Introduction to the Lost Coast Trail

 

Needle Rock Visitor's Center

Needle Rock Visitor’s Center

 

The Lost Coast trail is the premier coastal backpacking trail in California and because of its significance has been designated a National Recreation Trail. The experience of hiking where the land meets the sea is unforgettable and strenuous.  This is the California Coastal Trail at its finest!

The Lost Coast in Northern California

The Lost Coast Trail

On the north section of the Lost Coast Trail you will mainly be walking on boulders, pebbles, and sand. This is in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) King Range National Conservation Area.

The south section is in California’s Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. Here you will hike 12,000 feet of altitude difference – more than in and out of the Grand Canyon!

There is a 4 mile section of road in the Shelter Cove area that separates the north and south sections of the Lost Coast trail. I suggest that you take Horse Mountain Creek Trail to King Peak Road, 0.2 miles on Shelter Cove Road to Chemise Mountain Road where you will find Hidden Valley Trailhead (or vise versa if traveling south to north). This will significantly reduce your time walking on Shelter Cove Road.

The averages hiking distance is 8 miles per day and is plenty of distance for the average backpacker, given the challenges of the terrain.

The Wilderness Press map provides information for both the King Range and the Sinkyone. However, if you only need a map for the King Range I highly suggest getting a BLM map from the office is Arcata or Whitethorn – this map is much more accurate. I’ve talked with dozens of people using the Wilderness Press map that have no idea where they are.

45 Responses to “Introduction to the Lost Coast Trail”

  1. Lost Coast Trails 02.22.2012 at 10:09 AM #

    I just learned about a great Lost Coast blog done by Paul, a King Range Wilderness Ranger. The link is http://www.lostcoastranger.blogspot.com. Since Paul is a BLM Ranger, his blog is about the northern half of the Lost Coast trail. Check it out if you are planning on hiking between the Mattole River and Black Sands Beach.

  2. mountainnemo 12.08.2013 at 8:24 PM #

    I am interested in doing a winter backpacking trip with the realization that it could be stormy. What advice would give me for hiking the beach during inclement weather?
    Cheers!

    • Lost Coast Trails 12.09.2013 at 6:44 AM #

      First, I would not recommend hiking the trails in the winter when rain/storms pose a threat. The best times are in the Spring (Apr/May) and fall (Sep/Oct). You can go online and find a precipitation history chart which will show you the months with the lowest rain. Naturally summer poses the greatest chance for fog.

      If you insist in hiking in the winter and have flexibility in your plans, I would watch the long range forecast and try and choose a period when there is relatively high pressure in the region and no forecast for storms.

      In general, I think the greatest problems occur when people go to the Lost Coast from other parts of the country/world and have no flexibility in their travel plans. They just start out no matter what the conditions are. Having traveled, I understand the concept of trying to do what you have planned on a trip. But sometimes, one needs to use judgment and realize that the weather conditions have made it unsafe and come up with a plan B.

      If you are going to hike the north section in winter, you have greater chance of sneaker waves and you must really watch the tide charts to insure you don’t get stuck in those areas that are at a lower level along the ocean. I assume you have a map that outlines the areas where you must hike only at high tide.

      I would hike north to south to insure I have the winter wind at my back.

      Make sure you let someone know your plans so if there is an emergency, someone will alert the authorities.

      Clothing wise, wear the layers that will protect you and also have full rain gear. I personally don’t care to hike anymore through hours of rain and wind or even the potential of that type of environment.

      Have I answered your question? If not, let’s talk more!!

      • mountainnemo 08.17.2014 at 5:59 PM #

        Thanks for the response. I had been before in the fall but never the winter so was not sure as to the conditions. Ended up going to the Ventana Wilderness instead and went to LC in the spring. I appreciate your response.

        Cheers,

        Sean

  3. eric 10.13.2014 at 2:50 PM #

    I’m planning a 3 day, 2 night backpacking trip this November. Any suggestions on which part of the Trail to explore? Thanks so much in advance.

    • Lost Coast Trails 10.14.2014 at 6:40 AM #

      For a three day trip, I would recommend exploring the Sinkyone State Park section of the trail. In November, you are starting into the winter season and the King Range northern section of the Lost Coast trail is much more exposed since you are always along the beach.

