The California Lost Coast

The Wildest Beaches in California

The California Lost Coast is wild, rugged, and dramatic. The mountains seem to rise up out of the sea, leaving a narrow strip of shoreline backed by a wall of jagged peaks. The highest point, King Peak, rises to 4,088 feet, only 3 miles from the coast.

The California Lost Coast is the most remote coastal area in the state. The steep terrain and high rainfall (over 100 inches annually) made building major roads here too big a challenge, so the area is only accessible by a few back roads. It's been "lost" to civilization, but not to outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds.

Aerial View of Big Flat Creek on the California Lost Coast  Photo courtesy of BLM/Arcata

Hiking and camping are obvious attractions, but there's so much more. The many trails are also popular for mountain biking and horseback riding. For those looking for good eats, hunting, fishing, abalone diving, and mushroom collecting are permitted in certain areas. This wild coast also attracts surfers, always in search of the perfect spot.

Roosevelt Elk at Chemise Mountain  Photo courtesy of BLM/Arcata

Wildlife is plentiful, including tide pool creatures, seals and sea lions, herds of Roosevelt elk, nearly 300 species of birds, and migrating grey whales. There are old growth redwood forests, stands of Douglas fir, coastal chaparral, and grassy meadows.

There are two recreation areas here. The King Range National Conservation Area in the northern section of the Lost Coast is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is managed by California State Parks.

Camping and Hiking

Mattole River Beach Camp   Photo courtesy of BLM/Arcata

The Lost Coast is a prime spot for wilderness camping in Northern California, but it also offers car camping. There are two drive-in beach camping locations: Mattole Beach at the northern end of King Range National Conservation Area, and Usal Beach at the very south end of Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. King Range NCA also offers 5 other campground locations.

Both King Range NCA and Sinkyone Wilderness SP offer backcountry camping, including camping along the popular and scenic Lost Coast Trail. Be sure to bring a good map or guidebook when hiking the Lost Coast Trail, and if hiking in the King Range area, bring a tide table as well. Sections of the trail may be underwater at high tide, so plan accordingly.

Trails vary considerably in difficulty, and include many backcountry trails in addition to the Lost Coast Trail, which runs along the coast, often right on the beach. There are also trails available for horses and mountain bikes.


Black Sand Beach on the Lost Coast   Photo courtesy of BLM/Arcata

The Lost Coast has the most unusual beaches in California -- black sand beaches. Most black sand beaches are made up of volcanic rock, but not here. The rock in the King Range is primarily graywacke, a dark gray crumbly sandstone, and that's what makes the beaches in the Lost Coast so dramatic.

The most easily accessible black sand beach is called, appropriately enough, Black Sands Beach. It's located near Shelter Cove and offers restrooms, water, picnic tables, and wheelchair accessible parking. There are tide pools to explore, and easy access to the Lost Coast Trail.

Civilization on the California Lost Coast

The only community here is Shelter Cove, a small outpost of civilization where you'll find an airstrip, a 9 hole golf course, several inns and motels, a handful of restaurants, and a privately run RV park and campground. There's a marina where you can catch a fishing charter, or you can fish from along the shore.

Getting to the California Lost Coast

View California Lost Coast in a larger map

It's easy to identify the California Lost Coast on a map. It's the only area where there's a big chunk of land west of Highway 101. It begins in the north around Ferndale, where Highway 101 veers inland to avoid the King Range, and it ends near Legget where Highway 1 branches off of 101 and heads west.

Roads into the Lost Coast area are narrow, winding, and often steep. Some roads are only accessible to 4 wheel drive vehicles, and others are unsuitable for trailers and RVs. Unpaved roads may be impassable during the winter rainy season, so check on road conditions beforehand. Shelter Cove is the most accessible area, with a paved road all the way.

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