Nestled on the rugged shoreline of Northern California, lies a hidden gem that promises to take you on an unforgettable adventure. The Lost Coast, named after its reputation of being one of the few remaining stretches of California coast that is still relatively untouched by civilization, offers an untamed beauty that will leave you breathless. As a backpacker, I was drawn to this region to challenge myself both physically and mentally, and to experience the sense of solitude that only the great outdoors can provide. In this article, I will share my personal account of backpacking the Lost Coast and how it impacted me in ways I never expected.
Day 1 on The Lost Coast Trail
The first day on the trail started with the group getting some last-minute items into our packs in the parking lot of Black Sand Beach trailhead. We were taking the North to South approach to the trail, leaving our cars in Black Sands, and having a shuttle take us to the north end, then hiking down from there.
Packing up for our first day at Black Sands Beach Trailhead
After a bumpy and windy bus ride to Mattole Beach trailhead, we eagerly threw our packs on our backs and headed to the trail. The trail started out sandy, very sandy. But hey, we knew what we were getting into. The goal for the first day was to get in a few miles nothing strenuous, we wanted an easy introduction to the trail and since we were planning to take 5 days to do 25 miles, we were in no rush.
We were all excited and all full of adrenaline starting out our first day on a camping trip that we had all been looking forward to for months. We easily made it to the major landmark Punta Gorda lighthouse. It was constructed in the early 1900s to help alert ships of the treacherous tides along the coast and saw service until the 1950s. We were now the ones taking on the treacherous coast.
The Punta Gorda Lighthouse roughly 3 miles South of Mattole Trailhead
Just a half-mile ahead of the lighthouse we came across a creek and some camping spots that we decided to stop at and make camp for the first night. The first day of the Lost Coast Trail was an easy one with mostly sand and some hard-packed dirt. In all our excitement the sand really did not bother us at all and at this point, we really did not know how precious the hard-packed dirt could really be.
The wind was strong on our first day, Fortunately, our camping spot provided some cover but still we experienced a windy night. We half expected to wake up without a tent fly anymore. It really was that strong of wind. Luckily, all our stakes held and the rainfly clips held strong, thanks REI Half Dome 2!
- Starting the amazing Lost Coast Trail and all the excitement and adrenaline that came with it
- Exploring and playing around the Punta Gorda Lighthouse
- Having to have someone hold their tent down as we set it up because it was so windy
- Having our first campfire on the trail
Day 2 On The Lost Coast Trail
Our second day started off lazy. This day we would be dealing with a tidal zone and low tide was not until 4 in the afternoon. We wanted a noon start so lazily ate breakfast and packed up in the morning. After leaving camp we had a mile to get to the tidal zone and 4 or so miles of the tidal zone to deal with. The tidal zones were exciting for all of us since we did not entirely know what to expect other than the fact that we would basically be face to face with the ocean for most of our hike.
What we did not know or expect was the number of rocks we would be hiking over. We were able to keep hiking at a decent pace but the fear of ankle injuries was definitely in our minds. 4 miles of hiking on rocks meant secure footing was a necessity, full hiking boots a must.
Our first glimpse of the tidal zone on the trail
After some scrambling across the rocks, we came to a spot where even during low tide it looked dangerous. This was about a mile into the tidal zone and during low tide, it still looked impossible. We scoped out the area and some knowledgeable hikers came by as well. They informed us this spot would require going up on the bluffs and hiking a half-mile or so, then going back down to the beach. Glad we ran into them because going around the point with waves crashing into it would have been a bad idea.
It was quite amazing how one second you are in a zone where the high tide would wash you away and just 50 feet ahead you are back on the bluffs safe from the crashing waves. We made it to the Spanish Flats outside the tidal zone! We hiked another mile and a half to where we would set up camp for the night. Our camping spot for the second night was even better than the first. Well established, very protected, and has beautiful views.
