Backpacking The Lost Coast Trail

This blog has turned into more of a technical spot recently; however, it started as a place for me to share my favorite memories. This post will be about my 5-day backpacking trip with an amazing group of friends on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California King Range National Conservation Area. It is a memory I will never forget and want to share.

Day 1 on The Lost Coast Trail

The first day on the trail started with the group getting some last minute items into our packs in the parking lot of Black Sand Beach trailhead. We were taking the North to South approach to the trail, leaving our cars in Black Sands, and having a shuttle take us to the north end, then hiking down from there.

Packing up for our first day at Black Sands Beach Trailhead
Packing up for our first day at Black Sands Beach Trailhead

After a bumpy and windy bus ride to Mattole Beach trailhead, we eagerly threw our packs on our backs and headed to the trail. The trail started out sandy, very sandy. But hey, we knew what we were getting into. The goal for the first day was to get in a few miles nothing strenuous, we wanted an easy introduction to the trail and since we were planning to take 5 days to do 25 miles, we were in no rush.

We were all excited and all full of adrenaline starting out our first day on a camping trip that we had all been looking forward to for months. We easily made it to the major landmark Punta Gorda lighthouse.  It was constructed in the early 1900’s to help alert ships of the treacherous tides along the coast and saw service until the 1950’s. We were now the ones taking on the treacherous coast.

The Punta Gorda Lighthouse roughly 3 miles South of Mattole Trailhead
The Punta Gorda Lighthouse roughly 3 miles South of Mattole Trailhead

Just a half mile past the lighthouse we came across a creek and some camping spots that we decided to stop at and make camp for the first night. The first day of the Lost Coast Trail was an easy one with mostly sand and some hard packed dirt. In all our excitement the sand really did not bother us at all and at this point, we really did not know how precious the hard packed dirt could really be.

The wind was strong on our first day, Fortunately, our camping spot provided some cover but still we experienced a windy night. We half expected to wake up without a tent fly anymore. It really was that strong of wind. Luckily, all our stakes held and the rainfly clips held strong, thanks REI Half Dome 2!

Favorite Moments:

  • Starting the amazing Lost Coast Trail and all the excitement and adrenaline that came with it
  • Exploring and playing around the Punta Gorda Lighthouse
  • Having to have someone hold tent down as we set it up because it was so windy
  • Having our first campfire on the trail

Day 2 On The Lost Coast Trail

Our second day started off lazy. This day we would be dealing with a tidal zone and low tide was not until 4 in the afternoon. We wanted a noon start so lazily ate breakfast and packed up in the morning. After leaving camp we had a mile to get to the tidal zone and 4 or so miles of the tidal zone to deal with. The tidal zones were exciting for all of us since we did not entirely know what to expect other than the fact that we would basically be face to face with the ocean for most of our hike.

What we did not know or expect were the number of rocks we would be hiking over. We were able to keep hiking at a decent pace but the fear of ankle injuries was definitely in our minds. 4 miles of hiking on rocks meant secure footing was a  necessity, full hiking boots a must.

Our first glimpse of the tidal zone on the trail
Our first glimpse of the tidal zone on the trail

After some scrambling across the rocks, we came to a spot where even during low tide it looked dangerous. This was about a mile into the tidal zone and during low tide, it still looked impossible. We scoped out the area and some knowledgeable hikers came by as well. They informed us this spot would require going up on the bluffs and hiking a half mile or so, then go back down to the beach. Glad we ran into them because going around the point with waves crashing into it would have been a bad idea.

It was quite amazing how one second you are in a zone where the high tide would wash you away and just 50 feet ahead you are back on the bluffs safe from the crashing waves. We made it to the Spanish Flats outside the tidal zone! We hiked another mile and a half to where we would set up camp for the night. Our camping spot for the second night was even better than the first. Well established, very protected, and beautiful views.

