Backpacking Trip to The Lost Coast
These are the segments that may be impassable at high tide (mileage from Mattole):
From the trailhead at the end of Lighthouse Road, you can pick up the Califonia Coastal Trail (CCT) by either walking due west to the sideline and following the dark sand beach south, or heading south-southwest along an old jeep track near the base of the bluffs. The latter choice shortens the distance by about l/8 mile, but offers less firm footing, important if you're carrying a backpack.
Pass a seasonal creek dropping from the steep bluffs at 3/4 mile. Beyond 1-1/8 miles you pass the more reliable creek of Smith Gulch usually jammed with wildflowers. Round a sandy point rimmed by tidepools at 1-1/4 miles. The bluffs protrude at Windy Point just beyond. The beach narrows and gets rockier as more seasonal streams drop to the beach.
At 2 miles you round the westernmost point of Punta Gorda where Conical Rock lies offshore. As you pass an old road descending from the bluffs at 2-1/2 miles, the Punta Gorda lighthouse ruins come into view. For a break from beach walking you can follow a firm roadbed along the base of the bluffs.
Pass two cabins on the first of several private inholdings before Fourmile Creek at 2-5/8 miles. Beyond the ford the Cooskie Creek Trail forks left, climbing east along a ridge. This Alternate Route is a CCT high route, the first of three CCT high routes on the trail. CCT continues down the coast on a firm track across grassy bluffs, passing crumbling ranch buildings. Gorda Rock lies offshore.
At 3 miles a path forks left to the lighthouse ruins. Continue down the coast on the old jeep road, crossing several more creeks Beyond Willow Creek at 3-1/2 miles you can return to the beach or climb a hill to stay on the road. The road provides one more chance to return to the beach at 3-3/4 miles. Either route comes to steep Sea Lion Gulch at 4 miles. Its gully offers a water source and shelter from the wind. Sea lions, cormorants and pelicans inhabit Sea Lion Rocks offshore.
The beach narrows after the gulch. Around 4-1/2 miles the beach may be impassable at high tide. When you pass through the narrow spot, slippery rocks of uneven sizes slow your progress. After you pass a barn and cabin above the beach at 4-3/4 miles, the walking becomes easier at the base of steep bluffs and cliffs.
At 6 miles you reach the broad deep canyon of Cooskie Creek. Sheltered camps lie within 1/4 mile up the canyon. The Cooskie Creek Trail crosses the creek about 3/4 mile upstream with private property not far beyond.
CCT continues along the Lost Coast, requiring a few hundred feet of boulder hopping before the footing improves as the beach widens at the base of cliffs draped with waterfalls. From 7-1/4 to 7-3/4 miles, massive landslides have jumbled the cliffs above the beach. Around 7-1/2 miles walking gets rough with large, uneven rocks on a steeply slanting beach, then loose sand and gravel slow progress. After you pass Reynolds Rock offshore, the bluffs show greatly twisted rock strata created by geologic folding.
Come to the mouth of Randall Creek at 8 1/8 miles. Narrower and more wooded than Cooskie Creek, Randall Creek also provides pleasant camps a short walk upstream. A road along the bluffs beyond the canyon provides firm footing down the coast. Just 250 feet from Randall Creek, the northern end of the Spanish Ridge Trail ascends from your road. Your path crosses rolling grasslands at the base of steep bluffs. Beyond 8 3/8 miles you cross a small spring-fed stream where watercress grows.
The marine terrace along the shore broadens as you hike toward Spanish Flat. Beyond 9-1/4 miles a mostly level footpath crosses the lower bluff as the old road takes to higher ground. Pass two seasonal streams jammed with wildflowers, the second also with watercress and mint. The grassy headlands get broader and flatter as you reach the north end of Spanish Flat around 9-3/4 miles. Another spur trail forks left to ascend Spanish Ridge at 10 miles. Continue southeast along the broad Hat, once the site of a sawmill from which lumber was hauled to market by ship.
Reach the broad flood plain of Spanish Creek canyon at 10-7/8 miles with several campsites nearby After dropping to the creek, climb to a mostly level grassland and follow it down the coast. After an old corral, you come to pioneer Paul Smith's cabin at 11-l/2 miles above a broad beach. Continue along the sandy jeep track, passing Oat Creek at 11-7/8 miles as it spills from a twisting rocky gorge. The jeep track meets the western end of the Smith-Etter Road at 12-1/2 miles, halfway along the King Range Lost Coast.
