Hiking the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California
Yes, there absolutely is a place in California called the Lost Coast, and the term “Lost Coast” couldn’t be more apt. If there’s a Timbuktu, California, then the Lost Coast is way past it. And it’s for that reason that I’ve wanted to go hiking on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California since I moved here 8 years ago. So over Labor Day weekend, I finally got the chance.
For those keeping track at home, the Lost Coast is way the hell up the California coastline in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties. If you were trying to get onto the trail from SFO, for example, you could get to LA quicker. Theoretically, without any traffic, you could be to the south end of the 25-mile Lost Coast Trail in a few hours from San Francisco. However, if you’re like us (and most others we met who travel there from the south), you’re probably dropping your car off on the south end of the trail and taking the shuttle up to the north end, which tacks on an additional two to three hours.
Once you’ve planned the logistics of where to leave and pick up your car, you’ll then need to have a good understanding of the tides, since parts of the trail are completely inaccessible during high tide. Oh, you’ll also need a permit for the King Range National Conservation Area. But you guys, I promise it’s amazing, beautiful, and worth the hassle.
Sarcasm aside, I believe that California’s Lost Coast Trail is one of the most unique, extraordinary places on the entire West Coast of America. For 25 miles you're not within sight of a single road, home, building, power line, or anything else resembling civilization, except for the other 30-60 people at any given moment on the Lost Coast Trail.
While my friend Jeremy and I hiked the Lost Coast Trail in just under 48 hours, it was pretty ambitious of us. Generally speaking, most people do it 3 days, but it all depends on your pace and how you time the tidal zones. Below, find some of my tips for hiking the Lost Coast Trail, and at the bottom, see some of my favorite photos from our trip.
1. Memorize and have hard copies of tide tables. On the Lost Coast Trail there are two main tidal zones, one of which is a few miles in if hiking from the north, and the other that is a few miles from the end. At high tide, parts of these areas of the trail are inaccessible, so you’ll want to time the low tide window perfectly to give you plenty of time to get through those zones. You can do a quick search on Google that’ll pull up a number of other articles that share more detailed information about where the tidal zones are and how to time them.
2. Get a permit well in advance. Don’t just assume that you can get a Lost Coast Trail permit for next week, or even next month. 60 people are allowed per night during peak season, and 30 during the rest of the year, so you’ll want to buy a permit well in advance.
3. Bring a bear canister. This isn’t optional; you’re actually required to have a bear canister. If you don’t have one, or don’t want to buy one, you can rent one. More info about renting bear canisters can be found on the BLM’s website.
4. Plan ahead if you’re doing a one-way hike. If you’re doing a one-way hike of the Lost Coast Trail, like many people do, you’ll probably want to drop off your car and take a shuttle to the other end of the hike. Most people do as we did, leaving their car at the south end of the trail, and then getting a shuttle to the north end of the trail. We booked a shuttle with Lost Coast Adventure Tours. However, be aware that the shuttle ride is predominantly on curvy, bumpy roads, and takes a couple hours.
5. Wear mid- or high-cut hiking boots and bring trekking poles. Your legs and feet are going to thank you, especially when walking over the rocks and in deep sand.
6. Take a 2L water bladder. One of the best parts about the Lost Coast Trail is that there’s a water source every couple miles or so (this is also where you’ll likely be camping each night). I had a water bottle, plus a Katadyn BeFree 3L bladder and it was way too much. As such, you should be able to get by fine with something that’ll hold a couple liters of water. Just remember to bring tablets or a water filtration system like the Katadyn bladder.
Finally, don’t forget the principles of Leave No Trace. Meanwhile, see a few of my favorite photos from hiking the Lost Coast Trail below.