      In the Sinkyone State Park you have a couple of options depending on your goals. Your first option is to hike the entire south section of the trail, which is 19 miles long. You would park your car at Needle Rock. Then hike to Wheeler which is 7 miles. The second day you would hike to Anderson Gulch which is 7 miles. The last day you would hike to Usal, which is 5 miles. Then you would have to get someone to pick you up and take you back to your car at Needle Rock. There are shuttle services listed in my blog.

      Your second option is to park your car at Needle Rock and then hike to Wheeler for the first night. For second day, you could use Wheeler as your base camp and hike as far south as you want to explore before coming back to Wheeler. Then on the final day you hike back to Needle Rock.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Hope you have a great trip. Let us know how it went!

      Lost Coast Al

  4. Eric 12.09.2014 at 3:20 AM #

    Howdy,

    Thanks for your excellent website. I’m wondering if anyone has ever resupplied in Shelter Cove when doing the full Usal to Mattole hike. I was thinking I would send a cache to myself general delivery and wondered if anyone has done this before.

    Thanks a lot!
    Eric

    • Lost Coast Trails 12.09.2014 at 9:14 AM #

      Be advised that there is no post office in Shelter Cove. The nearest post office is at 498 Shelter Cove Rd., Whitethorn, CA 95589. If you went from the Hidden Valley trailhead to the Whitethorn post office and then to the Black Sand Beach trailhead, I would estimate the total trip to be around eight miles. FYI, the straight line distance between Hidden Valley and Black Sand Beach is four miles. Hope this helps you.
      Lost Coast Al

      • Eric 12.10.2014 at 2:47 AM #

        Thanks!

    • Visit Shelter Cove 02.10.2015 at 12:25 PM #

      A night in Shelter Cove is a nice break in the trip. I took two nights, and a very happy zero day. I had a cache delivered to the hotel where I stayed, and they were really cool about keeping it for me.

  5. Lindsay 12.21.2014 at 4:38 PM #

    I am planning to backpack either the northern trail or southern trail (can’t remember the names) soon. I was wondering how strenuous each one was. Can you tell me if one is more difficult than the other? Thank you!

    • Lost Coast Trails 12.22.2014 at 7:24 AM #

      I’m glad you are going to hike the Lost Coast soon. Remember it is winter and there is always the possibility of storms. Temperatures are in the 40-50 degree range right now.
      Just be prepared for any possibility.

      When comparing the King Range northern hike to the Sinkyone Park southern hike, one must talk about what is more difficult for the hiker. In the King Range you are doing flat hiking on sand and rocks for 24 miles. In the Sinkyone Park you are doing continual elevation changes for 27 miles with a total of 12,000 feet of altitude change. Most hikers have gone up and down hills and mountains but I have not met many who have purposely hiked for 24 miles along the ocean. So, to define which is more strenuous, really depends on your previous experience and what is more challenging for you.

      To the inexperienced, hiking along the ocean seems easy but it really depends how good you are at finding that line along the ocean where your shoe is least likely to sink into the sand. Also, there are sections where you must hike on a variety of different sized rocks.

      Lost Coast Al

  6. sophie 12.24.2014 at 4:14 PM #

    Hi! I’d like to hike the lost coast in early january. I recognize there is a possibility of storms, but unfortunately it is the only window I have available. Will there be available water sources and suitable campsites along the south section?

    • Lost Coast Trails 12.24.2014 at 7:24 PM #

      Hiking the Sinkyone Park portion of the Lost Coast trail in January can be very pleasant. It just depends on the weather. While the chance of storms is greater in the winter, there is also the possibility of having some sunny days with moderate temperatures. Wear layered clothing and have raingear available. Recommend hiking north to south so that you always have the wind at your back.

      You will have no problem finding suitable spots in the established campsites. Few people hike in the winter so you will always find a space. All campsites are located in close proximity to streams. Just be sure to purify your water.

      Lost Coast Al

  7. Teddy 12.27.2014 at 7:50 PM #

    Hi there! I’m hoping to hike Sinkyone Park this upcoming week for New Years and have several questions. For starters, is it legal to have campfires in this section of the park during the winter season? Also, we’re most likely only going to hike to Wheeler and back over the course of the three days due to time limitations. Is that section of the hike particularly treacherous?

