What To Expect At Black Sands Beach in Shelter Cove, California

This was one stop of many on our road trip down the Pacific Coast.

We had just driven through the tall trees of the Redwoods, and were on our way through the dense forest towards the shore. After a few days on the Oregon Coast, we were excited to see what California had to offer.

To summarize this destination in one word, we would use this:



Black Sands Beach

Berty and I were first attracted to this beach because of its similarity to a black sand beach in Iceland and we wanted to know if it would look the same!

From the map, there was only one road that connected this shore to the rest of California. It’s one of the last stops off of Highway 101 before the coast goes along California Coast’s Highway 1. I guess that was the way we were going to go!

Here are some of the things you can do here on Black Sands Beach:

  • Backpackers are able to hike up the coast north to Lost Coast Trail and sleep in one of their many wilderness camps, or even on the beach. Free backcountry permits upon arrival. (Just make sure to do it wayyyy up shore!)
  • Learn about the protected California Coastline
  • Bring a picnic and enjoy your lunch with a view
  • Explore and climb around the rocks on the beach

Just a word of caution though: part of this beach walk is blocked at high tide and the rip current is extremely dangerous, so time your trek well and stay safe! This is not a place to swim – the beach suddenly drops off (not visible from the shore) so the waves come crashing in at high speeds and will pull in anything and everything that comes near. So really, be careful. If you forget, there are many signs on your walk to the beach warning you of these powerful waves.

The Dyrt Pro Map for finding free camping

Still want to camp nearby but mayyybbee not on the beach?

The Free Camping Collection from Dyrt PRO is our favorite way to find dispersed and no-cost campsites!

The Dyrt launched their Free Camping Collection of 5000 drive-in accessible locations that include free campgrounds and free dispersed sites.

Plus, the Free Camping Collection shows you boundaries of free dispersed camping areas on a map and tells you when a camping permit is required (and if so how to get one).

Try the PRO Free Camping Collection for free, no strings attached — use our code “mandagies” to get 30 days free.

Alright, so I’m going to spill some truth here and tell a story…

Several years ago I (Emily) had an experience in an old truck that started sliding down a hill. The ground below had been washed away by water and we were slipping toward the lake. We ended up turning the wheel and intentionally crashing the car into the bushes to stop it from going all the way down. (Everyone was fine, just shaken) Since then, I’ve had trouble keeping my cool in any vehicle, on any hill, with bad conditions or sketchy features.

The road to this beach was all the things I hated about roads combined into one terrible journey. The drive was full of potholes and several hairpins turn at crazy angles – steep on both sides. I had volunteered to drive this leg (not knowing what was ahead) and I had to wake up Berty because I was crying and literally couldn’t handle the drive anymore.

In contrast to the whole “getting there” part, the beach was absolutely beautiful. The black sand that complimented the rugged shoreline was a new view for both of us. Being there, I kept being reminded of how danger and beauty sometimes exist together. I guess this beach wouldn’t have the same appeal to it if the journey was somehow easier.

Black Sands Beach, California - The Mandagies
Black Sands Beach, California
Black Sands Beach -Emily

From my experience, I learned a lesson in comfort-levels and how far I am willing to go for an adventure. If I had known what was to come here at Black Sands Beach, I probably would have thought twice about our decision to explore here! While this isn’t the most glamorous report of a location, I feel that as a travel blogger, I’m obligated to give you a truthful report of our experience – and mine definitely brought up some unsettling memories!

On the return trip I made Berty drive, and it wasn’t so bad because he’s a really great driver. We made our way back in the late afternoon, which meant we had a few more hours to drive down the coast to reach our final destination of the evening. With so much drama, the day wrapped up pleasantly well, with the most beautiful sunset we’ve ever seen. We pulled over on the side of Highway 1 and stayed for about 30 minutes watching the sky light up with pinks, oranges, and reds. So beautiful!


Have you explored Black Sands Beach? Did you survive the drive?? We’re also looking for some stories of people who have camped here…let us know in the comments how you liked it!

Read More Pacific Coast Destinations

What To Expect At La Push Beaches, Washington

Hike The Cape Flattery Trail In Washington

Cape Disappointment, Washington

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Things To Do At Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon

45 Stops On An Oregon Coast Road Trip