Where to Go Camping on the Lost Coast

The Lost Coast is one of my favorite places in the entire United States.

Located on California’s northern coast, in a desolate region too mountainous for highways or other major roads, the remote region simply oozes with natural beauty.

Although lodging is available (yet sparse), the best way to enjoy this slice of heaven, in my personal opinion, is by camping.

So, today, I’m going to break down my favorite places to go camping on the Lost Coast.

See Also: Best Dispersed Camping in California

Best Campsites on the Lost Coast

Skip down to the campground you want to learn more about:

Our Lost Coast camping map can also help you find the perfect campsite for your trip.

A Quick Note About Camping on the Lost Coast

Not only is the Lost Coast remote, but the access roads are also quite rough.

Although the roads are paved, they’re steep, narrow, and winding. And that’s not to mention the honestly jaw-dropping number of potholes.

You definitely don’t need AWD or high-clearance to make the trek, but I’d personally avoid this area in larger RVs and trailers, unless you have ample experience driving your rig on treacherous mountain roads.

That said, I have seen plenty of smaller RVs, say around 30 feet in length and under, in the area. And locals do have all sorts rigs of their own. So, know that RV camping on the Lost Coast is possible – it’s just important to take things slow.

Furthermore, no matter the vehicle, avoid driving these roads at night. Coastal fog can also blanket the area, making even daytime driving sketchy. And all of this isn’t to mention the free-roaming cattle that often dot the roads.

Also know that although the small communities of Petrolia and Honeydew do have gas stations, they don’t always have fuel on hand due to the remoteness. So, make sure to fill up your tank before heading out.

None of these warnings are to scare you away from camping on the Lost Coast – just know that getting here is quite a bit different than most other California campgrounds. The above video gives you an idea of what to expect when driving to Petrolia from Ferndale.

My Favorite Campgrounds on the Lost Coast

To make your search for the best Lost Coast campsite even easier, I’ve narrowed down the options to my three very favorite area campgrounds.

Mattole Campground

Mattole Campground is hands down my favorite place to camp on the Lost Coast.

Located just outside of the community of Petrolia, this small BLM campground is just steps from the Pacific Ocean and a short walk to the beautiful Mattole River.

Although this 15-site campground is quite open and exposed, the lack of privacy is well worth it considering the absolutely amazing location.

A quick heads up – it can be very windy here, although the dunes do offer some protection. Also, the campsites are somewhat small, so don’t attempt to camp here in anything but the smallest RV or trailer.

Looking for a little exercise? Hike the 7-mile out-and-back trail down to Punta Gorda Lighthouse which starts at the campground. Backpackers (with the proper permits) can continue south for the entirety of the 25-mile Lost Coast Trail to Shelter Cove. 

It costs $8 a night to camp here. You can stay for up to two weeks. All sites are first-come, first-served.

Learn more about Mattole Campground.

Usal Beach Campground

Usal Beach comes in at a close second in terms of my favorite Lost Coast camping spots (although many will disagree and argue that it should be first).

This free camping area is located at the southern tip of Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, near the northern starting point of Highway 101, at the very southern reaches of the Lost Coast.

While Mattole Road is rough, it’s a paved, two-lane road – Usal Road takes rough to a whole new level. The beach is about 6 miles off Highway 1 on a very narrow, extremely rough and rutted dirt road with several steep sections, a couple tight corners, and a few terrifyingly steep drops offs. Pay very close attention to the road, even though the absolutely stunning ocean views will threaten to pull your eyes away.

4WD or high-clearance is ideal, although I’ve made it in a 2WD pickup truck myself. And I’ve seen numerous small SUVs, Subarus, vans, and even a Honda Civic at the beach in the past. Just don’t attempt the drive in an RV or trailer. Also, avoid Usal Road after heavy rains, no matter your vehicle, and know that the road isn’t maintained at all in the winter.

Cross a small wooden bridge and you’ve arrived at the camping area. There’s plenty of room to spread out among the trees or along the Usal River. You’re going to see people drive out onto the sandy beach itself to camp. But refrain from doing so yourself as this isn’t actually allowed. The habitat is very sensitive. We don’t want to cause harm or contribute to future shutdowns.

As this was one an established campground, there are old picnic tables and fire rings scattered about. But you don’t have to stick to these sites. You can even continue down Usal Road for a more private campsites, although past the campground, the road quickly becomes even rougher than the initial 6-mile stretch.

Unfortunately, Usal beach has long been a party spot among locals. Weekend nights, and especially holidays, are incredibly loud, busy, and even potentially dangerous. Visit on a weekday for a much more mellow scene.