    • Lost Coast Trails 12.27.2014 at 8:23 PM #

      There are fire rings at each campsite for your fires. So no problem there. The hike from Needle Rock to Wheeler is not treacherous and the weather forecast for New Years week
      looks great. Have fun.
      Lost Coast Al

  8. Diane 01.14.2015 at 6:37 PM #

    Is it possible to do an overnight trip out and back? Where would you recommend we start? Mostly just interested in enjoying the scenery and getting some exercise. Can’t spend a full 3 days to do either the North or South

    • Lost Coast Trails 01.14.2015 at 10:39 PM #

      A great overnight trip would be to start at the Sinkyone State Park’s Needle Rock Visitor Center and hike south to Wheeler campsite. Stay overnite and hike back to Needle Rock. This is about a 15 mile round trip and will give you plenty of exercise and allow you to enjoy the scenery.

  9. Hannah Perry 01.28.2015 at 3:43 PM #

    A group of us who have backpacked in Alaska and Colorado are planning on hiking this trail in late June. I have read that 4 days and 3 nights is required for completing the trail. Would you say this time allows for relaxing time on the beach or is all day hiking from sunrise to sunset?

    • Lost Coast Trails 01.28.2015 at 11:05 PM #

      Sounds like you are all seasoned backpackers and are planning to hike the Lost Coast trail in June when you will have 15 hours of daylight.

      For the average hiker, I recommend 6 nights and 7 days to cover the entire 55 miles from the mouth of the Mattole River to Usal Campground. This is an average of 8 miles a day.

      For an advanced group that likes to hike faster, you can shorten the hike down to six or five days if you leave early in the morning and the trail conditions do not slow you down. Ultimately, it’s a judgment call and you know your group. Four days is pushing too far for anyone’s enjoyment.

      By the way, when I was camp hosting at the Needle Rock Visitor Center, I met a young man who did the entire trail in 12 hours. How? He was an ultra marathon runner. He was wearing what looked like ballerina shoes – amazing to me!

      Lost Coast Al

  10. Melanie 02.11.2015 at 3:44 PM #

    I was thinking of running the Northern or Southern part of the trail all in 1 day sometime in May. Start at dawn and be done by dusk (at the very latest). An average marathon of 25 miles take 4.5 hours… If I double that to take into account the elevation, intermittent walking/rest and rough terrain, it seems reasonable to me. And of course I would have to account for the tide changes for the Northern part. Thoughts? Sounds do-able?

    • Lost Coast Trails 02.11.2015 at 8:16 PM #

      Usually I talk about hiking the trails and this is getting out of my area of expertise. Sure it’s possible but only you can decide if running these trails is appropriate for you. Maybe other readers of this blog who are runners could make some comments. The two trails are quite different. The north trail being all beach hiking and the south trail having considerable elevation change, equivalent to hiking from the top of the Grand Canyon to the bottom and back up to the top. Good luck on your decision.
      Lost Coast Al

  11. p0nzy 02.11.2015 at 6:52 PM #

    Hi, gathering information about this hike is indeed very limited. Could the “north side-24miles” be done in one day during month of july (considering the low-high tide stat on that month) Honestly speaking, i dont want to do it in just one day but with very limited time i want to experience it all in one day only if it is “safely” possible. Thanks in advance.

    • Lost Coast Trails 02.11.2015 at 8:42 PM #

      I seem to be getting more questions about doing these hikes as fast as possible. Generally speaking, I urge hikers to walk at their own pace but also allow time to relax and take in the unique scenery.

      Yes, a very strong hiker can hike from dawn to dusk in the summer and do the north hike in one day safely, assuming they abide by the tide charts. This is assuming you regularly hike at that pace. I am assuming you can keep up a steady pace on small rocks and sand to do it.
      Only you know your capabilities.

      At a minimum, I would encourage you to try and add an additional day to allow yourself to stop occasionally and take in the sights.
      Lost Coast Al

  12. Orlando 02.22.2015 at 2:24 PM #

    Hi,

    I’m planning to hike the first week of April (Tues. – Thurs.) The plan is to hike the northern section. I’m going with my girlfriend and this is her first backpacking trip, so I’m trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible. I just have a few questions that I hope you can help me with.

