Trip Overview: This ~25 mile route offers a rare coastal wilderness experience where you travel along a beach and must keep track of the tides! The route explores one of the most undeveloped stretches of shoreline in California. Along the way, you hike on the beach, travel over grassy bluffs, and dodge sea lions and ocean waves. +/- 1,000 feet of elevation over the course of this trek with a peak elevation of only ~150 feet. Highlights include coastal views as far as the eye can see, remote beaches, and a variety of wildlife including sea lions, seals, deer, and whales. The majority of the images here are from a trip in mid May. Unless otherwise noted all photos were taken by Richard O’Neill and are reused with permission.
- Higher resolution map of the Lost Coast Trail from the BLM (PDF)
- Topographic map of King Range Wilderness for purchase (amazon link) *Note this map has mixed reviews and many prefer the BLM map above
Click here to read more about Permits
Permits: You must obtain a wilderness permit in order to overnight camp along the Lost Coast trail in the King Range Wilderness area. The block of permits for each calendar year are released the preceding year on October 1 (e.g., 2019 permits are available October 1, 2018). Permits can be obtained on recreation.gov on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Click here to read more about Logistics
Logistics: Most backpackers prefer to tackle the Lost Coast Trail as a one way 25 mile trek. This means you must figure out a way to get between the starting and ending trailheads before/after your hike! The cheapest option is to bring two cars within your group and either leave one car at the ending trailhead or to split your group in two and organize a key exchange. However, it is a roughly 2 hour drive one way to get from the Mattole Beach Trailhead to Black Sands Beach Trailhead, so shuttling cars between the trailheads adds quite a bit of time. If you are able to spend some extra money, it can save you significant driving time to use one of the commercial shuttle companies that operate in the area. These shuttles will transfer you between trailheads for a price of ~$100 per person (Lost Coast Adventures is one operator).
In my opinion, the easiest way to tackle the Lost Coast Trail is as follows: The night before your trek you drive to the Black Sands Beach Trailhead and spend the night nearby (there are camping or hotel option is nearby Shelter Cove). Early the next morning, take a morning shuttle from Black Sands Beach up to the Mattole Beach Trailhead where you will start your trek (book this shuttle in advance). Now you can hike the Lost Coast Trail south back to Black Sands Beach where your car will be waiting for you at the end of your hike. This way you avoid needing to rush to catch a shuttle at the end of your hike.
Click here to read more about Difficulty
Trail Conditions and Difficulty: The Lost Coast Trail can be deceptively difficult for many backpackers. Although it is only 25 miles long and does not have any significant elevation gain, the footing along the trail is often challenging. Along the way you must hike over shifty sand, over boulders, and over small rocks. Expect to hike slower than your normal pace!
In terms of navigation, the route is relatively easy to follow. The trail mostly heads south along the shoreline. There are a few areas where the trail moves inland, but you always return back to the shore within a few miles.
Tides: One unique facet of the Lost Coast Trail is that you must utilize a tide chart to navigate the route. Three sections of the route are impassable at high tide:
- A small section of trail near Punta Gorda
- 4 mile section of coast between Sea Lion Gulch and Randall Creek
- 4 mile section of coast between the south end of Miller Flat and Gitchell Creek
You can check the daily tide chart for the Lost Coast Trail area here at the NOAA website. Be sure to look at the dates you are planning to hike and remember that there are multiple high tides per day. It is likely that you will need to adjust your starting hike times and will need to take a few long breaks during the day to time the tides safely. Also note that planning around the tides is not just a recommendation. You literally are not able to safely hike along sections of the route when it is high tide.
Supplies: There are black bears in the King Range Wilderness, so you need to bring a hard-sided bear canister to store food and scented items. If you do not own a bear canister, there are various options for rentals in the area.
