Lost Cost Trail

Lost Cost TrailThis 26-mile stretch of rock-strewn North­ern Cal­i­for­nia coast­line was sup­posed to be a highway—but it was too rugged for the con­struc­tion equip­ment, so the builders of High­way 1 decid­ed to leave it untouched. Now it’s California’s most unde­vel­oped stretch of shore­line, acces­si­ble only to hik­ers and back­pack­ers with a sense of adven­ture. Think misty marine morn­ings, jagged rocky cliffs, and sweep­ing sandy beach­es. And the best part? It’s free for the taking.

How To Get There
Rough­ly five hours north of San Fran­cis­co, the Lost Coast Trail is locat­ed on the edge of the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment (BLM) King Range Nation­al Con­ser­va­tion Area on the west­ern edge of Hum­boldt Coun­ty in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The north­ern edge of the wilder­ness area is the town of Fer­n­dale, and the coast­line wan­ders for rough­ly 90 miles of unde­vel­oped inlets—the longest stretch of unde­vel­oped Pacif­ic coast­line in the Unit­ed States out­side of Alaska.

There are two stretch­es of the Lost Coast Trail: the north sec­tion and the south sec­tion. On the north sec­tion, you’ll be walk­ing on boul­ders, peb­bles, and sand. On the south sec­tion, the ele­va­tion gain and loss makes hik­ing much more challenging—some esti­mates even cite 12,000 feet of change, which is more than trav­el­ing in and out of the Grand Canyon. Most hik­ers vis­it the north part of the trail, head­ing south from Mat­tole Riv­er for rough­ly 26 miles.

There are sev­er­al com­mer­cial­ly oper­at­ed shut­tle ser­vices in the area. Research which stretch of the coast­line you’re inter­est­ed in hik­ing, then arrange for a ride so you can hike one-way, then hop a lift back to your car.

Lost Cost TrailWhen To Go
While the trail is tech­ni­cal­ly pos­si­ble all year, most hik­ers choose the warmer and dri­er months between April and Octo­ber. You’ll need to track the dai­ly tides because there are sev­er­al key sec­tions where cliffs and waves com­bine to make the trail impass­able at any­thing except low tide. Invest in a local tide table, and make sure you know how to read it. Also, keep in mind that the wind usu­al­ly blows in from the northwest—which means it’s often more pleas­ant to hike from north to south, so the wind is at your back.

You can legal­ly camp any­where, but to min­i­mize your envi­ron­men­tal impact pitch your tent in a pre­vi­ous­ly estab­lished camp­site. Sites are first come, first serve, and most are locat­ed next to sea­son­al fresh­wa­ter streams, which are handy for cook­ing and refill­ing drink­ing water sup­plies. Remem­ber that all water used for drink­ing, cook­ing, and doing dish­es should be treated.

It is required that food be car­ried in a bear can­is­ter, and every mem­ber of each team is required to be car­ry­ing at least one bear-proof con­tain­er for stor­ing food and oth­er scent­ed items. Main­tain con­ver­sa­tion and car­ry bear spray while you’re hik­ing to keep the bears away. Remem­ber, all your food must fit inside the bear can­is­ter, so plan your meals accordingly.

And Final­ly
Don’t for­get your cam­era! You’ll see black bears, ele­phant seals, sea birds, otters, and more. The sun ris­es over sweep­ing panoram­ic views, and the Pacif­ic Ocean glis­tens in the dis­tance. Wear lots of sun­screen, take lots of pic­tures, and don’t for­get to take off your shoes and feel the sand between your toes.

Self-reg­is­ter for per­mits (free) at Mat­tole Riv­er trail­head (ca.blm.gov/arcata). For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact the Bureau of Land Management.