For our final day in the King Range National Conservation Area we hiked the most accessible of the “Crest to Coast” trails, which leads from the crest of the mountain range down to the ocean. We hiked the Horse Mountain Creek Trail, 4.2 miles one way with a 1,700 foot elevation drop from top to bottom, plus a 300 foot bonus elevation change on the backside. The trail connects with the Lost Coast Trail – North (which is not so much a trail as a hikable beach), so you can add on as much beach hiking as you desire.
Forest surrounds the trail until about the last 100 feet down to the beach, where it opens up into a meadow. Many wild flowers were in bloom, brightening the forest understory and filling the air with their fragrance. We saw much evidence of animals (i.e. poop), mostly of bears, lots of millipedes, a few slugs and one amazing butterfly, which was black and white with vibrant orange spots. Several streams cascade down the steep hillside over rocks worn into a water-carved staircase. The weather on this day was sunny and warm, with a chill on occasional breezes. This would have been a much better day to hike to King Peak than the rainy day we were there!
Horse Mountain Creek trail leads to the beach a little north of the mouth of the namesake creek. We walked south along the beach to experience a taste of the Lost Coast Trail, wading through the wide and shallow creek mouth where it enters the ocean. We came across a HUGE boulder that appeared to have broken free from the cliff very recently, I would say within the past couple months. Small rocky debris from the fall still dusted the tops of the boulders and a nearby fallen tree that we surmise fell in the same slide as the boulder still sported green foliage. We sat near this boulder watching birds float on the ocean surface, riding the waves as they passed below. I wonder if they enjoy it, like people enjoy surfing.
California’s Lost Coast was an unexpected gem we stumbled upon. We had not planned to spend a week here, but there was so much to see in this unique place where the mountains meet the sea that a week flew by before we were ready to move on. I hope to come back some time, maybe even overcome my dislike of sand-hiking and trek the full Lost Coast trail. There is even more that we did not see – I heard talk of a herd of elk that lives a bit south of our first campground, a surfing spot near the cove that the seals call home, and many more miles of trail. Even if you are not going to hike, Shelter Cove is an amazing place for wildlife viewing. If you are going to hike, I strongly recommend a high clearance vehicle to access the more remote trailheads!
May 6-7, 2014