Note: This is a rough draft of content for my future Lost Coast website. I’ll do research and stuff later.
California Highway 1 runs along the Pacific Coast from the border with Mexico northward. A few miles north of the tiny town of Westport—roughly 180 miles north of San Francisco—Hwy. 1 suddenly veers inland, intersects with US 101 at the town of Leggett, and ends. Hwy 101 doesn’t hit the coast until near the Humboldt Bay, leaving an 80 mile stretch of the California Coast highway-free. This no-highway zone is the Lost Coast.
From a viewpoint near Juan Creek, just before Hwy. 1 turns inland, you can get a view to the north which explains why the highway builders opted not to continue along the coast: mountains rise abruptly from the ocean two, or even three, thousand feet high. If you look to the south from this point, you’ll see a considerably gentler coast; it’s still fairly rugged, but there’s a flat terrace about a hundred feet above sea level which makes a great place to put a highway. To the north, there’s no sign of terraces, only cliffs, and high cliffs made of crumbly stuff at that.
This photo doesn’t really do justice to the cliffs or the abrupt change of geology, but it’s kinda pretty, so I’ll use it for now:
The Loast Coast is divisible into three regions: in the south, there’s public access through the Sinkyone Widerness State Park; in the central zone the Bureau of Land Management owns most of the land, and administers it as the King Range Natural Conservation Area; the northern section is nearly all privately owned, but there is some public access to beaches near Cape Mendocino.
To a purist, the Lost Coast is not truly wilderness. Europeans have been logging tanoak, douglas fir, and redwood in the region since the late nineteenth century. There are only a few groves remaining of the original forest. There are old mill sites, and even old town sites, scattered throughout the region. Still, the remoteness, the ruggedness, the current land use practices, and the low human population of the area make it feel pretty gosh darned wild. And if you get injured out here, help is a long, long ways away.
There are only two towns of any significance in the Lost Coast region. Shelter Cove is a resort community at the end of a thirty-mile paved—but narrow, steep, and twisty—road from Hwy 101 at Garberville. It can also be reached by air or sea. Petrolia, near the mouth of the Mattole River, is a more traditional town servicing the local farmers and ranchers.
The view from one of the rooms at an inn in Shelter Cove:
For hikers, there are many places to explore in the region. The most popular backpacking trip in the area is a forty-mile beach stretch of the California Coastal Trail, from the mouth of the Mattole to Shelter Cove.
The beach near the mouth of the Mattole:
The other end of the great wilderness beach backpack, Black Sands Beach:
South from the Shelter Cove Road, there’s another excellent stretch of the Coastal Trail, running over Chamise Mountain, down steeply into the Sinkyone at Whale Gulch, and then up and down and up and down through a series of gulches to Usal Campground. There are also plentiful options for day hikes in the region.
Needle Rock in the Sinkyone:
Looking down to Usal Beach from the Coastal Trail: