Lost Coast Trail Trip Planning Guide

There are two sections of the Lost Coast Trail:

  • The Northern End – 24.6 beach side miles with an abundance of creeks to filter water, very little elevation gain, and 3 sections that are impassible during high tide.
  • The Southern End – 20 less traveled miles along the ridge line where water is more scarce.

This Guide Pertains to the Northern End of King Range National Conservation Area

Dangers: Heavy rains, sneaker waves, paralyzingly cold water, inter-tidal zone hiking, creek crossings, hiking over moss covered rocks, poison oak, ticks, rattlesnakes, black bears, and wind exposure.

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There are plenty of concerns to address when deciding to take on the Lost Coast Trail. Foolish choices and poor timing impact people’s saftey every year. Helicopter rescues and fatalities are not uncommon. Carry a map and tide chart, keep the itinerary flexible to allow waiting out high tides, and when below the high water mark never take your eyes off the ocean.

Where to Start

1. Picking dates– The Kings Range Conservation area sees over 200 inches of rain a year. While this contributes to the plentiful and serenely beautiful creeks it can also make for a very soggy and cold hike if one is unprepared. June and July see the least rain but check the weather forecast and bring trustworthy rain gear if any is expected. Also look for storm warnings as surging ocean tides can be deadly.
2. Permits- Advance permits are now required for anyone hiking in the conservation area. They cost $6 per group and can be acquired here. Also print out a map to the parking lot at the trail head or download a GPS map of the area. Navigation apps will not work upon exiting the highway.
3. Rent or buy a bear canister- they are required and hikers caught without them are heavily fined. You can rent them from Lost Coast Adventure Tours but I recommend a Bearikade from Wild Ideas. They don’t pay me to say this I just really love the product. Bearikades are super light and very well made. If you are renting they don’t charge for non-trail days. Plus if you love it like I did and decide to buy one they will deduct the cost of the rental from the purchase price.

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4. Plan to hike from North to South- this will keep the wind at your back. It also has the benefit of saving the best scenery for last.
5. Book a trail head shuttle- The southbound route will take you from the trail head at Mattole Beach to Black Sands Beach so if you don’t have two cars to shuttle yourself back, park at Black Sands Beach and book a shuttle to Mattole through Lost Coast Adventure Tours. They are pricey but very knowledgeable and accommodating. The road is very windy so bring ginger chews if anyone is prone to carsickness. Remember cash to tip the driver!
6. Order a map- Wilderness Press makes
an excellent map with detailed information like driving directions, history, trail camps, distances between points, precautions, regulations, and contact info all for $9.95 at the time of this writing. Order this map early in the trip planning process and use it you create the itinerary. The printable maps found elsewhere online are not detailed enough to locate water or your own coordinates while hiking. The suggested map will give you peace of mind in knowing you are beyond the inter-tidal zone before setting up camp.
7. Plan itinerary- Decide how many miles you want to do a day keeping in mind that hiking in sand and over moss covered boulders is slow going. If you rush yourself you can easily break an ankle or wrist slipping on the wet rocks. There are tons of established campsites with fire rings near all the water sources so plan to hike from one creek to another to reduce your impact. Be aware of sections that are dangerous at high tide and allow plenty of time to get past while the tide is low. High tide waters get five feet up the cliff-sides in some places. You will be trapped and swept out to sea if you are careless. The ocean water is so cold it paralyzes almost instantly so please heed this warning.
Sample Itinerary:
Day 1– Shuttle to Mattole from Black Sands Beach (2 hours.) Hike from Mattole to Sea Lion Gulch (5.5 miles) and camp just before the 4 mile impassible zone.
Day 2- Start hiking with the outgoing tide. Sea Lion Gulch to Spanish Flat (7 miles.)
Day 3- Spanish Flat to Miller Flat (7 miles) no impassible zones.
Day 4- Miller Flat to Black Sands Beach (10 miles with 4 mile impassible zone.) Water sources dwindle the last 5 miles and the sand is loose and brutal! It’s like hiking though quicksand.

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8. Time impassible zones in conjunction with low tide- There are 2 high and 2 low tides every day. One is more drastic than the other. Have a map and tide chart on you and start hiking through inter-tidal zones with the more drastic outgoing tide. As soon as high tide drops enough to see some of the beach, head out. This will give you half of high tide going out, all of low tide, and half of the next high tide coming back in to clear the danger zones. If done this way there will be plenty of time to take it slow, filter water when needed, and enjoy the scenery.
9. DO NOT GO IN THE OCEAN- As tempting as it looks, it could take your life. I waded in up to my knees to cool off and the strong back current pulled me right off a steep drop that I couldn’t see. I was lucky enough to catch the next wave and it pushed me back to shore but after a few strokes my muscles were too cold to function. I barley got out with my life. Cool off in the creeks instead, preferably as far down stream as possible in order to avoid polluting the drinking water.
10. Camp in a sheltered spot- pitch the tent amidst the trees or behind rocks. The wind exposure is no joke. We saw several tents blow away even though they were staked down with gear inside. There are plenty of protected sites if you take the time to look around.
11. Have the time of your life- the LCT is one of a kind! Be safe and enjoy yourself! Please be sure to leave no trace and leave this rugged untouched wonder… untouched.

Here’s how I prepared

Want more trail tips? Check out my Trans Catalina Trail trip guide or my Havasu Falls planning aid

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5 thoughts on “Lost Coast Trail Trip Planning Guide

  1. Your mileage does not add up correctly.
    Sample Itinerary:
    Day 1– Shuttle to Mattole from Black Sands Beach (2 hours.) Hike from Mattole to Sea Lion Gulch (5.5 miles) and camp just before the 4 mile impassible zone.
    Day 2- Start hiking with the outgoing tide. Sea Lion Gulch to Spanish Flat (7 miles.)
    Day 3- Spanish Flat to Miller Flat (7 miles) no impassible zones.
    Day 4- Miller Flat to Black Sands Beach (10 miles with 4 mile impassible zone.) Water sources dwindle the last 5 miles and the sand is loose and brutal! It’s like hiking though quicksand.

    Yours add up to 29 miles and the hike is under 25. Been there, done that.

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  2. You are correct that as the crow flies the mileage is less. The listings used in the example are from my GPS and include zigzaging like drunken sailors looking for the most solid ground we could find either up on the cliffs or down on the wet sand. That’s why it says sample and the technically correct distance from point A to B is listed at the top of the page.

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  3. Trying to find out an approximate timing it takes to get through the impassible zone?
    Our tide times suck so figuring out what time to start.

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  4. It really depends on your hiking speed. We packed pretty light and clocked 30-40 min miles. However even when we took our time, stopped to rest and filter water none of the impassable secrions took us more than 4 hours. There is one portion that requires climbing over slick algae covered rocks that can be treacherous if rushed. To the best of my recollection it was at the start of the impassable section just south of the Punta Gorda lighthouse.

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