Backpacking on the Northern California Coast
25 Miles from the Mattole Trailhead to Shelter Cove; Permit Required; Bear Canister Required. Length of trip varies. Our trip was 4 nights and 5 days total. Actual backpacking trip was 2 nights and 3 days.
Trailhead: Park your cars at Shelter Cove and arrange for a shuttle to pick you up. Your shuttle will take you to the Mattole Trailhead. It is about a 2 hour ride in the shuttle from Shelter Cove to the Mattole Trailhead.
Camping: There is a campsite at the Mattole Trailhead. We camped the first night at Mattole before starting the hike the following day. Along the trail, we camped at Randall Creek and Shipman Creek. There are many options for setting up camp along the way depending on your pace.
Tides: This is the biggest concern for hiking The Lost Coast Trail. There are three sections that are impassable during high tide. You need to make sure you are not trapped in these zones during high tide. It is extremely dangerous and could be fatal. Make sure to pick up a tide chart from the ranger station or bring a couple printed copies, and make sure you can clear the entire section of the impassable zone before attempting to hike through it.
I could probably ramble on about the beautiful scenery of the coast and other highlights like the Spanish Flats, but it’s nothing like heading out on your own and experiencing it in real life. Here are some other highlights instead:
The Shuttle Ride – Our shuttle ride to the Mattole Trailhead for camp was an interesting experience. We had two shuttles pick up our group of eight, so our group was split in two. During our ride, our shuttle driver randomly kept asking us if we smelled weed. Eventually, we figured she was trying to feel us out and gauge our tolerance of marijuana. It is Humboldt County after all. The drive itself was a beautiful two hour history tour of all the families that have lived and made the area their home. When our group reunited at Mattole, we realized that each of our drivers had been trying to sell us some of that Humboldt novelty.
Pooping – I pooped three times along the trail. Pooping on The Lost Coast Trail is a little nerve-wrecking. You have to dig a hole in the sand 6 to 8 inches deep below the high tide line. I’ve never felt more exposed and vulnerable in my life. We were all pretty cautious and made sure to give each other privacy for pooping. If someone went back down the beach you gave them some time and space to poop. I mean, walking in on someone pooping is an awkward experience so we actively avoided it. You have to face the ocean when you do your duty so that a rogue wave doesn’t take you out. There’s a lot of emotions running through you: relief that you’ve finally gotten to poop, fear of being caught in the act, fear of a rogue wave swallowing you into the ocean, and a sense of wonder as you watch the beautiful sunset. My advice is to dig as fast as you can, let it all out, and enjoy the view.
Rogue Waves – These are no joke. They will come after you. Don’t turn your back to the ocean, especially at night. I didn’t really believe in them until our last night. I was coming around a turn on the beach and had my back to the ocean. The tide was at least a a hundred feet behind me, but in the moment as my back was turned, a wave came crashing in reaching me right on the heels of my boots. Seriously, watch your back out there. The ocean is beautiful, ruthless, and unpredictable.
An Interesting Town – Instead of driving back home late on Saturday afternoon, we decided to camp another night at Shelter Cove. We wanted to reward ourselves with a proper meal, so for dinner we headed into town. We started off at a local pub replete with local fisherman. The place was populated with a colorful cast to say the least. Nearly all the patrons were pretty inebriated. A couple who were playing with the darts wanted us to play Cricket with them while they stood right in front of the dart board. We had a few beers before heading to the restaurant for dinner. It was pretty fancy restaurant, so we ordered a couple bottles of wine. There was a lot a local art work on display, including portraits of Biggie and Tupac. Overall, hanging out with the locals and dining with wine while Biggie and Tupac (RIP) looked on was a nice way to cap off the trip.