Day 2 camping spot in the Spanish Flats, making dinner
Day 2 camping spot in the Spanish Flats, making dinner

First thing first though after getting to camp we all took a bath. We made our way to a spot in the creek where a small pool formed and washed off our dirt and grime. A cold but refreshing bath in the middle of the trail. After a refreshing dip in the creek, we settled into camp making dinner and starting a fire. Some of us stayed up to see the sunset. It was serene being able to sit in solitude on the beach and watch the sun dip down below the horizon. It really felt like we had the entire coast to ourselves.

James watching the sunset from our Day 2 camping spot on the Spanish Flats
James watching the sunset from our Day 2 camping spot on the Spanish Flats

Favorite Moments:

  • Hiking along the bluffs, super windy and on the cliff edge
  • Stepping foot in the tidal zone and realizing damn this trail is intense with nothing but rocks in sight
  • Making it out of the tidal zone and onto the grassy Spanish Flats, was a relief to be on some solid ground
  • Sitting by myself on the bluffs watching the waves and soaking in the gracefulcxenvironment
  • Resting around the camping enjoying the beautiful sunset

Day 3 On The Lost Coast Trail

We had been seeing nothing but the sun since starting our trip but this morning brought on the new weather, fog. The fog was enjoyable, it was a good break from the constant inescapable sun we had been experiencing.

Spanish Flats fog Lost Coast Trail Day 3
The day 3-morning fog at the Spanish Flats

For this day of hiking, there were no tide zones to deal with. We headed out in the morning with the goal of camping just before the next treacherous tidal zone.  Without too much sand to deal with we made good time. It was great hiking along grassy bluffs with a mysterious foggy haze over top of us.

A few drops of rain here and there were all we had to deal with while on the trail. Once we got to camp the rain began falling a little heavier. After a somewhat rushed dinner, we jumped into our tents to escape the rain. The rain really was not bad at all but after 3 days of hiking we enjoyed the early bedtime and pitter patter of rain as we fell asleep.

Favorite Moments:

  • Hiking along the grassy bluff, seeing the grass wave in the wind.
  • Freaking out a little bit coming across a large group of people performing silent meditation.
  • Seeing a dead whale on the beach.
  • Hiking in solitude really experiencing and enjoying the Lost Coast.

Day 4 On The Lost Coast Trail

We awoke to a wet morning. It had not rained hard during the night but a constant drizzle overnight can really get things wet. We packed up our wet gear and made a run for it on the trail.

Today was our another long stretch of the tidal zone that we would be dealing with. Another 4 miles of tidal zone. Upon reaching the tidal zone we were a bit nervous. The rain storm was still occurring and we had shown up only an hour after peak high tide. We could see waves crashing up and taking up the whole beach in front of us.

After waiting half an hour hoping the tides would subside, which they did but only very little. We decided now or never and set out. There were some wave dodging and rock scrambling, but the whole group made it through. The waves crashing so close upped our adrenaline and excitement for sure.

Dealing with the Day 4 tidal zone on the Lost Coast Trail.
Dealing with the Day 4 tidal zone.

By mid-afternoon the sun had broken through the storm. We made camp just outside the tidal zone at Gitchell Creek.  Our last day on the Lost Coast Trail gave us with the best sunset. The lingering clouds and haze looming over the mountains while seeing perfect blue skies over the ocean made for the most magnificent sunset.

Sunset from Gitchell Creek on the Lost Coast Trail.
Sunset from Gitchell Creek

Favorite Moments:

  • Maneuvering through the tidal zone attempting to stay as dry as possible.
  • Watching the best sunset of the trip, sitting just above the shore break with all my friends
  • Enjoying the camping area with other campers

Day 5 On The Lost Coast Trail

Our last day on the Lost Coast trail. We took our time packing up because none of us wanted to leave. The 5-day trip had taken its toll on us but still, we were not ready for it to end.

We could see Shelter Cove and Black Sands Beach in the distance. The trail there was not an easy one though. It was all soft sand or tiny rocks that you sank into.  It made for a slow pace but we were okay with that.

