Surfing the Lost Coast

Photo by Lucas Via

Buried between Northern California’s King Range and the Pacific Ocean lies the largest stretch of uninhabited coast in the continental U.S. states — The Lost Coast. This 80 mile stretch came about because California deemed this area too rugged for Highway 1 to be built through it in the 1930s. As a result, the Highway Commission took the highway inland about 30 miles to Highway 101. Largely uninhabited except for the local wildlife, accessing the Lost Coast can only be done so by foot or boat (although boat is not recommended). The Lost Coast trail is the most popular way of travel at around 25 miles long. This trail consists of almost entirely beach hiking with many areas that can only be passed on a low tide. Known for hiding a few world class surfbreaks, this area is a destination for many avid surfers. The most popular break is a 9 mile hike from Shelter Cove. Typically best in Fall or Winter, waves can range from inconsistent ground swell to double overhead barrels so it is wise that surfers bring as much patience as possible.

Photo by National Geographic

I visited the Lost Coast recently with two friends. We knew a 6 foot swell was coming through and we wanted to escape Ocean Beach’s crowded breaks while getting a quick backpacking trip in. About a 5 hour drive from San Francisco, we headed toward Shelter Cove, a small fishing town in Humboldt County. Once there we strapped our boards on our packs and headed down the beach. Be sure to pick up a tide chart and a bear canister at the Ranger Station near Shelter Cove as the tide plays a big part of this hike. It took us about 6 hours total to get to our final camp and we stopped in between while the tide went down. The hike consists of hiking on the beach, gravel, and large rocks.

Photo by National Geographic

Once we arrived, there were fortunately only 3 other groups and one group with surfboards. Camping at the break was a huge luxury although there was no shade, so bring a lot of sunscreen. The first day’s surf was flat and we’d thought we missed the swell but at dawn on our second day, there were 6 foot A frames to be had. In addition to catching a few bombs, we brought a fishing pole and did some short casting. I also brought my climbing shoes and did some bouldering. After two nights and three days in the sun, with very chapped lips, we headed south back to home. Landing in Shelter Cove was a godsend since we could head into town and grab a real dinner with a beer. I’d definitely recommend this trip if you’re willing to rough it and want some incredible views. The surf is worth it.

Photo by National Geographic

Lucas Via

Hipcamp Staff

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