Growing up on the east coast of Australia, it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Swimming, fishing, diving, and yes, walking along its shores. Waves rolling in, cooling sea breeze, the feeling of sand beneath my shoeless feet.
Fast forward to April, 2014. The other side of the Pacific. Some 7,500 miles from where I was raised. A place where the sun sets rather than rises over the water. California’s Lost Coast Trail, a 53 mile hike along one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines.
Distance: 53 miles (plus approximately 32 more miles getting to and from the trailheads)
Time: 3.5 days
Start / Finish:
- Usal Campground – Southern trailhead, situated at the bottom end of the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. I reached this point via a combination of hitching and walking from the town of Garberville (via Redway, Whitethorn & Four Corners). From the latter, I headed south on foot via the little used 4WD Usal Road until I reached the campground of the same name. For those with private transport, an easier way of getting to Usal would be by taking Mendocino Country Road 431 for six miles from the junction with Highway 1.
- Mattole Beach – Easy access with private transport via a combination of Highway 101 & 211 via Ferndale and Petrolia.
- For more details on getting to and from the trailheads see Summitpost.org
Maps / Information:
- Maps: I used two maps. For the southern section from Usal to Needle Rock
Visitors Center I used the Wilderness Press Lost Coast Map. For the northern section from Needle Rock to Mattole Beach, I used the BLM map. The former actually covers both sections, but it lacks the detail of the latter.
- Online Information: Check out Lost Coast Trails for general information on hiking in the Sinkyone Wilderness and King’s Range National Conservation Area.
- Tides: Before setting out on the northern section you will need to check on current tide times. There are various stretches between Shelter Cove and Mattole which are impassable at high tide. Tide tables can be picked up at the Chamber of Commerce in Garberville, the BLM office in Whitethorn or the General Store in Shelter Cove (if you are hiking northbound).
- Bear Canisters: Officially speaking you are required to carry a bear canister when hiking in the Kings Range National Conservation Area (i.e. the northern section).
- Weather: The Lost Coast has a reputation for inclement conditions, so appropriate clothing and shelter are necessary. That being said, I was fortunate to enjoy a 4 day window of precipitation-free weather.
- Resupply: The Shelter Cove General Store is situated on the road between Black Sands Beach and the Hidden Valley Trailhead. It has a decent range on offer; more than enough to suffice for the second half of your hike.
Route / Conditions:
- Direction: The following route description is from south to north, which was the way I hiked it. Most people seem to go in the other direction, so as not to be walking into the wind which generally comes from the northwest.
- Southern Lost Coast: The less frequented southern section from Usal Beach to the Hidden Valley Trailhead, is an undulating trail that passes through forested canyons and up, over and along scenic ridges. It is overgrown in parts and ticks can be an issue. I pulled at least a dozen of the little blighters off me on the first day.
- Connector Section: Upon reaching the Hidden Valley Trailhead, there is a road walk (3.5 miles) to Black Sands Beach, from where I continued north along the coast. It is on this short stretch that the Shelter Cove General Store is situated (see Resupply above).
- Northern Lost Coast: From Black Sands Beach to the northern terminus of Mattole Beach, the hiker sticks to the coast. A combination of sand, rocks and the occasional stretch along grassy terraces overlooking the Pacific.
- Pacific Ocean: Tide skirting, rock hopping, sand shuffling and ocean gazing along the length of the northern section. A combination of new discoveries together with familiar sights, sounds and smells.
- Wildlife: Loads of sea lions, a large herd of Roosevelt Elk, seals, seagulls and cormorants. Unfortunately I didn’t see any migrating grey whales or black bears.
- Redwoods: After finishing the Lost Coast Trail at Mattole Beach, I hiked and hitched my way up to Humboldt State Park, where I spent the following day and a half wandering amongst the majestic Redwoods.