Looking back, admiring the completed Lost Coast Trail
Looking back, admiring the completed Lost Coast Trail

Upon arriving at the cars we collapsed. Tired, smelly, and hungry for anything other than freeze dried food. We made it! We conquered the Lost Coast Trail.

This was a trip that we will never forget. Are you a backpacker? Then taking the Lost Coast Trail needs to be high up on your list of places to go. If you plan on doing the trail or have already done it yourself, comment below with any questions, concerns, or favorite memories.


If you like this check out my other post Backpacking Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego

Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves Borrego Springs

Part two of the Winter 2016 camping trip was the Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves in Anza Borrego State Park. This is one of my favorite spots to explore in Anza Borrego. One of the main reasons for that is you can really get some solitude. Only street legal vehicles are allowed in this part of the park, so you do not have to worry about dirt bikes or quads tearing through the area.


  • Get yourself to the S2 either from the 78, 76, or 79 depending on where you are coming from.
  • Take the S2 until right about mile marker 43
  • Take the dirt road on your left named Vallecito Creek for 4.5 miles
  • You will see a small sign for Arroyo Tapiado Wash you will make a hard left here
  • Follow the wash, and you will begin to see signs of caves and canyons shortly

Note: Putting Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves into Google maps and having it route you works perfectly. It even navigates you very well on the dirt road portions. Also, the trail is sandy and has some spots where high clearance vehicles are preferred. We drove out there in two F-150s and a Subaru Crosstrek with no difficulty. We saw a Honda Oddessy on the trail as well. We were very surprised by that and would not recommend that, but hey someone did it.

When we made it to the Arroyo Tapiado, wash and saw our first sign of a cave we parked the truck and ran for it. We were at Bat Canyon looking to find Cool Cave. Before leaving for the trip, I loaded my GPS up with the routes of all the caves. I found the GPS download here Some of the caves are much easier to see than other from the main wash so having them on GPS made them easier to find, and also we were able to put a name to the canyons and caves we were exploring.

As we made our way through Bat Canyon, we quickly spotted the cool cave. When I hear the word cave what often comes to mind is a big pitch black open space. For some reason, I think it is big opens spaces. Cool Cave is the exact opposite. It is a cave that you must basically shuffle your entire way, though. I have never been a fan of tight spaces, and this one was on the smaller side. I went back probably only 40 feet while Charlie went about 60 feet back into the cave. He did not see an end.


Entrance to Cool Cave in Bat Canyon


I know I was at the mud caves so I should be prepared to go in some small caves but damn this one was just a little too tight. The first thing I noticed though upon entering the cave was the drop in temperature. The caves are much cooler than outside in the open desert. It makes for a nice escape from the direct sun beating on you in the desert.


Inside Cool Cave


After making it back to the cars, we decided we would set up camp before exploring anymore. The last time we made a trip to the mud caves in 2013 we chose a camping spot far down the wash away from most of the caves. We had chosen that spot last time because it was a busy time and most other good spots had been taken. This time there was almost no one on the wash, but we still decided to camp ways down. We liked the idea of being away from everyone and having a spot all to ourselves.


Our campsite just before sunset


After setting up camp our friend who we were waiting for quickly joined us. It was getting into late afternoon at this point, and sunset was just about 2 hours away. We had to make a decision if we wanted to quickly jump back into our vehicles and explore some caves or finalize camp set up and play some games around camp. We opted for the later and begin finished setting up camp.

The first thing I decided to do was set up the model rockets to be launched. No one else in the group has had much experience with model rockets so when I said I would get this tiny balsa wood rocket up 1000 feet in the sky everyone looked at me like that would never happen. I loaded up the rocket and strapped in the biggest engine I had with me a C6-7. So 6 seconds of thrust then 7 seconds of delay before the pop and parachute comes out.

This was our first rocket launch of the day, and it did not seem too windy well at least no wind on the ground. So we pointed the launchpad straight in the air and hoped for the best. Bummer the darn battery launchers were dead. Seems old batteries were left in the launchers and had created some nasty corrosion. After a little bit of moping around camp, I got to thinking we would not be able to launch any rockets. I thought to myself “we don’t need the launcher, all it does is send electricity down the wires.” So I ripped the wires out of the “safe” battery launcher stripped the ends of the wires and grabbed a 9-volt battery I had brought along.

