Maybe it’s the name. Or that it’s California’s longest stretch of undeveloped, rugged-ass coast. Either way, the remote beauty of the Lost Coast inspires a romantic mystique unlike any other place in the state. Highway 1 couldn’t be built here because the land was too forbidding, so the pavement turned inland. The result is 80 miles of spectacular, virtually road-free, sea-to-summit beauty, with far-reaching peaks and seemingly endless streams wetting steep canyon walls. Autumn is the best time to visit: the weather is typically Indian summer–warm, while the normal summer crowds are gone. Backpackers will salivate at the three-day, coast-hugging (and beach-traversing) journey from Mattole to Black Sands Beach (25 miles); along the way, lookout for surfers in search of the mythical break at Big Flat, and a wealth of wildlife, including whales, seals, river otters, mountain lions, and bears. Day-trippers can scour tide pools at Mal Coombs Park in Shelter Cove, hike to the abandoned Punta Gorda Lighthouse from Mattole (3 miles one-way), or take in panoramic splendor by climbing up the Lightning trailhead to King Peak’s summit, which shoots more than 4,000 feet above the Pacific. Lost Coast? More like Paradise Found.
TIP: Non-campers should check out the comfortable, coastal digs at Shelter Cove’s Oceanfront Inn (707-986-7002). There are only 10 rooms, and they all have ocean views. A private stairway outside the hotel leads to a black sand beach.
The Lost Coast is 230 miles north of San Francisco. It is accessed from Highway 101 at Garberville and Ferndale. Backpacking notes: Only one car? Call Roxanne (707-986-9909) or Sherri (707-223-1547), who will shuttle you to the Mattole trailhead for a nominal fee. Bear canisters required: get canisters at the King Range office in Whitehorn (open 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday) or Petrolia Store (open all week), near the Mattole trailhead. Free permits also required for backpackers and campers. Parts of the trail are only accessible at low tide; you’ll need a tide chart. No fires until first big rain. Dog-friendly!