California’s Lost Coast A Rare Beauty of a Hike


Note: click on photos to make them larger and smaller.

Backpacker Magazine recently featured a article about backpacking the Lost Coast, a 30-mile stretch of beauty sandwiched between Northern California’s King Range Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Three companions and I completed the entire 30 miles in two days and one night on the first trip. Two more times, friends and I hiked 10-mile sections from the north and south.

There are at least two 4+-mile sections impassable at high tide, which encompass at least three campsites where you are pretty much on an island unless you want to climb steep trails up the mountainsides. At Buck Creek, we camped on a specular cliff site, high above the beach with incredible sunset views.

The Trail

The Lost Coast Trail leads you to wide sandy beaches (like Spanish Flat and Big Flat), which are ideal for camping. We found several wonderful campsite / shelters made (by previous campers) from driftwood with seats and fire pits. Although isolated, surfers manage to come to these flat expanses for great waves.

The trail takes you on the beach (walking in the sand and over small boulders in some places) and up on hard pack cliff trails and through meadows.

Water and Toilets

There are several creeks that flow into the trail so there is no problem with fresh water (however, drought conditions may have had an impact so check in at the ranger station). Paper and poo go in the sand (dig a hole) below the high tide water line. Seems counterintuitive to the “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” philosophy, but those are the rules).


The abandoned Punta Gordon Lighthouse is a wonderful ruin to explore. No lens or glass in the lighthouse, but you can climb up into the former lens room and get a spectacular view. The abandoned light keeper houses were burned down 40 years ago to keep squatters out.

Getting There

Check you maps. But there are several ways to do this. On our trip several years ago, we discovered that a local woman would pick you up in Shelter Cove (leave your car) and drive you to the Mattole River to begin the 30+ miles trip south to Shelter Cove. An alternative is to have two cars — one at each end. But the roads, in and out and along the ridge of the King Range are really windy and unpaved in places.  Two cars is not a great option.

Check with the store at Shelter Cove or King Range Conservation Area Office (Call ahead for hours. (707) 986-5400. 768 Shelter Cove Road, Whitethorn, CA 95589) to see what other options might be available. The shuttle was a great way to go. But not check (like $50 / person). Of course, another option is to hike half way or more from either end for an out and back.

Pre-Backpack Camping

You can tent camp at Shelter Cove and at the Mattole River before you hit the trail. There are no services at Mattole, but Shelter Cove is a regular little community with a general store ((707) 986-7733), restaurant, RV Park, campground ((707) 986-7474), etc.

Bear Canisters

Last time I checked, canisters were required. Read the regulations. I guess bears come down the creeks from the mountains for food and water. We never saw any. Rules are rules — and for a reason.


If you go, DO NOT try to be brave running through even shallow surf to get around points impassable at high tide. You will be risking your life. Currents are strong and sneaker Ray P at Lost Coastwaves can surprise and carry you out to sea in a moment. Do like we did: have lunch, relax, take it easy, take a nap until the next tide change. On one hiking day, BECAUSE of the high tides and because we were feeling good, we raced passed “impassable” areas while the tide was low and made 16 miles. That is a slog when you consider you walk through a fair amount of sand. We were really energized, but what’s the point if you are just trying to enjoy nature. Take your time.

As Always: Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.



Humboldt Creek and the Dolason Prairie Trail

One of my favorite backpacks  is Redwood National Park in Northern California — particularly Redwood Creek where you are surrounded by towering old growth redwoods.

Access goes something like this: you get you permit at park headquarters. They give you the combination to a locked gate. Past the gate, you drive 6-7 miles to a parking area. From there,  you hike a mere 1.5 miles down to the creek and your backpacking camp.

With your camp set up along the creek, you take a great 7.5 mile round trip along the Dolason Prairie Trail up through redwood groves and pristine forest to open prairie views and an overview of the entire area.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

2.5 Miles or Bust – Cache Creek Wilderness

img_18521.jpgBackpacking companion Wild Bill and I thought a November backpack would reward us with total solitude. Instead, we were greeted by 15 college students and a four hunters at the trailhead next to Highway 20 near Clearlake, California. We let them go ahead, then headed toward our overnight destination seven miles ahead in Wilson Valley. We dreaded spending the night with this small army of backpackers. When we came to a river about 2.5 miles down the trail, we waded across — losing the hunters — who apparently didn’t want to get wet. On the far bank we discovered an oak-savanah plateau with widely scattered campsites. One site — about 100 yards past the turn off to Wilson Valley — sat on the edge at the 25-foot high cliffs over looking the river and valley. Rather than hike another five miles to join the crowd in Wilson Valley, set up camp, day-hiked and then  toasted this quiet paradise with some chardonnay we brought along.  This is one of many backpacks where we discovered wilderness and total solitude less than 3 miles from the trailhead.Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Winter’s Coming — One More Chance to Backpack

