Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail

Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail

The Lost Coast is a wild and undeveloped stretch of Northern California coastline spanning Humboldt and Mendocino counties. The Lost Coast Trail goes along 25 miles of that beautiful coast from Mattole Beach to Black Sand Beach. 

If you are looking to get away from it all and see some beautiful parts of California that aren’t accessible to the otherwise, the Lost Coast Trail is perfect.

This trail has gained some popularity in the last few years but is still beautiful and relatively uncrowded. The biggest change due to the increase in popularity has been to the permit system in that you can no longer get walk up permits the day of, you now have to reserve those permits in advance.

This post is going to go over everything you need to know for doing this awesome three day hike from permits to where to camp to any and all quirks you might not have thought of. Feel free to skip around, this is a lot of information I know, but it’s always better to know before you go!

Trail Basics


Length: 24.6 miles

Time: Four days and three days total. The first day is getting there and camping at the trailhead, actually on the trail is three days and two nights.

Difficulty: There is not a lot of elevation gain or loss but the terrain can be difficult and strenuous. Soft sand, rocky beaches, and boulders make hiking slow going.

Type of trail: Point to point, this means you will either need to reserve a shuttle service or have two cars one parked at each point.

Direction: You can go either north to south or south to north, the more popular route is north to south – Mattole Beach to Black Sand Beach, probably because you can camp at the Mattole Beach trailhead and wind direction is usually north to south.

Pay attention to tides: You are hiking along the coast so the ocean is a concern, more on this below.

Best time to go: May – October, I would probably lean towards late May and early June and September to avoid peak summer (as it tends to get more crowded then) but still have good weather.

Permit Stuff


Permits can be purchased at for the “Kings Range Wilderness”.

Your permit is good from the start date.

One permit is good for up to five people.

Permits are $6.

The permit must be printed and carried with you on the trail.


rocky terrain

There are three stretches of trail that are impassable at high tide, you can see them on this map.

The impassable zones are a mall section between Mattole Beach and Punta Gorda Lighthouse; just past Punta Gorda Lighthouse and Randall Creek; from Shipman creek to Gitchell Creek.

Plan to hit these places at low tide to ensure passage.

Trying to go through when the tide is too high is very dangerous and can be deadly. Do yourself a favor and just don’t do it.

Bring a tide calendar or chart so you know when and what the tides are doing. You can download a free tide table here.


Early morning views
Camping at Spanish Flat

Always camp in established campsites when backpacking, that being said there are plenty of established sites along the Lost Coast Trail to choose from. Depending on how long you want to take to do the trail and how far you want to go each day you’ll find campsites every few miles almost. Here is a list of more known spots.

Mattole Beach: Car camping at trailhead, Mattole Beach has fire pits, potable water, and pit toilets.

Sea Lion Gulch: Just past the Punta Gorda Lighthouse and right before the second impassable high tide section. About five and a half miles in from Mattole Beach

Spanish Flat: Just on the other side of the second impassable high tide section. Up on a little cliff with views of the water. About seven miles from Mattole Beach.

Kinsey Creek: Kinsey Creek is just on the other side of the ridge line from Spanish Flat. About three miles from Spanish Flat.

Big Flat/Miller Flat: These two camping areas right next to each other. Just before the last impassable high tide section. The Big Flat Creek runs down between the two camping areas. About five and a half miles from Kinsey Creek and about ten miles from Black Sand Beach

Wailaki Camping area: Located about five miles from Black Sand Beach off Chemise Mountain Road, its car camping with potable water and pit toilets and is an option for staying before or after your hike.

Need To Know/ Requirements

the lost coast

Bear canisters are required.

Cat holes should be dug below the tide line when hiking along the coast, and 100 feet from water sources on all other parts of the trail.

Campfires are prohibited mid June to mid October.

Dogs are allowed on the trail but the rocky terrain can be very hard on their paws and it’s not recommended to bring them. If you do it’s advised that they wear booties to protect their paws.

There is plenty of water to filter from streams.

Pack out all trash – Leave No Trace.

Cool Things To See

the Punta Gorda Lighthouse
how did this car get here?

Random Subaru, it just there on the beach, making you wonder, “how did you get here?”.

The Punta Gorda Lighthouse.

Wildlife – You could see sea lions, deer, elk, bears, mountain lions, lizards, snakes, and butterflies. Look but don’t touch, feed, or go near. Honestly, your chances of seeing bears and mountain lions are pretty slim, but we did encounter deer and sea lions!

Beautiful sunsets.

Dramatic coastlines.


the lost coast

Cars can be left at Mattole Beach and Black Sand Beach.

The road between Mattole and Shelter Cover is skinny, winding, and not paved all the way. 

4 wheel drive isn’t necessary but can’t hurt (we did it in a VW Golf and a Toyota Corolla and were fine, we just had to take it slow) 

The drive between the two trailheads is about two hours due to the winding roads.

You can hire a shuttle service to get from one trailhead to the other. There are two companies you can hire Lost Coast Adventure Tours and Mendo Insider Tours, they are both $85 per person.

How I Did It

camping with friends
sunset at Big Flat

I went in early June with a group of five so we all fit on one permit.

Day One: Drove from San Francisco to Shelter Cove and drop off one car at the Black Sand Beach parking lot. Then stuffed everyone into the other car and drove the winding road to Mattole Beach. We camped at the Mattole Beach campground for the night.

Day Two: Started hiking early to make it around the impassable high tide sections. We hiked to Spanish Flat and camped there for the night.

Day Three: It was a short hiking day to Big Flat. We got to hang around and rest once we got to the campsite and enjoyed an epic sunset.

Day Four: We got an early start to get around the impassable high tide section and because it was going to be a long day. The last section to Black Sand Beach was long and rough at the end, the sand was really sink-y and we were tired. We even mistook another beach for the end of the trail and got really excited only to be disappointed that we were in the wrong place. Once we got to Black Sand Beach we piled into the car and drove back up to Mattole Beach to get the other car. Then drove back to San Francisco.

Get the best gear around for your backpacking trip!

This the gear I use and love. Osprey backpacks are in my opinion the most comfortable backpacks on the market, the “anti-gravity” technology they use to keep the pack from putting pressure on your shoulders and back is seriously a life saver.

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Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail

2 thoughts on “Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail

  1. Pingback: Hiking the Skyline to Sea Trail - Nattie on the Road

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