World-renowned Highway 1 cruises along 650 miles of the California coast from Orange County north toward the Mendocino Coast. At its northern terminus, this epic route ends where it joins U.S. 101—but the coast continues, bending west just north of Fort Bragg.
With no major roads to access this ocean-wrapped region, it is justly called the Lost Coast. But you can explore on foot. In fact, the nearly 25-mile-long Lost Coast Trail is on the bucket list of many an avid backpacker.
Stretching between Shelter Cove to the south and the Mattole River to the north—in both Mendocino and Humboldt counties—the Lost Coast is a wild land of forests, fog, waves, and sand. On the hike, which typically takes three days one way, you’ll be wowed by sweeping views of the King Range, its peaks soaring 4,000 feet above the Pacific. Walk a wild beach to discover shell mounds, marking the spot where Native Americans once shucked clams and other bivalves. Bring binoculars to spy impressive Roosevelt elk grazing in bluff-top prairies. Another essential item to pack: a current tide table. When the tide is high, boulder-strewn beaches (and your trail) disappear beneath the waves. Time your tromp right or you could face a long wait in a flooded cove. To hike the entire Lost Coast Trail, leave one car at Mattole River Beach and the other at Black Sands Beach near Shelter Cove, or make arrangements with a local shuttle service.
Not up to backpacking but want to stretch your legs? Head for the Lost Coast Trail’s northern terminus, accessed by following Lighthouse Road west from the hamlet of Petrolia. A three-mile out-and-back trail south from Mattole River Beach affords an awesome photo op: the abandoned lighthouse at Punta Gorda.