Something to keep in mind is that you will be hiking on sand and small pebbles/rocks for sections of the lost coast. My experience is that this slows you down by about 1/3 your normal pace and can be somewhat tiring when compared to walking on level surfaces.
Note: this isn't exactly the hike I am taking... but it describes a portion of the hike.
The following text is derived from Hiking the California Coastal Trail by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols and can be found on the web as http://gorp.com/gorp/location/ca/lost_co3.htm NOTE: We will be hiking backwards (e.g. starting at Shelter Cove and seeing how far we get).
The California Coastal Trail (CCT) continues along the King Range Lost Coast. Only fit hikers should access this section from the locked gate on Smith-Etter Road. To do so, hikers must descend nearly 2500 feet in elevation in only 3-3/4 miles. Most strenuous of all is climbing out the same way. The easiest way to experience this section is to hike north from Shelter Cove, retracing your steps at the end of your visit.
If you're starting from the Smith-Etter Road rather than walking the Lost Coast from the Mattole River, follow the jeep track northwest, climbing for l/2 mile. After contouring atop Kinsey Ridge, descend steadily with grand views. Descend the ridge's north face for 1/2 mile, then return to the ridge and descend steeply by long switchbacks. By 3 miles you reach the road's westernmost bend high above Oat Creek. Descend steeply as the wilderness coast stretches magnificently below. Switchback right at 3-1/4 miles and descend by five steep switchbacks to the coast to meet CCT. The mileage starts again from 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
Expect a six hour drive. If you don't leave Mountain View by noon, you could get caught by the very nasty segment between San Francisco and Santa Rosa which is overloaded by commuters (what is normally 1.5 hours could be more than four hours). Once you reached Shelter Cove, it is likely to be too late to start a hike. One possibility is to camp at Shelter Cove Friday night (this is an unimproved campsite), hike in Saturday, and hike out Sunday. If you are running really late Friday, there are reasonably priced hotels in Sheltered Cove.... call ahead and have them save a room for you.
If you heading up from Mountain View, you will want to take 280 up through SF, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and up 101. Note: that northern 101 isn't what you use to, at some points it will narrow to being a undivided two-lane road.
Eventually you will come to the Redway/Garberville exit.
Take the second exit (Shelter Cove). Turn to the left crossing the freeway and
continue about 2 miles to an even smaller town of Redway. At the other end
of the town is Shelter Cove Road (Briceland Rd.) a street turning to the left
(by a Restaurant). Continue across the Eel river and through the Whitemore Grove
of giant redwoods. Shelter Cove is west for a total of 23 miles. You will pass
though the hamlet of Briceland, then Whitethorn, finally over two
mountains in 5 miles. When descending both of these mountains remember you
must use your low gears. After the "General Store," look for the
"Black Sands Beach" sign and turn left. You should expect to
take 45min-1hr from the intersection from 101 unless you have a car which
handles really well in which case you can get down in around 30 minutes :-).
Since we are an non-organized group, no permit is required. We will need to get a fire permit from a BLM or CDF Field Office to use stoves. This has to be done in person. Note: bear canisters are required if you are camping anywhere in the King's range.
Conditions we Expected:
Hopefully this trip will fall between rainy season and fog season, but you should expect some moderate showers with a small possibility of a real storm. I would guess the daytime will be in the 60s or low 70s, and the night time to drop to the upper 40s. We are close enough to rainy season that there should be plenty of water in the creeks. You can get a weather forecast for Arcata via weather.com for Eureka, CA from National Weather Service, Weather Underground, and see WU Seasonal Averages. You can know what the Sheltered Cove 2006 Tide Table or see the graphs tide prediction graphs (shift the time by 5 minutes). For the last trip the low was to be 43 F with a high of 56 F.
You won't be facing altitude or serious climbs on the path we are taking along the lost coast, but hiking on sand can be more tiring than you expect. There are plenty of beaches along the coast where you can hike. Some nice hikes you might want to try include: Ano Nuevo State Reserve, Half Moon Bay beaches, Fort Funston
Pre Start / Winding Down
Some people might want to sleep in a comfortable bed the night before heading out, or the the night they come off the trail. Recommended hotels include:
There are a number of restaurants in Shelter Cove. You can find some brief reviews from folks who track eats near airports at The $100 Hamburger of Shelter Cove, CA. Bottom line: all have adequate food and so/so service. The Chart Room which is right by airplane tie-downs is the friendly place to get a meal. Slightly more upscale is the Cove Restaurant and Mario's.