    1. Bathroom – I have read that we are supposed to do our business closer to the beach, where high tide can wash away our remnants? Does this sound accurate?

    2. Are we allowed to have a campfire?

    3. How do you feel about DSLR cameras on the trail? I want to bring my to capture the great scenery, but I don’t want it to get ruined. Do you suggest the purchase of a waterproof bag or is a simple point and shoot a better option?

    Thanks for the help. I look forward to the hike. Been wanting to do this for a while now.

    • Lost Coast Trails 02.22.2015 at 7:48 PM #

      I understand you are going to do the northern section of the Lost Coast trail from the mouth of the Mattole to Black Sand Beach.

      Since this is the first backpacking trip for your girlfriend, I would urge you to be sure you want to introduce her to backpacking on sand and various size rocks for 24 miles. Just because the hike is flat does not mean it is easy or enjoyable for everyone. I encourage you to talk with her about her abilities and expectations. There is nothing worse than getting several hours out on this hike and discovering that one of the group simply cannot or does not want to continue the trip.

      Regarding human waste disposal, you are correct. You should bury your waste at least 200 feet (70 paces) from campsites, trails and drinking water sources. Dispose of your solid waste in the wet sand near the ocean. Dig a hole 6-8 inches and make your deposit and cover it. Many folks are a bit bashful about squatting out in the open on the beach. Just walk a few minutes north or south and find a place. You can put toilet paper in the hole but if you can pack it out, that is even better. All feminine hygiene products must ALWAYS be packed out.

      Currently campfires are permitted. Use Leave No Traces techniques. That means I should not be able to see a campfire area after you leave. Clear all flammable materials away from the fire. Use only dead or downed wood. Keep fires small and a person in attendance at all times. Extinguish fire with water until coals are cold. When you get to the trailhead and register to get a Backcountry Use Permit, check the board for any campfire restrictions.

      Regarding cameras, I would always recommend carrying a waterproof bag to protect your camera from rain or if you accidently fall into a creek while crossing it. Regarding DSLR versus point and shoot, only you can decide. I have seen both used along the trails. It just depends on your photographic needs. Obviously, the point and shoot is much smaller and easier to operate.

      Lost Coast Al

  13. jacob 02.23.2015 at 8:21 PM #

    hello! i am in the early stages of planning a trip to the northern section of the lost coast trail. im thinking of going late july or early august
    i am very flexible on the time it would take to do the trip
    any advice on what the weather would be like? any specific gear that proved to be pretty useful?

    btw that guy running the entire trail in 12 hours is amazing

    • Lost Coast Trails 02.23.2015 at 9:48 PM #

      For the northern section, allow two to three nights, depending on how much you want to want to hike each day. Everyone has their own pace.
      The temperatures in the July-August timeframe will be 50-70 with the high possibility of fog, particularly before noon. I am not aware of any unique gear for this hike except having to carry bear canisters.

      Lost Coast Al

  14. Eric Klein 03.12.2015 at 6:12 AM #

    I will be doing this hike at the end of the month. Was thinking of doing a bit of surf fishing in the afternoon. Any idea if the fishing is worth the effort?
    Tks Eric

    • Lost Coast Trails 03.12.2015 at 9:00 AM #

      As you may know, all the fishing guides are the ones with boats. So, unless someone responds to this posting, it is hard to tell you exactly what is going on regarding surf fishing on the Lost Coast. However, there always seem to be some rock cod or perch that can be caught from the shore. If you enjoy fishing and don’t mind carrying the pole, I would encourage you to do it. You never know what you might catch and fishing can enhance the enjoyment of your Lost Coast backpack.

      Lost Coast Al

  15. Genevueve 03.12.2015 at 6:17 PM #

    Hi there,

    My spring break is next week and I am considering hiking the lost coast for it. Ideally I would like to do the whole thing, but if time doesn’t allow, would you recommend north or south scenery wise? What website do you recommend for most accurate weather forecast?

    Thanks!

