I’ve always loved the ocean. 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 surfing. Walking and running along its shores. Waves rolling in. Cooling sea breeze. The feeling of sand beneath my shoeless feet.
Fast forward to the spring of 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.
Note: I hiked the Lost Coast Trail in April, 2014. All logistical details have been updated as of January, 2018.
Average Time: 5 days
Season: All year round.
Difficulty: Moderate. Take particular note of the tide times (see below).
- Options: There are two main options for hiking the Lost Coast. Most people go with the 25 mile northern section from Mattole Beach (i.e. Just north of the lighthouse on the overview map) to Shelter Cove. Logistics are easier for this section. However, if you have the time and inclination, I’d recommend doing the full hike from Mattole to Usal Beach. Despite being a little overgrown at times, I thought the southern section was great. Lots of wildlife, solitude, lush valleys and beautiful sunset views looking back along the coast.
Getting There & Away:
From this point on, all details are for the full 53 mile (85 km) hike from Usal Campground to Mattole Beach:
- 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 – Northern trailhead; 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. For google map directions, click here.
- Shuttle Service: If you don’t have private transport and aren’t keen on hitching, Lost Coast Adventures run shuttles (Note: I haven’t used them personally).
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 free downloadable BLM map. The former actually covers both sections, but it lacks the detail of the latter.
- Caltopo: Click here for free downloadable topographic maps for the entire trail.
- Online Information: Check out Lost Coast Trails for general information on hiking in the Sinkyone Wilderness and King’s Range National Conservation Area. Other online sources for hiking the Lost Coast include Wonderland Guides and SoCal Hiker (note, both of the latter sites only cover the northern section).
- Trip Reports: Lost Coast Yo-Yo (Joshua “Bobcat” Stacy) 2013.
- 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). Alternatively, click here for tide times for Shelter Cove from the NOAA Tides & Currents website.
- Permits: Free of charge walk-in permit required for overnight trips in the northern section. You can self-register at the trailheads (Edit: Permits are now needed for all overnight camping on the northern section of the hike. Click here for details. Thanks to Kelli in the comments section for the update).
- 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). If you don’t own one, you can rent them locally. Click here for details.
- Weather: The Lost Coast has a reputation for inclement conditions. Bring a rain jacket. Umbrella could also work, but it can get windy at times.
- Resupply: The Shelter Cove General Store is situated on the road between Black Sands Beach and the Hidden Valley Trailhead. You walk right by it while you connect the two sections. In 2014 it had a decent range of supplies on offer. More than enough to suffice for the second half of your hike.
- 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 in order to avoid walking into the wind, which generally comes from the northwest.
- Southern Lost Coast: The less frequented southern section stretches from Usal Beach to the Hidden Valley Trailhead. The terrain is undulating and passes through forested canyons 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. Permethrin-treated hiking pants would be a good option.
- Connector Section: Upon reaching the Hidden Valley Trailhead, it is a 3.5 mile road walk to Black Sands Beach. There is a restroom and drinking water at the car park.
- 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 ocean.
- No huts or shelters. Bring a tent. It can be a little on the wet and windy side at times, however, there are plenty of sheltered campsites where you can escape the brunt of the elements.
- Pacific Ocean: Tide skirting, rock hopping, sand shuffling and ocean gazing along the length of the northern section.
- 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, although both species are commonly spotted by Lost Coast hikers.
- Redwoods: Just inland from the trail is Humboldt State Park, known for its magnificent Redwood forest. After finishing my hike at Mattole Beach, I walked and hitched my way up to Humboldt, where I spent the next couple of days wandering amongst these incredible trees. Highly recommended.