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

Palomar Mountain Snow Hiking

Friday at work and no plans for Saturday. So I started asking around and seeing what coworkers were planning. I honed in on plans with Tom, snowshoeing up at Palomar Mountain! It had been pouring rain by Southern California standards for the past few days, so we were hoping for a good bit of snow on Palomar Mountain.

Palomar Mountain peak sits at 6138 feet. It is one of the closest mountains to San Diego that has the potential for real snow in the Winter months. Weather reports expected snow above 5000 feet, so we had ideas of lots of snow in our minds.

We set off early Saturday morning in Tom’s Subaru up towards Palomar Mountain. The drive out was amazingly green. With all the rain we had been having the valleys and hills were green with life. Yes, it was mostly shrubs and grass, but for Southern California, this is some of the greenest I have seen the valleys in a while.

We pressed on and made our way towards Palomar Mountain. We were a little disappointed at first as we came up the mountain road because we barely started to see patches of snow at 5000 feet and only solid snow around 5500 feet. Even then the snow may have only been 2 to 6 inches deep. We pressed on though and went all the way to the gates in front of the public parking area for the observatory. The observatory parking lot was gated off so there really was nowhere to park. We got out of the car anyway and enjoyed the crisp cold air on Palomar mountain for the first time that day.

From end of South Grade Road before observatory parking lot

The air was frigid, and the clothes I had on were from when it was still 60 degrees earlier that day back at home. I quickly put on my warmer clothes and began to romp around in the snow. This spot we were at was highest elevation point that is most readily available by a car. And even here the snow was not too much more than 6 inches thick. The second sad part was we were not even allowed to park here so we would have to go down in elevation before we could park. Which only meant less snow.

Still, we went down the mountain and ended up parking at the entrance to Fry Creek Campground. The campground is closed during the Winter months but still is a fun spot to explore. It is almost like a winter ghost town filled with camping sites. The snow just shallow enough where snowshoes would be a burden and just thick enough where it made it mildly difficult to walk without them. We decided to do our hike without the snowshoes and not even bring them with us.

We started walking up the snow-covered road into the campground. Our first stop was the sign designating all the camping spot locations, and we noticed a trail that went around the entire campground. We headed out the find the trail. It was a snow covered trail but ultimately not too difficult to find. The snow fell in a pattern where the snow was flat where the trail should have been. We followed the flattened snow around the camp.

Trail sign in Fry Creek Campground

It was a little serene to be hiking a snowed over a trail that had no previous footprints on it. We were almost blazing the trail for ourselves. The fresh crunch of snow under each footstep was great. It became apparent that this trail was not meant to be used during the snow or rainy season as it went right through multiple waterways. We found ourselves hopping and jumping through a few water covered areas.

Stream crossing along the trail

A very surprising thing we noticed were ladybugs. Yes, ladybugs. I saw a large clump of red stuff on a tree. I had not seen anything like it before, so I went in for a closer inspection. The red stuff were dozens of ladybugs. They must be hunkering down for the winter trying to hold out through the cold temperatures waiting for spring. I never would have expected to see lady bugs up here this time of year especially so open to all the elements. They must hibernate this time of the year.

Ladybugs bunched up on a pine tree

After about a mile of walking on the trail and losing the trail a few times, we found ourselves at the very end of the campgrounds. It was a great spot to take a break and enjoy the solitude of having the entire campground to ourselves.

We had some great conversations together talking about work, politics, and even a bit of the future of technology. This definitely was a great thought provoking setting. As we rested and talked, it began to rain. Or so we thought it did. We had been standing under the trees and drops of water were falling on us. I walked around a little to enjoy the rain, and to my surprise, in the open areas with no trees, there was no rain. So it was not actually raining, but the snow stuck on the branches of the trees was melting, and it came down as if it was raining.

After a good rest and good conversation, we headed back. We did not head back the same way we came but decided to parallel a stream. We did not have a good idea of where it would lead us but if all else failed we would just follow it back up. Surprisingly though it led us to a road covered in snow. We followed the road assuming it would take us back to the campsites.

Indeed it did. We were actually back very close the entrance of the camping area in no time. We decided we did not need to hike too much more so headed back towards the car. It was an enjoyable hike walking on snow with no tracks and blazing our own trail at times. There was plenty of snow around to be fun and get your boots soaked and feet cold. There was even enough snow for some decorated snowmen that someone had made earlier in the day.

Snowman in Fry Creek Campground

That ended our exploration of a snow covered Palomar Mountain. It was a satisfying trip. There was plenty of snow to make the trip fun. And some good company never hurts.