    • Lost Coast Trails 03.12.2015 at 9:00 PM #

      Without a doubt, I would recommend the Sinkyone State Park section of the Lost Coast trail. There are some spectacular views as you go up and down the coastal terrain whereas the King Mountain Range on the northern section is only along the ocean. I just think the elevation changes make for a more dramatic experience. Regarding the weather, I would recommend using NOAA’s National Weather Service website for Shelter Cove. This seems the most accurate.

      Lost Coast Al

  16. Julia 03.12.2015 at 7:01 PM #

    Hi Al! Thanks for all the great info. Do you know the current conditions of Usal Rd?

    • Lost Coast Trails 03.12.2015 at 9:16 PM #

      I assume you mean Usal Road from the Four Corners to the Usal trailhead. As a policy, I do not recommend visitors drive the Usal Rd. Why? Because this road is not regularly maintained and has sections that may be impassable for some vehicles. The conditions vary greatly. You drive it at your own risk. Be advised that the road is 26 miles long.

      Lost Coast Al

  17. Genevieve 03.13.2015 at 4:04 PM #

    Thanks a million! If it is supposed to rain this weekend, do you recommend giving it a few days to dry out? Or not really much of an issue..? Some terrain in more slippery than others after rain is why I am asking…

    • Lost Coast Trails 03.13.2015 at 7:46 PM #

      If you can, I would wait until Tuesday when the weather is supposed to improve. Yes, you can run into slippery areas and it is always better to give the trail time to dry out.

      Lost Coast Al

  18. Ari 03.14.2015 at 10:05 PM #

    Hi Lost Coast Al – thanks for taking the time to help us all plan our adventures.

    I’m planning to hike the lost coast in mid April (month from now) with a group of 8 (all moderately experienced). Currently we’re thinking 3 full days and 2 nights. We’re struggling to decide between the north or southern section and was wondering if you had a few suggestions on the below:

    – North section is all beach walking from Matthole to Black sands beach – 26 miles correct? I’m debating whether we may feel rushed to finish this in three days of walking on sand.

    – South section appears to be more scenic, but I read that you must camp at dedicated campgrounds rather than standard backpacking where you choose to sleep where you please. Is this true? Are all the dedicated campgrounds along the 17mile stretch simply “dedicated areas” or legitimate staging grounds with restrooms and tables? I much prefer the true “backpacking experience”

    – I would love to see elk, Are they more common in north or south?

    Thank you for the help!

    • Lost Coast Trails 03.15.2015 at 10:37 AM #

      The King Range National Conservation Area trail (north section) is 24 miles and the most comfortable schedule is four days and three nights with the fourth day fairly short. I have this schedule mentioned in my blog. Or, you can tighten it up and do 8 miles each day and end up finishing much later on the third day. While you may be experienced and can do either schedule, the question is whether the majority of your group like to stop and look around, watch the birds, take photographs and have some time for relaxation.

      The Sinkyone Wilderness State Park trail (south section) you are talking about is the 19 mile stretch between Bear Harbor and Usal. This area has “trail camps” that are right by the ocean and at the mouth of creeks (providing your water supply). These are designated areas that can easily accommodate your group of 8. There are no tables and no toilets. They meet your requirements of a “backpacking experience” camping area. They provide enjoyable experiences, like watching the birds and sunsets.
      Most hikers enjoy these areas rather than being in the woods!

      The Roosevelt elk herd is located primarily between Whale Gulch and Wheeler in the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. The herd travels on the same path that you use!!
      They are used to seeing backpackers all the time. If you come across them off the trail, just walk by. If you come across them on the trail, try and pass by them at a safe distance if possible. If you can’t get around them, either wait them out or slowly walk towards them and usually they will run into the woods. In the fall rutting season, be aware of the bull as he is protecting his harem and is in an “excited” condition. In the spring, be aware of the cows who are protecting the new calves. If you ever hear a bull bugling, you will never forget it.

      Lost Coast Al

  19. Andre 03.20.2015 at 8:04 PM #

    Hi fellow hikers!

    I have a few questions…
    My friend and I are planning to hike the whole LCT next weekend (Usal to Mattole, 2 days/1 night). Anyone been there recently? How’s the conditions on the trail (overgrown, water sources, mosquitos, etc).
    Any tips are appreciated.