Camping is free at Usal Beach. All sites are first-come, first-served. In the past, the campground was managed and cost $25 per night. I believe there are plans to reestablish designated campsites, add a camp host, and likely bring back a fee to reduce some of the lawbreaking

Learn more about camping at Usal Beach.

Needle Rock Visitor Center

Needle Rock Camp near Needle Rock Visitor Center is another awesome place to camp in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

While Usal Beach is at the southern tip of the state park, Needle Rock is located at the northern tip where it meets with the King Range National Conservation Area.

Although this isn’t technically a drive-in campground, the campsites are located just a short walk away from the parking area. Plan to pack in your gear, but know that it’s just a quick walk, so you don’t have to worry about bringing backpacking-specific equipment.

Like most Lost Coast campgrounds, the unpaved roads into Needle Rock Visitor Center are rough. And the location itself is remote – so come prepared. But, like always, the rough drive is well worth it. The scenery here is absolutely beautiful with sweeping ocean views (if it isn’t foggy).

In addition to the walk-in campsites, you can also choose to hike in a bit further (between one and three miles) to reach additional backcountry campsites that are more private. A rustic cabin, known as the “Needle Rock Barn” is also available to rent at the visitor center if you prefer a roof over your head. Sleeping in your vehicle isn’t allowed here.

Needle Rock Camp costs $25 per night. The Needle Rock Barn costs $35 per night. Both options are first-come, first-served. Camp hosts live on site. 

Learn more about Needle Rock Visitor Center.

BLM Campgrounds on the Lost Coast

Mattole Campground, Usal Beach, or Needle Rock not quite what you’re looking for? Here are a handful of additional campgrounds to consider, all managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Honeydew Campground

* Honeydew Campground has been permanently converted to day-use only.

Just outside of the community of Honeydew, this primitive campground has five campsites set alongside a creek. It’s referred to as both Honeydew Campground and Honeydew Creek Campground. Update: Honeydew is now day-use only (confirmed with the BLM).

Learn more about Honeydew Campground.

Horse Mountain Campground

Horse Mountain Primitive Area is very remote and seldom visited. It’s no longer maintained as a campground, making it borderline dispersed camping. Picnic tables and fire rings are available, but feel free to spread out. No toilets are available. Camping at Horse Mountain is free.

Learn more about Horse Mountain Campground.

Tolkan Campground

This small, secluded campground is perfect for a peaceful night. It has 9 campsites, 5 of which will accommodate small trailers. Vault toilets are available. The Paradise Royale Mountain Bike Trail and Tolkan Terrain Park are located nearby. Camping here costs $8 a night.

Learn more about Tolkan Campground.

Nadelos Campground

Another peaceful Lost Coast campground, this one has 8 cozy campsites. All sites are first-come, first-served, although you can reserve the entire campground in advance for $85 a night. Otherwise, camping costs $8 a night. Vault toilets are available. Chemise Mountain Trail is nearby.

Learn more about Nadelos Campground.

Wailaki Campground

A hidden gem of the Lost Coast, Wailaki Campground has 13 total campsites, several of which accommodate small trailers. Vault toilets are available. This campground is just down the road from Nadelos and also offers easy access to Chemise Mountain Trail. Camping is $8 a night.

Learn more about Wailaki Campground.

Other Places to Camp on the Lost Coast

Still not satisfied with my recommendations? Here are a few additional places to camp from Ferndale all the way down to Shelter Cove.

Shelter Cove RV Park

Personally, I’m not a big fan of RV parks – but if you want to camp in Shelter Cove itself, this is probably your best bet.

Shelter Cove RV Park is conveniently located in the middle of town. In addition to an on-site deli, it’s just a short walk to the nearby pub and other Shelter Cove businesses.

Although there’s little to no privacy, this RV park is located on a bluff above the ocean with fantastic views. Tent campers are welcome in addition to vans, trailers, and RVs. Hookups are available.

Learn more about Shelter Cove RV Park.

Humboldt County Fairgrounds

RV camping is also available at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds in Ferndale.

Although this was once a very cheap place to camp, it now costs $20 a night for dry camping (or tent camping) and between $35 and $45 a night if you want RV hookups.

The big benefit of camping here is just how convenient the access is to the northern stretches of the Lost Coast. Unhook your trailer and make a day trip down to Mattole Beach. Or head north and visit Eureka.

Learn more about camping at Humboldt County Fairgrounds.

