP so please plan ahead for this!
  • A small, old cabin is available on a first-come, first-serve basis at Needle Rock.  It can sleep about four people; check in with the Needle Rock visitor’s center when you get there to check on availability.
  • If you plan on camping on the beach, bring sand stakes and/or cord for your tent.  Regular stakes will not hold in the sand, especially during any kind of wind.  Rock anchors may be a better option if you’re expecting high winds.
Sunset at Big Creek

Sunset at Big Creek

Lost Coast Trail Maps

Bureau of Land Management overview (no detail, PDF) 

You can purchase a waterproof, detailed map from Wilderness Press.  I’ve used this map twice now and am quite honestly not too impressed with it.  It has some great information and trail overview, but it’s lacking any real topography and detailed mileage.  The ranger office has a great waterproof map published by the BLM; you can pick one up at the ranger station on the road to Shelter Cove.
lost coast map

BLM King Range National Conservation Area page

Watch the video:

 

Visit the gallery (Click the photo):

lost coast trail

 

Add your own Lost Coast experience or ask any questions below – I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

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