California's Lost Coast Trail is a hidden gem in a state that has more than its fair share of great outdoor playgrounds. But, while everyone else is rushing off to Yosemite or Joshua Tree, travelers looking for a bit more solitude and seclusion should consider spending a few days on this forgotten section of the California coast instead. It is incredibly beautiful, sparsely visited, and a worthy alternative to those other well-trodden destinations.
If you do decide to go, here are ten tips to consider before setting out.
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Where is the Lost Coast?
Located in Northern California, the Lost Coast runs for nearly 25 miles through the King Range National Conservation Area starting at Shelter Cove in the south and ending at Mattole River in the North. It received its name from the fact that it is so rugged and remote there, that the state's famous Highway 1 had to be diverted inland, away from the Pacific Ocean. You won't find towns, housing developments, or even lone mansions on the hill. Just a stretch of coastline that has remained mostly untouched for decades.
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When to Go?
The best time to hike the Lost Coast Trail is from May to October. During those months temperatures are warm and comfortable during the day, and cool – but not overly cold – in the evening. On top of that, the Pacific Ocean serves as a buffer zone of sorts, preventing moisture from striking the coast. Rain showers are much less common during that time, making the hike a mild and comfortable one.
If you trek the trail at other times of the year, rain is a lot more likely, which can make for some long days on an already challenging trail. Additionally, a soggy campsite becomes much more of a proposition, which can make things much more uncomfortable. Temperatures remain mostly moderate, even in the winter, although the mercury can drop below freezing from time to time.
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How Long Does it Take?
If you're planning on hiking the entire trail end-to-end, expect it to take about 3-4 days to complete. The route is only 25 miles in length, but it crosses over some incredibly rugged terrain that offers plenty of vertical gain and loss along the way. Perhaps most difficult of all however are the sandy and rocky beaches, which can slow even the fastest hiker down. Walking on wet sand is slow and ponderous, particularly with a full pack strapped to your back.
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How Difficult is the Hike?
Ask anyone who has ever hiked the Lost Coast Trail, and they're likely to tell you that it is a moderately challenging trek, mostly due to the beaches. Unlike the well established and marked trail that runs through the surrounding wilderness, the beaches are often wet, uneven, and include large rocks to scramble over, not to mention plenty of shifting sands to walk on. This can make for difficult and tiring trekking, zapping the energy from a backpacker's legs. Experienced hikers aren't likely to be put off by these challenges, although it is good to be aware of the challenges ahead of time.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Which Direction Should I Hike?
Backpackers can choose to hike the Lost Cost Trail in either direction and you're just as likely to find hikers traveling south to north, as you are going the other direction. That said however, some experienced hikers recommend starting in the north at Mattole Beach, as that puts the prevailing winds at your back for most of the journey.
No matter which direction you travel however, you can book a shuttle to and from the trailhead through Lost Coast Adventure Tours.
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Get a Permit
In the past, hikers and backpackers weren't required to have permits when hiking the Lost Coast Trail, but that changed in 2017. Now, if you intend to stay overnight along the route, you'll need to register at Recreation.gov ahead of time, and have your permit with you while out on the trail. The permit is modestly priced at $6.
Also, be aware that the new permitting system limits the number of people on the trail to just 60 per day during the peak season (May 15 - Sept. 15) and 30 people per day at other times of the year.
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Bring a Tide Table
In addition to all of the usual gear that you bring on a backpacking trip, when setting out on the Lost Coast Trail, you'll also need a tide table. That's because at three different points along the route, the trail meanders down to the coastline, forcing hikers to walk along the beach for awhile. In fact, two of those sections are nearly 4 miles in length, making them a considerable section of the entire route.
When the tide comes in, and the water rises, some of those beaches are covered completely by water, making them impassable. Knowing the movements of those tides will help you to also understand how fast you need to hike in order to beat the rising waters. If you happen to misjudge the pace, you could find yourself on the wrong side of the beach or worse yet, midway through a crossing, which could potentially be disastrous.
It is vitally important to not try to cross these open beaches when the tides are on the rise as they can become completely unsafe. Each year, a few... hikers get swept out to see by unexpected waves, so be sure to play it safe and only walk these sections when it is clear.
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Treat Your Drinking Water
There are numerous streams, creeks, and small rivers running along the Lost Coast Trail, so finding fresh drinking water is rarely a problem. That means you won't have to carry a large amounts of water with you for the 3-4 day hike, although you will have to treat the water that you find along the way. The streams may look clear, but you never know if there are microbes, parasites, and diseases lurking inside, and it is always better to be safe than sorry.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Watch for Wildlife
The Lost Coast Trail is home to an array of wildlife and hikers will want to keep their eyes peeled throughout the trip. It is possible that they could encounter elk, deer, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and even bears along the way. Generally, those creatures will scamper off into the wilderness as hikers approach, but it is still important to stay aware at all times.
And because there are bears in the area, anyone camping overnight should also bring a bear canister along to keep their food safely out of reach.
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Visit the Punta Gorda Lighthouse
Perhaps the most famous point along the entire trail is found not far from the northern end of the Lost Coast. That's where hikers will come across the Punta Gorda Lighthouse, which was built back in 1912 and served as a beacon to warn ships away from the rocky section of California coast for decades before it was eventually shuttered for good in 1951.
Today, the lighthouse is a popular resting point for hikers and backpackers, who can still walk up its stairs to get a good look at the surrounding area. It also makes for a good out-and-back destination for day hikers too.