WOOOOOOSHHHH!!!! That rocket took off well like a rocket. It kept going, going, then went some more and then….gone. The faint black speck in the sky seemed to have disappeared. There is no way of telling but that rocket must have gone at least a 1000 feet up if not more. Our calculations on pointing the launch pad were a little bit off. It went FAR towards the West. There was no way that rocket was going to be found.

I brought a handful of rockets, so we still had plenty to play with. We some of the heavier cardboard and plastic rockets. Still with big engines but because they were so much heavier they did not go as high meaning we actually could see them float back down to earth and retrieve them. I think our best idea though was nighttime rocket launches. We strapped a few glow stick bracelets to one of the larger rockets and let it fly. It landed surprisingly close to camp and was retrieved in minutes.


Sunset in Anza Borrego State Park, Mud Caves


Evenings and nighttime in the desert are some of the best. As the sun goes down everything gets much quieter then the night comes to life! It gets so much darker in the desert bringing the night sky to life. Night time also means big fires and hanging out talking with good friends. We spent our night warming up next to the campfire exchanging stories and looking up at the night sky enjoying the stars. I had purchased this great used washing machine drum off someone who had welded legs to it. Above ground campfires are required in Anza Borrego State Park, and this was perfect. A large number of holes in the drum meant high airflow for the fire.


Our campfire blazing!


At nightfall we decided to go for a night offroading trip. We had not gone any further into the wash than our campsite. We decided a trip further up the wash was in order. We hopped in our trucks and made our way up. Our buddy with a light bar in front made for easy riding. We went at maybe 2 or 3 miles further up the wash until it got a little tight for the trucks. Maneuvering the turns and corners was possible but getting back out if we went too far was a little bit of a mystery. We decided to head back and get back to our warm fire.

Once it came time for bed I was excited. I got to sleep on my cot out in the open. All I had to do was open my eyes and I had the milky way shining above me. Little scary when I would hear rustling sounds around me but I made it through the night. Having a 5F degree sleeping bag kept me more than toasty throughout the night.

We all woke up early and well rested. The clean desert air makes for great sleep. Weather reports had stated it may rain today so we wanted an early start to hopefully be able to explore at bit before any major rain started. Nothing worse than being in a cave formed by rain while it is raining.

We headed down the wash and found Blind Cave. We did not know what to expect but started our way though. This cave was a little wider than Cool Cave but not by much. We pressed on. We pushed forward to what felt like maybe 150 to 200 feet into the cave. It is very difficult to determine how far you have gone in when you have no perspective of anything else. But after not too long we saw a light at the end of the cave. We crawled out the hole and found ourselves in a low point surrounded by 30 foot mud hills. All the water must collect in this spot and go down the hole forming the cave. We crawled back in the hole and made our way back. Seemed shorter on the way back, that always seems to be the case though.

We were able to do a little more exploring that day. Going down a few canyons. We went through Big Mud Cave which seemed to be more of a canyon rather than cave. The canyon had some covered wall spots but still nothing too cave like. While hiking through Big Mud Cave though it began to rain. Our trip was cut a little short due to the rain. We were in canyons and caves where rain runs and camped in a wash where the rain runs. All signs pointed to we should get the hell out of here.

We had not torn down camp before leaving to explore the caves so in the rain we quickly dismantled everything and threw it all into our vehicles. It was a little saddening having to leave so quickly and rush to get out of there. It was a beutiful park with tons of exploring left undone.

We will be going back to the mud caves again!


