In the 1930’s surveyors traveled up and down the California coast to decide where to build the Pacific Coast Highway. When they reached the coastline between Humboldt and Mendocino counties they shook their heads. No way they could build the highway there. It would simply be too costly. Instead the highway was diverted inland leaving almost 100 miles of California coastline virtually untouched. Except for a few smaller communities like Petrolia and Shelter Cove this stretch of coastline has been left undeveloped, thus giving it its name the Lost Coast.
View the Lost Coast Trail in a larger map
The Lost Coast Trail runs from the mouth of the Mattole River, just west of the small community of Petrolia, past the town of Shelter Cove down to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. The 25 mile northern segment from Mattole River to Shelter Cove follows the beach line, and much of the trail is actually on the beach. There even are a few places that are not passable during high tide. From Shelter Cove the trail turns inland and penetrates groves of Redwood as it makes its way 28 more miles down through Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.
I hiked the northern section of the Lost Coast Trail in mid-September of 2012, when I was making my way down the Pacific Coast after completing my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. I started from Mattole River and spent two days to get to Shelter Cove. It was an awesome hike. As much as I loved hiking the PCT it was a welcoming change to get to spend some time by the ocean.
Photos from the hike
Due to its remoteness the Lost Coast Trail can be somewhat of a logistical challenge. There is no regular bus services going near any of the trailheads so driving out there yourself is usually the only alternative. I left my car at the Mattole River trailhead and had to spend half a day hitch-hiking back from Shelter Cove after the hike. People were really friendly, but the problem was that there just wasn’t any traffic to speak of. I finally got a ride from a local farmer who took me the half-way, and then a musician on his way to a wedding who gave me a ride the rest of the way.
Backcountry permits are required for overnight trips. The permit is free of charge and can be acquired at self-service boxes at King Range trailheads, at the King Range Office in Whitethorn, and at the Bureau of Land Management Field Office in Arcata. The permit also serves as a California campfire permit for the King Range.
Bear canisters are required on overnight trips. Yes, there really are bears there. I saw fresh paw prints on the beach myself. Bear canister can be rented from the store in Petrolia (I think it was around $5) and returned either to the store, or to the King Range Office in Whitethorn.
Much of the trail runs on the beach, and there are a few sections that will flood during high tide. You don’t want to be trapped between the rising Pacific Ocean on one side and and steep inaccessible cliffs on the other. Use a tide chart and observe the sea. Don’t hike out on the beach when the tide is rising.
For more information about the King Range and the Lost Coast please check out the King Range information brochure.