The Lost Coast is the last bit of undeveloped, natural coastline left in California. It stretches for 25 miles from Mattole Beach to Shelter Cove and it is largely inaccessible since Highway 1 does not pass through it. Actually, they once tried to build the northern part of Highway 1 through it, but the project proved too difficult because of the landscape in the area. You can only get to it through small, rough mountain roads—hence the name “Lost Coast.” Because of this, this coastline is extremely remote. It doesn’t share the typical tourist traffic that the rest of the California coast does… thus making it a hidden treasure.
You also cannot get to each of these beaches through driving a straight line. The only way to travel from one end to the other is to hike it. If you want to hit all the beaches, you need to give yourself a few extra days, because this requires taking each mountain road back to the major highway (hours away) and then down the next small road. Also keep in mind that although the roads are paved, they have been extremely neglected. It’s apparent that roadwork is rare since these beaches are essentially out in the middle of nowhere. Expect tons of potholes, bumps, and washed out roads.
It’s totally worth it though! The beaches are known for their black sands and rugged, lush mountains and cliffs. You most likely won’t encounter many people. We definitely didn’t. Our favorite spots were Shelter Cove and Petrolia (they both happen to be the start and end to the Lost Coast Trail, which is a popular backpacking trail in Humboldt County.) If you’re short on time and have to choose just one place to spend the day, Petrolia is the place to go! You’ll see rivers, mountains, miles of rugged coastline, and there is a free campsite right on the beach that is hardly ever full. Go into town and you’ll even see some zebras! This place is truly a fairytale and I can’t emphasize enough how special it is, even if it is extremely difficult to get to. Just make sure your van is in good shape before you leave!