  • Never go in the caves alone, always bring a buddy, and even better have someone who is not going in caves know where you are going
  • Never go in the caves while it is raining or after their has recently been rain

Things to bring/plan for when going to the mud caves

  • GPS with routes of caves loaded onto it
  • Headlamps so you have two hands to stabilize you while in caves
    • Emphasis on plural, if one light goes out you do not want to be stuck without one in the cave
  • Bandana or Neck Wrap – it gets dusty in the caves
  • Lots of water – Bring too much water
  • Gas in vehicle – there are no gas stations out there


Palm Canyon Backpacking Trip

Charlie was coming into town so you know what that means, a camping trip needed to be planned! We decided we wanted to do a combination backpacking and car camping trip. Being late December we knew this is one of the best times of years to be camping in the desert. We ended up deciding on going to two different desert spots that we had ventured to before but it had been at least 3 years since we had last visited either of them.

Our trip would start with a one night backpacking trip into Palm Canyon just outside of Borrego Springs. This had been our usual backpacking spot in previous years that we had taken on new years so we felt this was very fitting.

We arrived at the trailhead; roughly 9 o’clock AM. The parking lot was just about empty. We did some last minute packing, got our packs situated, and made sure we had plenty of water. One of our favorite parts of this hike is the stream that flows through the canyon. We have in the past and would end up filtering water from the stream this time but it is always important especially in the desert to carry too much water.

Final check of packs before hitting the trail

The hike we were about to embark on should not be too bad 1.5 miles to the oasis, our plan after that was to follow the canyon up a bit more till we found a good spot to camp. We were each carrying roughly 35 pounds on our backs so we were not expecting too much difficulty.Following a defined trail through a wash and eventually into the canyon we set off on our adventure. Along the trail, you will find posted markers with numbers on them. These numbers correlate with descriptions found in the trail guide. They provide insights into what you are looking at and describe some of the history of the canyon and the Indians that lived in the area in the past.

Following a defined trail through a wash and eventually into the canyon. Along the trail, you will find posted markers with numbers on them. These numbers correlate with descriptions found in the trail guide. They provide insights into what you are looking at and describe some of the history of the canyon and the Indians that lived in the area in the past.

You will also find many cacti and loose rocks on the trail. Make sure to keep a sure footing and keep an eye out for the cholla cactus. Chollas are also known as “teddy bear” cactus. If you rub up against them the different limbs like to break off and hug your legs. So make sure to give them plenty of space.

Cholla (Teddy Bear) Cactus


Continuing up the trail we got to see big horned sheep. These animals can be quite elusive. This was my third time on this trail but the first time seeing sheep. The sheep are near impossible to see when they are not moving. Luckily one caught the corner of my eye as it was coming down the mountain. The only part that really stands out from the rest of the desert rocks is the white rumps of the big horned sheep. They do not seem to be scared of us at all. For good reason too their horns are huge. They were coming down from the steep mountains to graze.

After watching the sheep for 15 minutes we decided to continue our way up the trail. It was also about here that we had our first stream crossing. We were amazed at the amount of water flowing through the stream. This was definitely more than previous years. We had received a substantial amount of rain the previous week, this definitely contributed to the higher water levels.

The water never gets too deep but the rocks can be very slippery or even move under your feet when you step on them. It is best to wear waterproof boots when doing this hike because walking across the stream is required. Due to the higher water levels, we also found ourselves at times walking through the stream itself. After the first stream crossing is also when the trail starts to become less defined. Immediately after the stream crossing is fine but about another 250 meters ahead and you may be scratching your head as to where to go.

The first creek crossing

Luckily the palm oasis should be in your sights now so all you need is some determination to get to the palms and you will find your own way there. It is worth it to make it into the palm tree grove. Make sure to look up and get a spectacular view. It is amazing to think that a desert could support a palm tree grove and that you would find so much fresh water.

It is here that we stopped for lunch. This is where a majority of the day hikers turn around. There are miles of canyon left but this first big palm oasis and the main attraction. It is also where the main trail stops. If you want to continue you are essentially blazing your own trail. You will be on your own trying to figure out which way is easiest and will get you over all the boulders. This increases the difficulty of the hike 10 fold over the previous section.

