A Backpacker’s Guide to the Lost Coast
The Lost Coast, or as I like to call it, “The Abandoned Coast,” is one of California’s most rugged and remote backpacking trips. Just west of Humboldt County, it is apart of King Range National Conservation Area. The best time to visit this hidden gem is during the spring to witness wildflowers, or the fall for less crowds and moderate temperatures. Summer is an ideal time as well, but it will likely be more crowded.
The Northern section runs from Matthole Trailhead to Shelter Cove’ Black Sands Beach (however, we backpacked the route in reverse), totaling 25 miles. Only a handful of those miles are up on the bluffs, and the rest of the 20 miles hug the Pacific Ocean as you traverse along sandy and rocky beaches. From Matthole Beach, you pass the picturesque lighthouse, a few dilapidated cabins, and of course, an abundance of coastal species such as birds and sea lions bathing near the shore. As the hike progresses, there will be high/low tides, a handful of streams for water refills, and the trip finale ends at the remarkable Black Sands Beach at Shelter Cove.
Lost Coast Trekking Tips:
- Map out your trip. Click this link, to see the map of the region.
- Reserve a permit for the Lost Coast. Because of its growing popularity, check the quotas for the trail online. See this link for the permit process.
- Call and book a shuttle in advance. There are 2 options for shuttle service for the north section: Bill’s Lost Coast Shuttle (707-442-1983) and Blu Graham Lost Coast Adventures. Bill’s Lost Coast Shuttle also offers a shuttle service for the south section. Make sure to book the shuttle at the start of your trip, since it is a 2.5 hour car ride. From there, you are able to backpack at your own pace to return to your car.
- Prepare for unpredictable weather (including high winds). Spending time near the Northern California coast means weather patterns can spontaneously change from calm to stormy conditions. Be sure to check the weather ahead of time and be aware of the time of year you are going. One of the most common challenging elements are the gusty winds. Bring an ergonomic tent and stakes so your tent doesn’t blow away. When we did the trip, the winds were so high the first night we had to use rocks to keep the tent down, and even one of our tent poles got bent! Another recommendation is to check the direction of the wind. Most Lost Coasters hike from North to South (Matthole — Shelter Cove) in order to have the wind on their backs. We ended up doing the opposite because the shuttle service was booked going in that direction. Therefore, we had the misfortune of hiking right into the wind the entire 25 miles, which was quite brutal, especially the last 3 miles to Matthole Beach. On the flip-side, since we backpacked South to North (Shelter Cove — Matthole), the trail was less crowded.
- Be mindful of the tides. Bring a tide chart, so you can safely make your way past specific crossing areas, where high tides are a problem. See this tide table chart.
- Food Suggestions. Beef Jerky is a great source of protein, a filling snack, and can be added to backpacking meals to enhance flavor. Make it yourself because it is more affordable, healthier, and much tastier. Check out our video recipe for an Asian-rub and Southwestern BBQ rub.
- Surf’s up near Big Flat Campground. From Shelter Cove to Big Flat, surfers rave about riding some of the best waves from this desolate campground. It is about 10 miles from Black Sands Beach/Shelter Cove. There is plenty of space to set up camp with a nearby water source for cooking and cleaning. It is a peaceful place to soak in the coastal views and admire the Pacific Ocean sunset.
- Bear canisters are required. Although It is unlikely that you will see bears, you will have to bring a bear canister. If you don’t already own one, here is a resource for renting it.
- Dogs are allowed. The Lost Coast is one of the few places that is doggy-friendly!
- Respect the backpacker’s code of packing out waste. Please be considerate of the Lost Coast’s natural beauty by packing out all waste including toilet paper. When needing to go to the bathroom, be cognizant to stay away from water sources, dig a hole that is at least 6+ inches deep, and then cover it up.
The Lost Coast is a special place to experience California’s panoramic coastline by foot. It is so secluded that you will truly be “unplugged” with no cellphone reception. In addition to perusing these tips, I highly recommend going to this backpacker’s website called SoCal Hiker Blog for more information.
–Feel free to ask questions, comment, offer tips, and share your finds at the Lost Coast.