Lost Coast detour: Summit King Peak

The Lost Coast is known for its stunning shore and ocean scenery — as its name may suggest. And it’s for good reason that its renowned pristine stretch of northern California coastline has become a magnet for those who love the outdoors. The wildlife, the beaches, and the gushing streams are a truly remarkable sample of Californian nature.

The Lost Coast’s beauty is not limited to the coast. If you stray from the well-trodden path along the ocean’s edge, deep gorges, thick forests and towering peaks await in the interior of the King Range National Conservation Area.

The highest of the peaks is King Peak, looming 4,091 feet above the Pacific Ocean below.

During my four-day backpacking trip southbound on the Lost Coast, I had been keeping an eye on King Peak, wondering if we could sneak in a ‘quick’ out-and-back trip to get the complete Lost Coast experience.

There are several trails along the coast that allow access to the King Crest, which traverses the various peaks of the King Range. We opted for the most direct, given that we had to do it as a day hike. This also meant we were taking the steepest route, heading up the Rattlesnake Ridge trail from Big Flat.

While extremely difficult, the trail is a treat. Throughout the 16-mile roundtrip hike you get to explore the forest-cloaked canyons of Big Flat Creek. As you gain elevation the vegetation transitions to drier, sun torched hills, and finally, upon arriving at King Peak, you are rewarded with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, King Crest, and mountainous redwood forests of Humboldt County’s interior.

Enjoy a photo essay of our side trip to the top of the Lost Coast.

King Peak stands above the mountains on the Lost Coast.
We got up before sunrise and hit the trail as soon as there was enough light to see. King Peak can be seen from down at Big Flat looming in the background (on the right).
The thick forest shrouds King Range National Conservation Area.
The forest grows thick and majestic once you enter the shady, moist canyons. In many places the vegetation is overtaking the trail, proof of how infrequently the trail gets traveled.
Madison Snively crosses a log that has fallen over a creek.
To access the trail to Rattlesnake Ridge, you need to cross Big Flat Creek several times. We did the hike in August, when the creek was probably near its low point, but I can imagine that these crossings would get much trickier during the winter and spring. Even in the summer it required poles and some nimble footwork to avoid getting wet.
King Peak stands above the thick forest of the Lost Coast.
King Peak poking out over the lush forest. As the crow flies, it is so close, but as the trail goes, so far.
Madison Snively stands at a trail marker to King Peak.
Once you exit the river canyons it becomes a bit of a slog as the vegetation grows thinner and shade is harder to come by. There are a few ups and downs that add annoying elevation gain to the hike — both ways. Luckily, there is a small spring at Bear Hollow that is a life saver. The spring was barely a trickle for us in August, but it was flowing enough to fill up a water bottle. If the spring wasn’t flowing, I probably wouldn’t have continued to the peak, as my three liters were running low. Here we are splitting off from the King Crest Trail and heading up to King Peak.
Madison Snively summits King Peak.
By the time we reached the top, the typical summertime northern California fog had enveloped much of the coast. Regardless, there were still some nice views to be had.
Madison Snively and Evan Quarnstrom summit King Peak.
Temperatures down at the coast were in the low 60’s, but it must have been near 80 degrees up on the peak. What a difference that a few miles can make.
King Crest on the Lost Coast.
Looking northwest(ish) down the spine of King Crest.
Big Flat as seen from the top of King Peak.
Peering down at Big Flat where our tent was still set up and awaiting us.
Signing into the peak log on King Peak.
Checked in to the peak log. As I noted, the wind had turned from the typical northwesterly direction and blew in smoke from the southeast. This was the only day on our trip that the smoke was a factor.
Hiding behind a wind barrier on the top of King Peak.
There is a dug out wind block on the peak if you want to camp up there or ride out a storm. We used it to catch some shade as we ate lunch. Flies were quite bothersome and a big one gave me a very painful bite.
A small waterfall flows in Big Flat Creek in the Lost Coast.
We chugged back down the trail, making a water pit stop at Bear Hollow, and then found this nice swimming hole to rinse off in Big Flat Creek.
A deer grazes on the Lost Coast.
16-ish miles later and back down at the campsite. The deer were out grazing on plants.

I mainly shot video on this hike, which is why there are some big gaps in the timeline as far as photos go, but you can get a taste of the hike in our vlog. The King Peak section starts at 4:16.

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