Getting to know the aptly named Lost Coast takes time, courage, and endurance. For your effort, you will have the chance to experience the vastly unexplored King Range Mountains, which are tied with the Himalayas as the fastest growing mountain range on the planet. Once you reach the Pacific Ocean, wander along black sand beaches, hunt for treasures in tidepools, snap photos of cows leisurely walking near the sea, and hike through dense wilderness.
Take note that services here are extremely limited. If you embark on the journey, fill up your car with gas, bring plenty of snacks and water, and understand that the switchback roads can be both dangerous and exhilarating. Drive slowly (it’s so beautiful, why would you want to speed?) and inhale the scent of the last remote stretch of California coast.
There are three ways to access the Lost Coast. From off Highway 101 in Garberville, follow signs to Shelter Cove/King Range NCA (Allow 45 minutes for the 22-mile trip to Shelter Cove). Shelter Cove acts as the jumping off point for 64 miles of trails traveling both north and south. In town there are a couple of inns, including the beachfront Shelter Cove Inn. For a simple lunch, pop into the Deli at the Campground for sandwiches and a decent plate of fish and chips.
To access the center of the King Range for some serious hiking, from US-101 take the Honeydew exit. Going west on Mattole Road, one passes beneath the towering trees in the Rockefeller Forest, the largest single stand of old-growth redwoods in the world. Follow the signs to Honeydew (23 Miles). Turn left in Honeydew to Honeydew Creek Recreation Site and Smith-Etter Road. Allow 1 hour for the 24-mile trip. You may continue to Petrolia from here and loop north to Ferndale (see below).
Or, if you have a couple of days and want to check out the best of this stretch of coast (with one of the most interesting drives around), from US-101 exit into Ferndale, a storybook collection of Victorian architecture and small town charm. Get acquainted with the well-kept town, popping in and out of galleries and restaurants where everyone seems to know each other. Poppa Joe’s make for an interesting meal since the popular Curley’s Grill has closed. For folks who really enjoy the turrets and gables of the architecture, book a night in the fanciful Victorian Inn.
Once you’ve had your fill of exploring buildings, follow the signs to Petrolia, the site of California’s first oil strike, and the main “town” in these parts. Along the way, you’ll pass the Wall to the Wildcat, which promises spectacular ocean vistas. For people wanting to spend extra time here, book a night in the lovely Petrolia Guest House. Or hikers, continue driving for a mile past Petrolia, turn right on Lighthouse Road; it is 5 more miles to the Mattole Recreation Site (Allow 1.5 hours for the 42-mile trip). Here you can access trailheads and explore the dense wilderness along this quiet stretch of California’s coast.
For more information on the Lost Coast and the surrounding region, pick up a copy of my book.