Words & Images by Kyle Frost
I’ve been thinking about hitting the Lost Coast trail for awhile now, so when my buddy Eric from Hipcamp shot me a text last week asking if I wanted to hit the trail, I jumped on the opportunity.
We decided to tackle the southern portion of the trail, which is less traveled than the more popular beach hiking on the northern section. The southern trail from Needle Rock to Usal beach is around 20 miles, with hiking mostly up on the ridge line and plenty of coastal views.
The typical way to hike Lost Coast is one way, so we shuttled from our car at Usal Beach up to Needle Rock visitor center in the morning. The amazing Sherri has run Lost Coast Shuttles since 1995, and provided conversation and witty banter regarding roadside attractions on the 2.5 hour drive up. If you’re headed to do some hiking on the Lost Coast, definitely give Sherri a call for your transportation needs! After reaching the Needle Rock visitor center, we finally hit the trail around 10am.
Around 8 miles in, after winding up and down along the coastline, the trail reaches Wheeler Camp. A couple of campsites dot the flats above a black sand beach and Jackass Creek. We managed to snag arguably the best campsite, with a picnic table, plenty of space and easy access to the water.
Thick fog stymied our coastal views for most of the afternoon and well into the evening. Typical northern California weather. This didn’t stop us from doing some exploring through (after a well deserved nap).
Lo and behold, the fog lifted just enough around sunset to give us a spectacular light show. We climbed a small ridge to the north of the beach for a better perspective. The fog and clouds and sunset combined for a beautiful array of color on the rocks and water.
Most people are familiar with the classic Lost Coast route up north, a 24 mile FLAT beach hike. The southern portion is not flat in any sense of the term. Where the north trail winds along the beach, the south goes up and over every ridge and back down to every stream and creek. I think we had around 5,000 ft of uphill elevation on our second day alone.
Regardless of the elevation changes, we still had a great time hiking through the varied terrain. Sometimes above the fog, sometimes in it. Sometimes on a coastal ridge, other times in thick forest. If you’re thinking about tackling the trail, beginners should know that the section of trail between Wheeler and Usal is not a cakewalk and the trail is not in the greatest condition. You also might want to wear pants, as I learned too late.
All in all, we had a fantastic time backpacking through the rugged and beautiful northern California coast. I'll be back soon enough to tackle the northern section!
For more images from Kyle, check out Kyle's exposure page.