Exploring the Lost Coast, Sinkyone Wilderness, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13120A, Backpacking


  • Backpack a spectacular stretch of the unique Lost Coast
  • Explore the quaint town of Mendocino
  • Observe a wide variety of coastal wildlife


  • All meals and group cooking gear
  • Shuttle service
  • Campground fees


DatesJun 9–16, 2013
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffJindra Goodman

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Trip Overview

The Trip

With the roar of the Pacific as our constant companion, we will hike the spectacular and remote Lost Coast of Northern California. In early June, the rainy season is over and the summer coastal fog usually has not settled in.  Along our hilly track we will encounter Roosevelt Elk, seals, a wide variety of sea birds, and possibly black bears and whales.

When the builders of State Highway 1 were confronted with the extremely rocky and steep terrain of this section of the coastal range, they were forced to move the planned road inland about 30 miles. With no access available, this remote and beautiful stretch of land became known as the Lost Coast.

The Sinkyone Wilderness State Park preserves a critical stretch of this coastline. It includes 7,300 acres, and is sometimes referred to as a "zoological garden." The native Mattole and Sinkyone people thrived for thousands of years on the bounty of this land, and still use it for ceremonies and festivals. The Kings Range and Sinkyone Wilderness may contain as many as 45 prehistoric archaeological sites. Later, settlers brought shipping, ranching, and logging to the area.


Day 1: We will meet around 4 p.m. at the Nadelos campground east of Shelter Cove. This is an approximately seven-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. After getting acquainted, we will arrange the next day's car shuttle, and check our equipment and packs. Our first group meal will be served between 5 and 6 p.m.

Day 2: After an early breakfast, the drivers will convoy to the southern end of the Lost Coast Trail and return to the starting point with a prearranged shuttle service. The remaining participants can visit Shelter Cove or explore the numerous trails near our campsite. We will reassemble for dinner, arrange the distribution of the commissary gear, and turn in early to be well rested for the spectacular trek that lies ahead.

Day 3: We begin our hike high in Chemise Mountain Primitive Area. We trek down to the coastline, following a "roller coaster" trail with unforgettable views of an amazingly varied landscape. We set up camp stream-side a quarter-mile walk from Jones Beach Cove. Our first day's hike covers 6.5 miles with 2,700 feet of descent and 1,100 feet of ascent.

Day 4: This relaxing 4.5-mile day with a 1,000-foot ascent and descent offers much to explore as we pass by the Sinkyone Wilderness Visitor Center at Needle Rock and several old orchards and homesteads before reaching our camping spot at historic Bear Harbor. This beach is a popular place for surf fishing, beachcombing, and abalone diving.

Day 5: On this strenuous day we begin by climbing up a steep, narrow gully with a spectacular display of sword ferns. After cresting the ridge, we come upon a grove of old-growth redwoods, then make a steep descent into Wheeler Camp. From 1951 until 1960, this was the site of a small wood-processing plant and company town. The roller coaster returns as we make our way -- occasionally distracted by magnificent vistas -- to Little Jackass Creek. We will camp near a beach with picturesque sea caves and towering cliffs. If we are lucky, the seals will be frolicking in the surf. We'll hike 8.8 miles, with a daily total of 3,100 feet of ascent and descent.

Day 6: From Little Jackass Creek, the final hiking day of our trip is a 7.5-mile trek that is loaded with far-reaching views to the south and finishes with a descent through a lovely forest into the Usal Campground. After 2,500 feet of ascents and 2,700 feet of descents, we can take a quick drive to an expansive beach or just relax in this comfortable campground.

Day 7: After a relaxing late breakfast, we take a scenic drive to Van Damme State Park just south of Mendocino. On the way, we will stop in the town of Mendocino, famous for its art galleries and quaint boutiques. Before heading to our camp, we will pick up some fresh salmon and wine for our last night's dinner. In the afternoon, we can take an organized nature walk in the state park.

Day 8: We will enjoy our last breakfast together before heading back to "civilization." For those who choose to say longer, there is an opportunity to take a guided ocean kayak trip to the caves off the spectacular Mendocino coastline (not included in trip, but highly recommended at a cost of approximately $50, including all equipment and guide).  



Getting There

Detailed directions and a roster will be sent out early enough before the trip so that participants can arrange to share rides and rental cars. Due to the shuttle, we will need a minimum number of cars. There is no public transportation available to our meeting place.

Accommodations and Food

Based on past food planning experience, we will offer a variety of menus, with lots of flavor, calories, and nutrition. We can accommodate vegetarian participants.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated 3 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the most strenuous, however do not underestimate the demands of carrying a pack on the rugged coastal trails. You must be an experienced backpacker and be involved in a regular program of aerobic exercise to enjoy this trip. The climbs, followed by steep descents, will require strong knees. In addition, coastal weather is unpredictable and can become quite cold and wet at any time of year.  

Equipment and Clothing

A list of suggested personal equipment will be sent to all participants. Each person should keep the weight of personal gear, including water, below 25 pounds so that (with the addition of approximately 10 to 13 pounds of commissary equipment and food) total pack weight will be about 40 pounds at the start.

We will provide all food and cooking equipment, although you must bring your own eating utensils. Some of the group equipment is relatively bulky, particularly pot sets and bear canisters. Your pack should be large enough to carry a bear canister and a piece of commissary equipment, in addition to your personal belongings.   


  • The Wilderness Press map: "Trails of the Lost Coast" covers the entire backpacking route and has lots of interesting information on the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and the Kings Range. Available from mail@wildernesspress.com. 


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

The conservation emphasis for this trip will be the California Wild Heritage Campaign. The Sierra Club has developed useful materials about these special places that will be discussed on the trip.

If there are environmental issues in your local area or region that you would like to share with the group, please come prepared to help us learn about them.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the King Range Bureau of Land Management and the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.



Jindra Goodman is an experienced backpacker who has participated in many outings with the Sierra Club. In addition to experience in the Sierra, she has backpacked in New Zealand, Nepal, Patagonia, the Alps and Africa. She is also an active member of several wilderness search and rescue teams.

Assistant Leader:

Dave Melton grew up in the Mojave Desert next to the Southern Sierra. He took his first Sierra backpack in 1986, and he has been leading trips for the Sierra Club since 2005. After some years living in the Northwest, he is back living in the desert in Rancho Mirage. When not in the mountains, he designs aluminum castings for heavy trucks.

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