Mileage resets to zero
Where Smith-Etter Road meets CCT at the base of Kinsey Ridge, Lost Coast hikers follow a two-wheel track southeast. It crosses the broad, gravelly wash of Kinsey Creek in 1/4 mile. Follow the track through grasslands below steep bluffs. At one mile your track passes west of the Etter cabin and a private inholding.
The road gradually fades to a sandy track as the headlands narrow at the base of steep grasslands rising to 3010-foot Hadley Peak, barely a mile from the Pacific. Come to Hadley Creek, also known as Big Creek, at 1-5/8 miles. Dense forest in the deep, shady canyon shelters pleasant campsites within 5/8 mile of the beach.
CCT continues southeast in loose sand along a narrow beach. Around 1-7/8 miles you pass high dunes backed against a steep grassy hill. A trail climbing the steep headlands just south provides better walking than continued slogging in sand. At 2 miles a slide covers the faint double track, but a narrow trail continues. Back on grasslands as the trail turns vague, stay high on the headlands below steep bluffs. After crossing a watercress-choked stream at 2-l/8 miles, your trail descends to a gently rolling grassland, soon returning to an obvious dirt road.
After crossing a small creek at 2-3/4 miles, you reach Big Flat which stretches more than a mile along the coast. A firm road provides easy walking past numerous Indian shell middens. As Big Flat broadens to its widest point, the road draws away from the shore. At 3-1/4 miles your track meets a landing strip used by residents of the house ahead. Approaching the canyon of Big Flat Creek, watch for timber rattlesnakes that live on the flat and in the rocky wash of the creek.
After paralleling the runway your trail forks. The road continues along the landing step, then heads into the canyon where the most protected campsites lie among the trees alongside the broad gravelly wash. The rugged Rattlesnake Ridge Trail continues up the canyon, climbing 3400 feet in 4-5/8 miles to the Kings Crest Trail west of Kings Peak.
CCT forks to the right at the junction, crossing the runway and following the edge of the willow and alder thicket near the beach. It passes two camps at 3-3/4 miles, the second with a driftwood shelter. From here you can look up Big Flat Creek Canyon to 4087-foot Kings Peak, the highest point along the coast north of Big Sur. The trail becomes vague crossing the broad wash of Big Flat Creek. Aim to the right of the trees on the far side and watch for rattlers.
Climb slightly to Miller Flat, broader and more wooded than Big Flat. Several campsites lie near the trail with more sheltered camps in the forest to the northeast. Your trail turns east, climbing gradually on the broad flat until a short descent at 4-5/8 miles drops to the beach, now heading almost east.
Follow the beach along the base of steep bluffs. On your right lie many offshore rocks and tidepools. Beyond a small unmapped creek, the beach becomes very rocky Round a small point at 5-3/8 miles as the beach narrows.
Ahead lies a stretch of coast where passage may be blocked at tides above +4.0 feet. The rugged cliffs on your left have many small creeks, seeps and springs, supporting hanging wildflower gardens in spring and summer. The narrowest point lies just before Shipman Creek at 5-3/4 miles. Beautiful Shipman Creek has camps in the driftwood above its mouth. At low tide you can visit to the west. You're 6-1/4 miles from Shelter Cove.
Continue down the broad beach. At 6-1/2 miles you cross a small creek which plunges 1600 feet in its 3/4 mile course. Offshore lies the deep submarine trench of Delgada Canyon, 450 feet deep only 1/2 mile from shore. Just around a point the beach turns rocky and narrow. Reach Buck Creek at 7 miles, passing the Buck Ridge Trail just beyond (ascends 3300 feet in 2-1/2 miles to Kings Crest Trail). Many more creeks tumble down the cliffs on your way to Gitchell Creek at 8 1/2 miles. A campsite sits beside its mouth, but the off-road vehicle users allowed this far north on the beach from Shelter Cove have degraded the place with trash.
After a mile of sandy beach, you can follow a dirt road along the bluffs. At 10-l/2 miles the road returns to the beach at the wooded canyon of Horse Mountain Creek. Big rocks lie along the beach at 10-7/8 miles before another steep creek. The beach broadens and turns south, heading for Shelter Cove atop Point Delgada. Walk the beach below towering Kaluna Cliff which reaches its steepest pitch around the creek at 11-1/2 miles. Cross Telegraph Creek at 12 miles and come to the Black Sands Beach parking area