This portion of the Lost Coast Trail is in the less traveled Sinkyone Wilderness from the Usal Beach Campground Trailhead to Whale Gulch at the Northern End. The full section is about 22 miles long, we decreased this mileage a little by ending at the slightly more convenient Needle Rock Visitor’s center for a total of 19.4 miles. Parking here is free and there are volunteers who stay at the center during the Spring and Summer who provide information and keep an eye on your car. We did not use the shuttle service due to cost (about $200 plus $10 for each person) and chose to drop our own cars. This did add a full day of driving, as getting to each end is not the easiest task after you leave Highway 1. The roads into Usal Beach and Needle Rock are several miles long (6 and 3 miles respectively) and are narrow, unpaved, rutted, and steep in some places. I could see how these roads could be impassable during wet weather without all wheel drive. That said we used a Subaru Forester and a Honda Fit (this latter has like zero ground clearance) and made it just fine after it had rained a few days before. It was easier and faster in a higher clearance AWD vehicle though.
Due to our 8 hours of car drop fun a few of us took on this task Thursday and then stayed the night at Usal Beach campground. Sarah and Heather then met us on Friday morning to start our hike. Cost for camping at Usal is $25 a night and on trail camps are $5 per person per night. There appears to be no one collecting fees at Usal Beach campground currently so we paid fees at Needle Rock Visitor’s Center when we dropped off our end car.
Usal Beach Campground is a cool spot with first-come first-served camping. The campground is primitive with picnic tables in some spots, fire rings, and a few pit toilets scattered about in a meadow type area surrounded by mature Alder Trees, a few minutes walk from the beach. You will need to either bring your own water or treat some from the creek that runs through the campground down to the beach as there is no treated water available. I would love to come back and stay at this spot again sometime during the week, as being there on a Thursday was pretty chill. We did hear from the volunteer at Needle Rock that it gets very busy on the weekends and since there appears to be no Park Ranger it may get rowdy … so there is that risk. On the plus side there were MASSIVE Roosevelt Elk just chilling around the camps in the trees eating snacks. And the beach is an easy walk from the campground and very pretty.
Below is a link with basic information about Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, it is super hard to find much information about this Southern portion any where online. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=429
I mostly used the guide shown below and the map of Sinkyone Wilderness available for free at the Needle Rock Visitor center for mileage and navigation. There are several creeks that the trail travels over for drinking water and lots of challenging ascents/descents out of the gullies. Also this area of the trail is not maintained from what I can tell. The trail is easy to follow in most places but is also overgrown in several areas and has LOTS of Poison Oak. We all wore long pants to protect our legs from the dreaded PO and from all the scratchy underbrush. Long sleeves would also be helpful but most of us got too warm and said screw it and took them off at some point. We all brought Tecnu (a product specifically designed to wash off Poison Oak oils to prevent it seeping into your skin) to wash off with at camp and were careful to only touch the insides of pants when taking them off and putting them on.
There are also ticks in this area that can carry lyme disease so always do a tick check at camp (this can be hilariously entertaining and awkward). We pre-treated our hiking clothes with Permethrin spray (it sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings) bought online at Amazon. I only found one small tick crawling on my backpack during a break on day 2 and Megan found one on her stomach at Bear Harbor (not attached btw, YUCKY none the less).
We found the above guide to be pretty accurate, although I disagree that Little Jackass to Wheeler is “the most difficult portion of the whole trail” That seemed like a cake walk compared to the climbing and terrain of day one (there will be details on this in the future posts) Otherwise I highly recommended printing this page out and bringing it along with you. The trail camps are also primitive with some having picnic tables, fire rings, and random pit toilets. All trail camping is first-come first-serve and there are pretty limited sites at each location. Sometimes only one or two sites at the creeks in the gulches, like Anderson Gulch Camp only has one small suitable site that we saw right next to the trail and creek. Other spots afford more options like Little Jackass, Wheeler Beach, and Bear Harbor. All the white areas on the map above are creeks and would likely run year round if there is not a super drought. I would recommend calling the Sinkyone Park Rangers since they provided me with very helpful information and seem really nice. Feel free to post below with any other questions I did not cover in this post! Happy Trails!