This is my 12th season as a backpacker and — I hate to admit it — the first season I haven’t had a pack on my back. Several trips started out with packs packed, but turned into camping / day hiking-into-the-wilderness-trips, covering sections of the PCT. Still, I am hoping for one more chance to keep my string of backpacking years unbroken. It all depends on our Northern California weather holding out until early November. I’m thinking Snow Mountain Wilderness where we’ll have the the whole place to ourselves (and hopefully no snow).Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Sinkyone Wilderness: Elk on Bear Harbor Road

Wild Bill, the Duke and I just spent three days in the King Range, that 4,000 foot mountain range that forms the backdrop to the 28-mile Lost Coast Trail. On Saturday we topped King Peak at 4,200 feet and spent two hours having lunch and enjoying the incredible view. On Sunday, we drove down to Bear Harbor to see Needle Point, and the ocean-side visitor center. There’s a barn nearby that offers backpackers a place to sleep and a picnic bench for breakfast as you look through a window to the Pacific Ocean. Besides the incredible ocean views, a herd of elk appeared and ambled in front of our car.Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Kennedy Meadows – Hiking Without the Pain of the Pack

From the California Gold Rush town of Sonora, follow Highway 108 east for 30 miles, and before you hit Sonora Pass (9,600), you come to one of the most beautiful spots on Earth: Kennedy Meadows. Because of swarming mosquitos, our three days of backpacking and two days of car camping turned into 5 days of car camping with our days spent fishing and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Sonora Pass. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll talk about the trip and show photos of our three trout dinners, hikes up to 11,000 feet and other adventures. Until then … Be light. Be Safe. Be one with the pack.

A Walk in the Near Woods

I happen to live in a rural area of Northern California where a 10-minute drive and 20-minute walk will take me to a 40-foot waterfall among redwoods and ferns. This setting is as beautiful as you will find in the most remote wilderness areas. A great trek can merely be a walk in the near woods. Which drew me to this local adventure:

Recently, Ron Bloomquist of Fort Bragg, California who walks the town each morning for health and then blogs about it, decided on a near adventure of his own. He and a friend strapped on ultralight backpacks and followed the tracks of the local historic Skunk Train railroad, logging 40-miles. Here is his story.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Cache Creek Wilderness – Our First 2009 Backpack Destination

 Although Northern California rain is off about 40%+ this year, there has been just enough to keep snow on the mountains. What better time than to try a close-to-home (3 hours) in a low altitude destination. The “Three Bs”  (Bruce, Bill and Bob) are taking our first 2009 backpack in Cache Creek Wilderness, off Highway 20 east of Clear Lake. We’ll let you know how it turns out. A resident tule elk herd and black bear are among the wildlife.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

First Video: Wild Country for Old Men

In mid-October, wearing bright orange vests to avoid being killed by deer hunters on horseback, backpacking companion Wild Bill and I ventured into the Snow Mountain Wilderness. Parking at the Summit Trail (30 miles from Upper Lake, California, we hiked 1,000 feet over 2 miles and ended up at a meadow surrounded by spruce trees. A short distance away was a notch that led to a killer view of the mountains toward the setting sun. Only two miles from the Snow Mountain Wilderness Peaks (about 7,000 feet each), we were amazed at how few miles we had to pack to be totally away from just about every other individual (except four hunters at the beginning). See for yourself. Truly, a wild place for old men who want to carry less, see more, and have total solitude.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

PS – This is my first amateur video. I’m using the $125 Flip Digital Technology web camera, which holds 1 hour video and weighs just 5.5 ounces with batteries.

You’ve Got One Trip Left: Go Wild in Snow Mountain Wilderness

When I say go wild, I mean get out where no one else goes. I’ll soon be heading out to the Snow Mountain Wilderness, which even at around 6,500 feet, feels like the Sierra and has views to the ocean on the west. It’s located north of California Highway 20 and is sandwiched between Interstate 5 and Highway 101. My first trip there was June of 1997 — my second backpack. With beautiful fall weather (70’s in day and 40’s at night) predicted — an 50+ backpacks under my belt, I can wait to go back. Most backpackers have mothballed their gear for the winter. But October and sometimes even November in Northern California can have perfect backpacking weather. Back to going wild: we expect to see no one else on this trip. Some other wilderness suggestions: Yolla Bolly, Cache Creek, Marble Mountains and Canyon Creek Trail in the Trinity Alps (look out for hunters). Evem in peak season, you’ll see few if any backpackers on the trails.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.