Isolation on California’s Lost Coast Trail

A hill on California's Lost Coast Trail. The muted green lands stretch onward, interspersed with rivers and lakes. Several trees stand on the left, while the ocean can be seen on the right.

A hill on California’s Lost Coast Trail.

By Erik Paul

Design Editor

 

For most people the idea of traveling to a destination with “lost” in its name might not sound appealing. However, for me, a single parent juggling responsibilities, a student who just completed a demanding load of eighteen credits and a guy who occasionally seeks dissociation —  it’s quite enticing. Following a grueling winter term, the chance to reconnect with my younger brother, Nik, and embark on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California provided the perfect escape for spring break.

Renowned for its rough terrain and unpredictable coastal waters, the Lost Coast earned its name when builders of the coastal highway, U.S. Route 101, had to divert inland. Surrounded by majestic Redwood forests, the King mountain range and clandestine cannabis cultivators, the Lost Coast is not a destination one stumbles upon by chance.

This trip took meticulous planning.

The "Avenue of the Giants", a forest of redwoods found on the path to the Lost Trail. The Eel River flows through them, and a railroad track can be seen intersecting the river and the woods. The clouds fill the sky, but they do not cover it.

The “Avenue of the Giants”, split by the Eel River.

Fully exposed coastal headlands, sections of trail that hug treacherous cliff sides and beaches that wash out with incoming tides — neglecting to pack the proper equipment could result in fatal complications. With these perils in mind, deliberate attention was given to accounting for factors such as the timing of the tides, possessing suitable equipment (rain gear, sun screen, tent, etc.), and ensuring that both my brother and I had purchased proper provisions.

Armed with a 60-pound backpack, an array of camera gear and overflowing enthusiasm, I was at last prepared to bid farewell to the winter season.

A herd of Roosevelt Elk grazing on a pasture on the way to the trailhead. Ten elk are pictured, all of them having varying degrees of brown fur.

A herd of Roosevelt Elk grazing on a pasture on the way to the trailhead.

As we headed south through two states to reach the trailhead, the landscape gradually shifted, transitioning from the familiar lush greenery of Oregon to the rugged magnificence of California’s Lost Coast. The air grew tangy with the scent of salt as we neared our destination, the distant murmur of the ocean serving as a siren’s call guiding us ever closer to the shoreline.

Despite the thrill of the adventure ahead, there was a subtle undercurrent of apprehension as well. Leaving behind the familiarity of city life and venturing into the unknown wilderness always carries an element of risk. Yet, it was this very sense of uncertainty that lent an air of excitement to the journey, infusing every mile with a palpable sense of anticipation.

Stepping foot out of my truck, I could see miles of rugged coastline. The briny aroma of the ocean breeze intertwined with the fragrance of pine. It quickly became evident that I was no longer in the city. The solemnity of winter had finally begun to fade into insignificance amidst the tranquil embrace of nature’s quietude and so began my journey along California’s Lost Coast.

Rocky headlands gave way to secluded coves, where the rhythmic pulse of the waves provided a soothing backdrop to my thoughts.  In the distance, rugged cliffs stood sentinel against the ever-changing sky, their majesty a testament to the timeless power of nature.

A panoramic shot of the Lost Coast. The sky is blue and partially cloudy. The land is on the left, and the sea stretches out towards the right.

A panoramic shot of the Lost Coast.

The magical atmosphere quickly faded as reality struck me. Standing on the beach, gazing up at the cliff we had just descended, I realized we had barely explored the vast expanse of sand stretching ahead for miles. With tidal zones necessitating swift crossings within tight timeframes of 2 to 3 hours, all while burdened by a heavy backpack, it became clear that this trail wasn’t for the faint-hearted but rather a trail for gluttons needlessly seeking great physical exertion.

We trudged through shifting sands, a relentless onslaught of sun and wind turned each step into a grueling struggle. Even I could feel the weight of my pack pressing down on my shoulders, the burden growing heavier with each passing moment. Each grain of sand seemed to conspire against me, shifting beneath my feet and threatening to swallow me whole with every step. Yet, despite the daunting challenges that lay ahead, we pressed on, determined to conquer the unforgiving terrain and emerge victorious against the forces of nature.

The coastal wetlands of California's Lost Coast. Clouds fill the sky and the land stretches on for miles. The colors are darker, but the sun still lights the land.

The coastal wetlands of California’s Lost Coast.

There was a peculiar elegance in the barren landscape stretching endlessly before me. The sun, relentless with its heat, beat down upon us as we crossed the dunes, casting intricate patterns of light and shadow, while the distant cry of seagulls echoed faintly in the salty breeze..

As we made camp each night beneath a canopy of stars, I found peace in the simplicity of trail life. Cooking meals over a crackling campfire, swapping stories with my younger brother, and falling asleep to the lullaby of the waves quickly became the rhythms of my existence.

The days melted into one another. Our journey along the Lost Coast was so much more than I had anticipated — it was an experience comprising camaraderie and self-discovery. Every dawn brought with it a renewed sense of purpose as we forged ahead, navigating the rugged terrain with determination and unwavering resolve.

A panoramic image of the Lost Coast. Several dark rocks spot the coast, leading into a teal ocean and bright sky. In the distance, one can see the land reaching out.

A panoramic image of the Lost Coast and the vast sea.

Despite the physical challenges and occasional setbacks, the bond between my brother and I grew stronger as we laughed in the face of adversity, shared moments of quiet contemplation, and found solace in the beauty of our surroundings. In the embrace of nature’s vast expanse, I felt a sense of belonging—a connection to something greater than myself.

I had to unplug, find solitude, and truly force myself to disconnect in order to return as somebody who is engaged, sociable, and dependable – qualities that are essential to success, yet qualities that require effort to maintain.

As we reached the end of the trail, a bittersweet realization washed over me. Our journey along the Lost Coast had to come to an end, however, the memories we created together would endure. With a newfound appreciation for the simple joys of life, I was ready to return home feeling replenished and invigorated.

For information about California’s Lost Coast Trail visit the Bureau of Land Management’s website.

Erik Paul

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