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

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.

GOPR0580.JPG
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.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0600.
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.

GOPR0598.JPG
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.

GOPR0613.JPG
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.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0629.
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.

GOPR0665.JPG
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…

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0679.
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.

1228161934b_hdr
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.