Day 2 camping spot in the Spanish Flats, making dinner
First thing first though after getting to camp we all took a bath. We made our way to a spot in the creek where a small pool formed and washed off our dirt and grime. A cold but refreshing bath in the middle of the trail. After a refreshing dip in the creek, we settled into camp making dinner and starting a fire. Some of us stayed up to see the sunset. It was serene being able to sit in solitude on the beach and watch the sun dip down below the horizon. It really felt like we had the entire coast to ourselves.
James watching the sunset from our Day 2 camping spot on the Spanish Flats
- Hiking along the bluffs, super windy and on the cliff edge
- Stepping foot in the tidal zone and realizing damn this trail is intense with nothing but rocks in sight
- Making it out of the tidal zone and onto the grassy Spanish Flats, was a relief to be on some solid ground
- Sitting by myself on the bluffs watching the waves and soaking in the graceful environment
- Resting around the camping enjoying the beautiful sunset
Day 3 On The Lost Coast Trail
We had been seeing nothing but the sun since starting our trip but this morning brought on the new weather, fog. The fog was enjoyable, it was a good break from the constant inescapable sun we had been experiencing.
The day 3-morning fog at the Spanish Flats
For this day of hiking, there were no tide zones to deal with. We headed out in the morning with the goal of camping just before the next treacherous tidal zone. Without too much sand to deal with we made a good time. It was great hiking along grassy bluffs with a mysterious foggy haze over top of us.
A few drops of rain here and there were all we had to deal with while on the trail. Once we got to camp the rain began falling a little heavier. After a somewhat rushed dinner, we jumped into our tents to escape the rain. The rain really was not bad at all but after 3 days of hiking, we enjoyed the early bedtime and the pitter-patter of rain as we fell asleep.
- Hiking along the grassy bluff, seeing the grass wave in the wind.
- Freaking out a little bit coming across a large group of people performing silent meditation.
- Seeing a dead whale on the beach.
- Hiking in solitude really experiencing and enjoying the Lost Coast.
Day 4 On The Lost Coast Trail
We awoke to a wet morning. It had not rained hard during the night but a constant drizzle overnight can really get things wet. We packed up our wet gear and made a run for it on the trail.
Today was another long stretch of the tidal zone that we would be dealing with. Another 4 miles of the tidal zone. Upon reaching the tidal zone we were a bit nervous. The rainstorm was still occurring and we had shown up only an hour after peak high tide. We could see waves crashing up and taking up the whole beach in front of us.
After waiting half an hour hoping the tides would subside, which they did but only very little. We decided now or never and set out. There was some wave dodging and rock scrambling, but the whole group made it through. The waves crashing so close upped our adrenaline and excitement for sure.
Dealing with the Day 4 tidal zone.
By mid-afternoon, the sun had broken through the storm. We made camp just outside the tidal zone at Gitchell Creek. Our last day on the Lost Coast Trail gave us the best sunset. The lingering clouds and haze looming over the mountains while seeing perfect blue skies over the ocean made for the most magnificent sunset.
Sunset from Gitchell Creek
- Maneuvering through the tidal zone attempting to stay as dry as possible.
- Watching the best sunset of the trip, sitting just above the shore break with all my friends
- Enjoying the camping area with other campers
Day 5 On The Lost Coast Trail
Our last day on the Lost Coast trail. We took our time packing up because none of us wanted to leave. The 5-day trip had taken its toll on us but still, we were not ready for it to end.
We could see Shelter Cove and Black Sands Beach in the distance. The trail there was not an easy one though. It was all soft sand or tiny rocks that you sank into. It made for a slow pace but we were okay with that.
Looking back, admiring the completed Lost Coast Trail
Upon arriving at the cars we collapsed. Tired, smelly, and hungry for anything other than freeze-dried food. We made it! We conquered the Lost Coast Trail.
This was a trip that we will never forget. Are you a backpacker? Then taking the Lost Coast Trail needs to be high up on your list of places to go. If you plan on doing the trail or have already done it yourself, comment below with any questions, concerns, or favorite memories.