A Family Backpacking Trip to California's Iconic Lost Coast
Exploring the rugged—and refreshingly remote—King Range National Conservation Area along the North Coast with mom, dad, wife, and dog in tow
Canon 7D Mk II
When my parents invited my wife and I on their upcoming Lost Coast backpacking trip, I had my doubts. After all, it’s hard to imagine any part of California being still considered “lost.” But as the story goes the area in question—spanning both Humboldt and Mendocino Counties—was too treacherous for builders of Highway 101, so they simply left that stretch of California's North Coast as is and built around it. Now it’s known as the King Range National Conservation Area, or Lost Coast as it were.
The plan was pretty straightforward, and mellow. We’d cover 30 miles in five days from Mattole Trailhead to Shelter Cover. The entire hike was along coastline and almost every mile was on the beach, which may sound great at first glance, but after you experience miles and miles of sand you’ll be begging for firm, solid ground. Nevertheless it was to be a beautiful family experience—my Shiba Inu named Bambi included.
"After you experience miles and miles of sand you’ll be begging for firm, solid ground."
Before we set out trail reports mentioned something about dogs having issues with sand irritating their paws… I ignored it like a true overconfident pet owner. Bambi did great for the first day and half but by the end of day two she was pretty sore—the sand had gotten inside of her pads, chaffing them raw. She wasn’t comfortable hiking any further and I wasn’t about to carry her the next 20 miles so our remedy was duck tape and some rain fly material. Each day, multiple times a day we had to re-tape her poor paws because it was hot and she loved playing in the waves. Can’t blame her, really.
Each night we stayed at a different oasis, as perfectly constructed campsites along fresh water creeks that pool up before they dump into the ocean were prevalent. Since we spread the 30 mile hike over five days, each day started late (which meant sleeping in, yes) and ended early, usually with a sunset swim, believe it or not.
The trail keeps going past Shelter Cover but that’s where we called it quits, which wasn’t bad because the town has an amazing resort overlooking the coast line we just backpacked. Now throw in some pizza, beer, and a hot tub, and it was an obvious decision.