Backpack, Paddle, and Mountain Bike along California's North Coast
See all (or any) of northern California's three faces.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Trek black-sand beaches
In 1849, a party trying to penetrate the Lost Coast’s secluded wilderness got in trouble and had to eat flour paste that formed in their wet packs. No wonder: The King Range’s 4,000-footers form a natural barricade to the Lower 48’s wildest stretch of coast. Now, 70 miles of trails access natural arches, sea caves, spits, and high-wattage sunsets along the black-sand beaches.
A 24.8-mile segment of the Lost Coast Trail starts at Mattole Creek. Head south for 8.3 miles, passing otters and a sea-lion rookery, before making camp at Randall Creek. On day 2, ascend 6.6 miles to the lush grasslands of Spanish Flats and, eventually, the wooded canyon that leads out. In three spots you’ll need to time your hike with the tides, so bring a chart. www.ca.blm.gov/Arcata
Hike and paddle Humboldt lagoons
The Pacific is misnamed: The ocean’s fierce winds and swells make open-ocean forays hazardous. Instead, ply the lagoons (large pools protected by barrier beaches) just north of Patrick’s Point State Park. Drop a boat into Stone Lagoon and paddle the short distance to a boat-access-only elevated point that serves as a superior basecamp.
From there, explore the wind-protected inlet, ideal for practicing rolls and casting for steelhead. Or head off on foot: To the north, follow a path along the high-water line to Stone Lagoon spit, where dolphins roll in the surf; watch pelicans fish from a nearby promontory. Hike 2 miles through alder forest to Dry Lagoon, or shuttle to Big Lagoon and paddle up Maple Creek to check out elk. See www.adventuresedge.com for rentals.
Pedal among giant redwoods
The 52,000-acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to the Rockefeller Forest, the world’s largest remaining contiguous old-growth coastal redwood stand. Hiking trails are off limits to knobby tires, but mountain bikers can crank up steep forest roads to huge meadows and heady ocean views.
Pitch a tent in Albee Creek Campground and head out to Grasshopper Peak, gaining 3,000 feet over 6 miles. The route reaches a 3,379-foot overlook where views stretch over redwoods and out as far as 50 miles. The next day, take Mattole Road to the mostly uphill Look Prairie Trail, climbing through mixed forest, and head north 3.4 miles to Peavine Ridge Trail, where you’ll ride 16.5 miles through mixed conifers and open meadows. www.humboldtredwoods.org