The Lost Coast is a stretch of California coastline so rugged that roads have not conquered it. The remoteness is a rare respite from the rest of the state. There are no mansions tucked along hillsides or congested lines of traffic winding along the cliffs. Here crumbling gashes of the King Range tower from the sea, blocking the way of everyone not on foot.
Between the cliffs and the sea, the Lost Coast Trail passes along the narrow band of tortured beach. It is the domain of the hiker, a desolate and severe landscape draped by a pristine ecosystem. The path leads from hidden beaches to expansive vistas at dizzying heights above the surf. Apart from sea lions and the occasional troop of Scouts, hikers discover pure solitude. The Lost Coast Trail is one of the finest beach backpacking trips found in the United States, and it has steadily grown in fame and popularity over the years.
Often the trail is no more than a foreboding band of beach that vanishes into an oblivion of marine fog. Twice per day, there is no Lost Coast Trail. Stretches of the route vanish under the high tide, replaced by surf pounding against the cliffs.
The Lost Coast Trail skirts the coast of the King Range National Conservation Area. This is the western edge of Humboldt County in Northern California. To the south of the King Range, Highway 1 veers eastward, blocked by impassible slopes near Rockport. If you were to fly a plane up the coast from here, the next coastal highway you would spot is at Ferndale, roughly 90 miles north. Between lies the longest stretch of undeveloped US Pacific coastline outside of Alaska.
There are two official portions of the Lost Coast Trail. Most people (and this guide) are only interested in the northern section. Most of the time when someone says "Lost Coast Trail," they are referring to just the northern section. This trail runs 24.6 miles (39.6 km) between Mattole and Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove.
The southern Lost Coast Trail continues further into Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, eventually reaching Usal Beach, about 32 miles from Black Sands Beach. The sheer cliffs of the next stretch of coast are inaccessible by foot, so the trail begins inland several miles east from Shelter Cove, and doesn't return to the coast until near Needle Rock. Sinkyone State Park has tighter regulations than the BLM. Dogs are not allowed and camping must be within designated areas. The southern Lost Coast Trail rarely touches the beach, staying inland and skirting the tops of the bluffs most of the way. It is a beautiful hike, but it is not top-shelf like the northern section.