    Best,
    Andre

  20. Wanda Brimmer 03.23.2015 at 9:46 AM #

    Dear Lost Coast Al,
    Two friends and I are planning on hiking the south end of the Lost Coast Trail beginning next Sunday March 29th, 2015. The weather forecast is clear with highs mid sixties. Let’s hope that pans out. We are all ladies in our sixties and experienced backpackers. We’ve hiked the complete JMT several times and have experienced winter conditions as it can only happen in the High Sierra Mountains. Having said that, none of us have ever hiked coastal trails. I have chosen the south section because the stories of being swept out to sea by rogue waves, scares me to death. My questions are: How do we avoid ticks and is there a ranger who patrols the area?

    Thanks,
    Wanda

    • Lost Coast Trails 03.23.2015 at 11:12 AM #

      I am so happy to see seniors out there ripping up the trails!!! Go for it ladies!!!

      Just a comment regarding “rogue waves.” Having lived on the Pacific Ocean and hiking along its beaches for countless hours, I was always mindful of the “feel” of the ocean.
      That meant knowing the weather forecast and looking at the waves. If one is backpacking along the ocean and aware of your environment, there is a small chance that a rogue wave will ever get you. Also, the northern section of the Lost Coast trail is primarily along a wide beach. There are only a few narrower sections. So, generally you have plenty of space to get away from rogue waves.

      Regarding ticks, it seems like the springtime is probably the worst. There is no way to totally avoid them. Ideally, we would all be in long sleeved shirts, long pants and hats to limit our exposure. However, I realize we all get warm and shed down to short sleeves and shorts. So, we are exposed over many areas of our body. Stay on the trail and limit your time in the brush. Let’s be honest, one of the worst times for exposure is when nature calls. While we all want our privacy, try and select an area which is not totally brush covered. When you choose a place for lunch, try and select a more sunny location. Ticks hate the sun and like dark humid places. You will camp at one of the designated campsites which are all along the beach and have few ticks. At the end of the day, have someone check you over for ticks.

      The Sinkyone State Park is managed from Richardson Grove State Park which is on Highway 101, just south of Garberville, California. There is no official Sinkyone State Park office. The Richardson Grove park rangers do drive to the Usal Campground and check around that area. They also drive to the Needle Rock Visitor Center and check around that area. At Needle Rock Visitor Center, there are volunteer camp hosts. These people can assist hikers in an emergency and have radio contact with the park rangers. Some of them hike the Lost Coast trail, particularly the area between Jones Beach and Bear Harbor.

      Lost Coast Al

      • Andre 03.23.2015 at 12:40 PM #

        Hi Lost Coast Al,

        I posted a question a few days ago but no one replied… Do you know anything about current conditions on the trail?
        Me and my friend want to hike both sections this weekend (from Usal to Mattole, starting on Saturday and finishing on Sunday) and want to make sure we have the right gear, without overpacking. Is there cell reception anywhere on the trail? Any bailout opportunities in case of an emergency?

        Thank you in advance!
        Andre

      • Lost Coast Trails 03.23.2015 at 7:52 PM #

        I don’t have reports of any problems on the trails so I will assume they are fine. Generally, there is no cell phone reception. However, in an emergency, I would try it. You might pick up a signal. The Needle Rock Visitor Center and Shelter Cove have people who can assist you in case of emergency. Otherwise, you need to hike out for help.

        Lost Coast Al

  21. Lost Coast Trails 03.25.2015 at 6:31 PM #

    Lost Coast Trails Followers

    When you read this posting, I will have passed this blog to Paul Seever, Park Ranger, BLM King Range National Conservation Area. I have decided not to volunteer at the Needle Rock Visitor Center anymore. I wanted someone who knows the trails firsthand to be maintaining this blog and answering your questions. I wish you all well and keep hiking!!

    Lost Coast Al

  22. Lost Coast Trails 03.30.2015 at 11:26 AM #

    Hi, My name is Paul Sever, I have been working as a Wilderness Ranger at the King Range National Conservation since 2009.

    I will be administering this site and answering any questions you may have.

    You can also check out my other site at lostcoastranger.blogspot.com.

    Thanks, and look forward to hearing from you!

    Paul

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