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My Love Affair With the Lost Coast

Everyone has their own special slice of the backcountry. For BACKPACKER Editor-in-Chief Dennis Lewon, it's a slice of beach in Northern California.

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Most backpackers have a place they return to again and again. It’s a place they develop a connection with, feel familiar with, and love to bring others to. I’m sure you have one, and I do too. Actually, I have several. One is Northern California’s Lost Coast. It’s a 50-mile stretch of the Pacific, north of Fort Bragg, that’s so rugged road builders had to re-route the Pacific Coast Highway inland, leaving a pristine wilderness of beaches, redwood groves, and steep bluffs.

I made my first trip there in college, and since then I’ve been back again and again—with others, alone, for a week, for a day, in rain and sun and fog, to the north section and the south section, and in spring, summer, and fall.

The Lost Coast is on my mind this week because prime-time there is approaching. Fall offers the best weather—generally clear and mild, with less fog than summer, and less rain than spring and winter. I’d like to offer everyone a personal tour, but the next best thing is a quick rundown to get you started—and hopefully hooked. Most people go to the 25-mile northern section, which is just north of Shelter Cove. It’s a fantastic hike along beaches and across grassy benches right above the coast—it’s also the most popular section, and you need to secure permits from the BLM (reserve in advance).

The southern section, south of Bear Harbor, is shorter (about 16 miles), and radically different—the trail winds up and down through redwoods and steep, forested ravines, and only rarely skirts the coast proper. But when it does, you’ll find private, protected coves where sand, rock, and water come together in perfect balance. This section is managed by Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and reservations aren’t needed (pick up permits at the visitor center). Full disclosure: The southern section does have poison oak. But I think that’s a small price to pay for this coastal paradise. Find your way to Wheeler Beach, and I bet you’ll think the same. If you have any trip-planning questions, drop a note in our Basecamp Facebook page.