A.W. County Park

A.W. County Park is one of the best places for family camping on the Lost Coast. If your kids love to swim, then camping here is a must.

This campground is located about halfway between Petrolia and Honeydew. The campsites are large and grassy, there’s plenty of shade, the river is close, and the restrooms are very clean. There are even showers!

It costs $25 a night to stay at A.W. County Park. All 30 campsites are first-come, first-served.

Learn more about A.W. County Park.

Roadside Stealth Camping

Stealth camping is another option when visiting the Lost Coast.

However, let me be very clear – please, please, please be respectful of locals, follow the Leave No Trace principles to a T, don’t park anywhere with “No Overnight Parking” signage, and don’t trespass onto nearby private property.

Probably your best bet for stealth camping is along Mattole Road north of Petrolia between Beach Rock and Devil’s Gate Rock where the road briefly follows the coastline.

You’ll notice several large gravel pullouts on the shoulder of the road here. Most have minimal privacy, but luckily the road isn’t busy at night. All have amazing views of the ocean. Expect heavy wind.

A few of these roadside “campsites” are listed on iOverlander if you want more information before making the drive.

What About Dispersed Camping?

Punta Gorda Lighthouse on the Lost Cost

From what I know, dispersed camping is extremely limited on the Lost Coast.

Although much of the area is BLM land, including the King Range National Conservation Area, dispersed camping here is different than on most other BLM-managed land.

For instance, drive-in dispersed campsites are extremely limited. A few are listed on iOverlander, but I’m unable to confirm if any of these are actually legal. I plan to investigate these more on my next trip.

Backcountry camping, however, is allowed in several areas, although a permit is required.

Additionally, there are several drive-in BLM campgrounds on the Lost Coast (outlined above) at which no permits are required.

Further to the south, at the southernmost reaches of the Lost Coast, is Usal Beach which is part of Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

Apparently, this was once a paid campground (and might technically still be), but there hasn’t been a fee collection box in years. I’ve seen rangers patrolling the area and have never been asked to pay.

Picnic tables and fire rings still dot the area, but you can pretty much camp anywhere in the general “campground” area as well as further down Usal Road. Vehicles aren’t allowed on the beach itself, although people tend to do as they please here. You always see several rigs camped out on the sand.

Backpacking the Lost Coast Trail Is Another Option

The Lost Coast Trail is one of the most unique backpacking trails in the United States.

From Mattole Beach to Shelter Cove, the trail covers roughly 25 miles (point-to-point) of rugged and beautiful coastline in the King Range National Conservation Area.

Although the trail is quite flat, slogging through sand, traversing rock fields, and fording creeks takes its toll on the body, especially the knees.

The Lost Coast Trail campsites within the King Range NCA include:

  • Big Creek
  • Big Flat
  • Buck Flat
  • Cooksie Creek
  • Gitchell Creek
  • Horse Mountain Creek
  • Kinsey Creek
  • Randall Creek
  • Shipman Creek
  • Spanish Creek

Remember, wherever you set up camp, only use pre-established campsites and always follow the Leave No Trace principles.

Permits are required to stay overnight along the Lost Coast Trail. These backcountry permits are limited, so it can be somewhat difficult to acquire one, especially during the peak season. No walk-up permits are available – so make sure to reserve yours well in advance at recreation.gov.

Although the northern section between Mattole Beach and Shelter Cove is far more popular, the Lost Coast Trail does have a southern section which travels between Black Sands Beach at Shelter Cove to Usal Beach in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

The Lost Coast Trail campsites within Sinkyone Wilderness include:

  • Anderson Camp
  • Bear Harbor Camp
  • Jones Beach Camp
  • Little Jackass Creek Camp
  • Needle Rock Camp
  • Orchard Camp
  • Railroad Camp
  • Streamside Camp
  • Wheeler Camp
  • Usal Beach Camp

I won’t dive any deeper into backpacking the Lost Coast, since we focus on camping on Campnado. But I do want to point you towards She Dreams of Alpine’s excellent guide to backpacking the Lost Coast Trail (my favorite resource on the subject). 

Have Fun on Your Lost Coast Camping Trip!

Every outdoor lover needs to experience camping on the Lost Coast at least once.

From Mattole Campground right on the beach to shady A.W. County Park on the river to hard-to-reach Usal Beach, there’s a little something for all campers if you know where to look.

Still have questions about camping on the Lost Coast? Don’t hesitate to shoot me a line: jake@campnado.com

Related Post: Best Dispersed Camping on the Oregon Coast