Looking up at the palm trees

Make sure the stop and enjoy the many waterfalls around the oasis. They are fun to dunk your head in or just listen to the rush of water. Enjoy the views too, looking east will give you a great view of Borrego Springs. I also thought it was fun to see how unkempt palm trees look. The palm trees are kept natural and none of the old brown fronds are sawed off. It gives them a very interesting bushy like feel. It helps to support many different forms of wildlife such as birds and insects to keep the fronds on the tree.

Charlie enjoying the views

We hiked further probably only about a 1/4 of a mile from the oasis but we found a nice spot close to the stream where we could pitch our two tents relatively close to one another. We figured why hike too much further with our heavy packs on. Let’s set up camp and explore the area while we still have some sun. Note: Being in a canyon means the sun goes behind the mountains early. A little after 2 o’clock and the canyon is now in permanent shade. Nice on a desert day but also means it starts to get cold earlier than you expect. Make sure to dry any wet shoes or clothing while you can.

After getting camp set up we began to explore a bit. Jumping from rock to rock and getting up high for some good views. Now it is tons of fun jumping around the rocks and trying to get up high on the canyon. Just be very careful. It is steep and all the rocks are loose. Plenty of cacti to get in the way as well.

Above our campsite looking down on oasis

It got dark and cold quick in the canyon. Luckily for us, the low was only mid 40’s previous years it has gotten into the 30’s and damn that is difficult to deal with when you have no fire. I believe fires are allowed but they must be above ground in some sort of container. Also no wood gathering. All these things combined do not work well with backpacking. One of our past years we actually carried dura flame logs and had a fire in a big coffee tin but lots of extra weight for not a huge reward. We figured if we got too cold we would just huddle in our sleeping bags and call it a night.

Once it began to get dark we sat around camping talking and sharing stories. We essentially had the canyon to ourselves. The sky began to fill with stars. Looking up provided an incredible amount of stars. Living in a city I never get to see the true magnitude of the night sky. We saw shooting stars, satellites, the milky way, and a few unidentified objects. Still wondering what those were…

Hanging out at camp enjoying the canyon

Before heading to bed we decided we wanted to go on a night exploration up the canyon. We strapped on our head lamps and set off up the canyon. We tried to follow the stream as much as possible on our way up, crawling over boulders and getting our feet wet again in the stream. The night brought out some new critters that we would have never seen during the day. Our first encounter was a frog. I thought Charlie had just kicked a rocked and that why it moved away from his feet. Then it started to jump and jump. This could not be a rock but a frog!

Soon after the frog encounter we crossed the stream and I saw something dart around in the corner of my eye. It darted under a rock, so we began to investigate. It was a desert mouse. We had spooked the poor guy, he scurried away and was never to be seen again. Our night hike was a success. We saw some critters and got to explore more parts of the canyon. One of the most notable things we saw in the canyon was the narrowing walls. As we went further up the canyon the walls became steeper and steeper.

Frog found in Palm Canyon


We woke up early, before the sunrise the next morning. We wanted to catch the sunrise and see the canyon light up. It was a spectacular sight seeing the red rocks burst with an orange light from the early morning sun.

After our early wake-up, we made breakfast and started to take down camp. We knew we did not have too far of a hike back to our cars but we wanted to get an early start so we could start part 2 of our camping trip. The Arroyo Tapiado mud caves in Anza Borrego State Park.

On our hike down to our surprise, we saw even more big horned sheep. This time we saw a herd of four. I am not sure but it seems they like to travel in groups. The day before we say two together and now we saw a group of four. The group of four was in almost the same spot as the two we had seen the previous day. It must be a popular spot for the sheep. If you are crossing the stream for the first time about a quarter mile from the oasis and you turn to face north. This is where we saw sheep both days. Our palm canyon trip was truely great getting to see sheep both days. I could not have asked for a better trip or a better group of people to go on it with me.

The oasis is a spectacular spot.It provides an amazing look at the southern California desert. Wildlife, cacti, rocks, palm tree, water all tucked away in a beautiful canyon. If you find yourself in the area or are looking for an easy day hike or entry level backpacking trip this is a great choice.