Below is a list of the gear I brought while backpacking the Lost Coast Trail:
- a lightweight hiking rain jacket (North Face Venture 2 Jacket)
- fast drying synthetic hiking pants (prAna Zion Pants)
- a quick drying long sleeve hiking shirt (Columbia Silver Ridge L/S Shirt)
- wool outer socks (People Socks Moreno 4-pack)
- thin blister preventing base socks (WrightSock double layer Coolmesh)
- quick drying synthetic boxer briefs (ExOfficio Give-N-Go)
- Gore-tex hiking shoes (adidas Outdoor Terrex Fast R Gore-Tex Shoe)
Clothes for camp
- wool leggings (Minus33 Merino Wool Kancamagus Midweight Bottom)
- wool base layer shirt (Minus33 Merino Wool Chocorua Midweight Crew)
- lightweight down jacket (Patagonia 800-fill Down Jacket)
- lightweight camp shoes (Xero Z-Trail lightweight sandal)
- topographic map
- trekking poles (Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles)
- 2 liter hydration bladder (Platypus Big Zip Water Reservoir)
- 65 liter backpack (Osprey Atmos 65 Liter pack)
- water filtration system (Platypus gravity filtration system)
- strong tent with rain-fly (Alps Mountaineering Chaos 2 Tent)
- inflatable sleeping pad (Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro Sleeping Pad)
- sleeping bag (REI Co-op Igneo 25 Sleeping Bag)
- lightweight backpacking chair (Helinox Chair Zero)
- headlamp (Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp)
- multi-tool with knife (Gerber MDime Mini Multi-Tool)
- bear canister (BearVault BV500)
- lightweight stove (MSR PocketRocket 2)
- lighter (BIC plastic lighters)
- 2 liter pot (GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler Pot)
- coffee cup (GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Cup)
- lightweight spork (Snow Peak Titanium Spork)
- small, quick drying towel (REI mutli towel mini)
- wet wipes (Stall Mates individually wrapped wipes)
- mole skin for blisters (Blister medic kit)
- small amount of duct tape for gear repairs
- chapstick and sun screen
Food and drink
- a variety of my favorite dehydrated meals
- electrolyte replacement (NUUN Hydration Tablets)
- instant coffee (Starbucks VIA)
- quick snacks (Clif Shot Bloks and Clif energy bars)
- small plastic water bottles filled with whisky 🙂
Day 1: 6.6 miles; +/- 600 feet; Mattole Beach Trailhead to Cooksie Creek
This itinerary starts the Lost Coast Trail hike at the northern Mattole Beach Trailhead. Most backpackers either take a shuttle to the trailhead or park and camp near the trailhead the night before their trek. The mileage on Day 1 is mild, so you can acclimate to hiking on the beach and account for the tides. There is a small impassable section of trail at the ~2 mile mark, so be sure to tackle this section of trail only at low tide. You also must tackle the ~2 mile section between Sea Lion Gulch and Cooksie Creek at low tide. Part of the reason why the mileage is kept low on Day 1 is because you may need to wait a couple hours in order to safely time the tides. After making camp at Cooksie Creek, you can spend the rest of the day exploring the beach.
Day 2: 7.3 miles; +600 feet / -520 feet; Cooksie Creek to Big Creek
On Day 2, you travel ~7 miles from Cooksie Creek to Big Creek. The first 2 miles of hiking on this day must be tackled at low tide, so you may need to either wake up early or start late on this morning. The rest of the route to Big Creek will not have any tidal issues though and can be hiked on your own timing. In one section of this route known as the Spanish Flat, the trail climbs up to a bluff above the shore. This provides some great views and also gives you feet at break from the sand and rocks you have been hiking on.
Day 3: 11.7 miles; +590 feet / -480 feet; Big Creek to Black Sands Beach Trailhead
Day 3 is the longest hike of the itinerary at over 11 miles. The day starts with a modest climb up to Big Flat, a section of the trail where you hike along a Jeep Trail above the shore. You then pass by Miller Flat before dropping back down to the shore. At this point, you must navigate a ~4 mile section of trail between the south end of Miller Flat and Gitchel Creek, which is impassable at high tide. After Gitchel Creek, you are free to hike at your leisure without thinking about tides until you reach the end of the trek at Black Sands Beach.
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