Up The Road: Staying Cool On The Lost Coast

Aug 15, 2019

Get lost and stay along the Lost Coast.
Credit Bob Wick / U.S. Bureau of Land Management

We head up the road this week in search of natural air conditioning, along the California coast again. The Lost Coast, this time, that unruly stretch between Fort Bragg and Eureka that made even road builders give up—which is why Highway 1 and 101 angle inland in these parts. 

Locals, of course, snort at the very idea that this splendid area was ever lost. It’s always been here, albeit shrouded in fog most of the summer and inundated with rain otherwise. California’s isolated “Lost Coast,” virtually uninhabited and more remote than any other stretch of coastline in the Lower 48, has since been found by folks looking to get away from all those other folks.

Much of the Lost Coast is included in two major public preserves: the King Range National Conservation Area in Humboldt County, and the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park in Mendocino County.


Most people come here to “beach backpack,” hiking north to south in deference to prevailing winds. (Also pay attention to high tides.) The northern trailhead begins near the mouth of the Mattole River. Get there from Mattole Rd. near Petrolia via Lighthouse Rd., then head south on foot. It's possible to continue hiking south to Shelter Cove, a two- or three-day trip one-way (five days roundtrip)—sandy beaches, tremendous tidepools, scrambling up onto headlands to avoid craggy coves—but a much longer trek for those heading on to Sinkyone. Always check weather conditions before setting out; in any season, watch for rattlesnakes on rocks or draped over driftwood.


But you don’t have to backpack, or even hike, to enjoy the Lost Coast. You can also car camp here, at A.W. Way County Park in Petrolia, a locals’ favorite, or drive in to Shelter Cove to spend the day.


And if you didn’t yet make it farther north for that long overdue rest among the redwoods, you can also do that—get that redwood rest—on your way to the Lost Coast. Because Humboldt Redwoods State Park is right here, just inland, the state’s third largest park, some 53,000 acres protecting more than 40 percent of the world’s remaining redwoods, including the largest contiguous forest of old growth trees. Avenue of the Giants, anyone? That stretch gets a little touristy, but most of the groves and hiking trails here get few visitors. All the more reason to go. That plus excellent camping.


Humboldt Redwoods is also a good place to appreciate the miracle of coast redwood reproduction. These trees do produce winged seeds, reproducing sexually,  but they also replace themselves—creating genetically identical offspring, or clones—by vegetative sprouting from stumps, “fairy rings” of old roots, and fallen trees and limbs.


These days, in the midst of so much climate chaos, I am inspired by the miracle so easily witnessed here among the redwoods. I also appreciate the implied metaphor—that life will spring forth, eternally, from death and disaster. Things are not looking good right now, so I sure hope so.