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Traverse the trails of the Lost Coast and experience the vast expanse of the rugged Northern California coastline—an untouched, untamed wonder that roads have yet to conquer. Spanning across Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, the Lost Coast is one of California's remote destinations worth visiting.
From Shelter Cove in the south to Mattole River to the north, you'll surely feel lost (in a therapeutically healing way) amongst the thick forests, mysterious fog, wondrous waves, and soft sand. So, get ready to pack your backpack for a several-day journey through the Lost Coast. This pristine stretch of largely undiscovered coastline is bound to impress and mesmerize you.
The Lost Coast Trail circles the coast of the King Range National Conservation Area, which is located at the westernmost edge of Humboldt County. Begin at one of two trailheads: Mattole Beach or Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove. The northern part of the Lost Coast Trail is neatly tucked between these two trailheads, extending for approximately 24.6 miles. The southern part of the trail stretches for another nine miles but is typically inaccessible by foot, so it isn't as explored as the northern section. Additionally, this section of the Lost Coast Trail doesn't really have a direct connection to the beach; rather, inland bluffs make up the majority of the terrain.
Backpacking through California’s top destinations is all fun and games until you find yourself wishing you came a different time. Given the wet winter conditions in the King Range Wilderness, the best time to trek the Lost Coast hiking trail is from late May to September. Otherwise, you may experience heavy torrents of rain. Between late October and April, the area welcomes a minimum of 60 inches of rain—creating a slippery trail and making it challenging to cross streams. Plus, the downpours can be accompanied by strong winds, which can be incessant and difficult to deal with.
So, unless you’re really looking for a challenge, we suggest avoiding the area in the wetter months. But no matter when you decide to conquer the Lost Coast Trail, make sure you are well-prepared physically and mentally and have all of the necessary permits and gear.
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For overnight stays in the King Range Wilderness, a permit is a must year-round. (No permits are required for day hikers.) Hikers can book their permits ahead of time via Recreation.gov. Permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis and are limited to five people; a maximum of 15 people can travel in a single group. Also note that the number of visitors allowed to camp overnight is limited to 60 persons per day from May 15 through September 15 and 30 persons per day from September 16 through May 14, so it’s imperative to plan ahead.
Aside from the Lost Coast Trail permit, you will also need to provide a tentative itinerary that shows the number of days you plan to spend in the area, which trailheads you plan on entering and exiting, and where you expect to camp.
The Bureau of Land Management hasn't set any restrictions on camping areas. Campers, however, are advised to stay at the designated campsites to avoid human impact on untouched lands. The most popular campsites are far away from the beach and nestled in narrow valleys to provide shelter from the treacherous North Coast winds—and the accompanying sound of the streams will gently lull you to sleep.
The main spots for camping in the Lost Coast are:
Thinking of trekking through the pristine Lost Coast? Then it's time to step up your backpacking game with gear from California-based companies. It's important to be well-prepared, especially when hiking the entirety of the trail takes about three to four days. Here's the essential gear to bring when Lost Coast backpacking.
Naturally, since it's a backpacking trip, the type of pack you use is critical. It's best to bring a bag that's comfortable to wear and capable of holding 45 liters or more—the more pockets, the better so everything is easily accessible.
For serious backpackers, we recommend investing in a zero- to 15-degree sleeping bag, which will keep you quite toasty. Although temperatures may drop that low during your Lost Coast hike, it's always better to be prepared.
A sleeping pad, for newbie backpackers, is akin to a yoga mat and is great to use during those long nights when you need to lay on the ground. It helps add insulation, keeping your sleeping bag and body off of the ground. Given that you'll be carrying this sleeping pad on your back throughout the trip, it's ideal to go with one as light as air.
While many avid backpackers consider this an extra item, a compressible pillow may be a solid purchase for those of you who often experience neck pain. If you decide to forgo this item, you can simply stuff jackets or clothing into the hood of your sleeping bag for a makeshift pillow.
A tent is one of the largest items you'll carry in your backpack—and is likely to the most expensive. But a high-quality, light-weight tent is worth investing in, particularly if you plan on doing additional backpacking trips.
Going old school is the best choice when venturing into the wilderness, so grab a map of the area and a compass before heading towards the unknown (well, so to speak). You can also go for the big guns and purchase a handheld GPS.
It goes without saying that having proper hiking boots is important—after all, you will be wearing them for at least three days. But not all boots fit all feet the same, so shop around until you find the best sturdy, comfortable boots for you.
Now that you have all of your essential gear, here are other miscellaneous items to consider adding to your bag.
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