Driving The Lost Coast California

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The Lost Coast California is one of the last undeveloped stretches of coastline in Northern California. This drive came on our radar as an exciting side trip as we were planning our drive down the coast to get to Santa Monica. Highway 1 was originally planned to run along the coastline here, however in 1984, after defying highway makers, the plan was scrapped. The coastline, which is along the King Mountain Range, was simply too steep to build a highway through. Though there may not be a highway, there are smaller mountain roads that can be used to access the coastline, and the remote towns located along the route. The drive is rugged, beautiful and isolated. If you are looking to escape, this adventure is for you! This post will highlight what to do, where to stay, and the route to take along The Lost Coast.

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Planning Your Trip to The Lost Coast

To drive this route, it is recommended that you are a skilled and experienced driver. You do not need 4×4 (we don’t have 4×4) but it may make the drive easier. It is always a good idea to check road conditions before embarking on your trip, you can call the Shelter Cove BLM office at 707-986-5400. You can also check out the King Range Conservation Area website here for travel advisories. Parts of the road can become impassable in the rainy season as roads wash out. The best time of year to visit the Lost Coast is between May and October.

The Lost Coast of California
The Lost Coast of California

Where to Stay Along The Lost Coast

The stretch of Mattole Road on the coastline has several pullouts that are on BLM land. These are some of the most beautiful and peaceful places to stay. In addition, there are also several established BLM campgrounds including Mattole, Tolkan, Wailaki, and Nadelos, these are $8/night. Shelter Cove has several inns to stay at if you don’t plan to camp.

Sunset on The Lost Coast of California from a campervan
Sunset on The Lost Coast

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What to Do On The Lost Coast

The BLM has a list of hiking trails here. The Lost Coast Trail is a popular backpacking trail. It is 24.9 miles and takes 3-4 days. The remoteness and beauty make it a bucket list hike that we hope to tackle some day. You will want to ensure you have a good weather window as the hike is along the ocean. In addition, few areas that are impassible during high tides so you will want to have a tide chart. You can obtain permits for overnight trips at Recreation.gov. If you are looking for somewhere to grab a bite and a beer to celebrate making it through the toughest part of the drive, we cannot recommend Gyppo Ale Mill highly enough. Be sure to try their delicious beer and sustainably sourced food.

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Sunset on the Lost Coast with Vanlife couple
Sunset on The Lost Coast in front of Steamboat Rock

The Route

If you are heading north to south, you will start your drive in the quaint little town of Ferndale, CA. We are originally from Ferndale, MI so we are always excited when we find Ferndales in other states! From there you will start your drive on Mattole Road. You will drive through forest and the very small town of Capetown, from there you will descend to meet the coast at Cape Mendocino. This stretch of road, though paved, can be rough due to the high seismic activity in the area. The drive along the coastline holds some of the most beautiful views along the Pacific Coast. The drive from Ferndale to Cape Mendocino took us about 2 hours. We found a pull off right on the ocean and stayed the night. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset right in front of Steamboat Rock.

In the morning, we drove the remaining six miles of coastline before turning inland along the Mattole River. The road continues before meeting the small town of Honeydew, this town has a small general store where we stopped for some delicious local Kombucha. In Honeydew you have a choice, you can continue on Mattole Road through Humboldt Redwoods to meet up with Highway One, or you can take the adventurous road to Shelter Cover. We chose the latter.

Sunset in Shelter Cove
Sunset in Shelter Cove

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The Adventurous Part of the drive

If you’re feeling adventurous, turn right on Wilder Ridge Road. You will stay on this road for a short while before staying right to continue on Kings Peak Road, this is where the drive gets spicy! Take it slow as it is a winding dirt road with many bumps. There are a couple stream crossings with deeper dips that can be challenging for a longer wheel base vehicle. You can choose from several hiking trails and a BLM campground along this route. The drive from Honeydew to Shelter Cove will take you just under two hours. Though there are some small views of the ocean, you unfortunately will have to hike The Lost Coast if you want the best views. Nonetheless, the drive is incredible and isolated, we didn’t see another vehicle the entire stretch of King’s Peak Road.

The Lost Coast from Kings Peak Road
Small view of the ocean from King’s Peak Road

At the end of King’s Peak Road, you will come to an intersection, turn right on Shelter Cove Road to continue into town. Shelter Cove has beautiful Black Sand Beaches and the opportunity to catch stunning sunsets. There are several inns and camping options to stay the night. The Nadelos and Wailaki campgrounds are great options for no frills camping. From Shelter Cove, you can take Shelter Cover Road back to Highway One. If you have a more capable vehicle however, you can continue on Usal Road (CR 431) until it meets up with Highway One. You will definitely want a 4WD vehicle to tackle this route.

Sunrise at Shelter Cove
Sunrise in Shelter Cove

If you’re looking for an adventurous and rugged drive, The Lost Coast of California is for you. We hope this post has helped you plan out your trip. If you found value in this content, please subscribe to our email list so we can share more exciting trips with you. Now get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow!

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