66 mi / 106 km
Driftwood peppers the beige sands, frothing Pacific swells lash against the rocks, hills clad in wildflower meadows creep up to craggy peaks topped by tufts of ancient redwoods – it's called the Lost Coast for a reason, folks!
This small section of the Northern California shoreline was deemed too impenetrable by highway builders back in the 40s and 50s. It remains untouched, untamed, and downright beautiful.
Begin your drive in Ferndale; sleepy, small-town Ferndale. Population: 1,371. Age: As old as the Gold Rush. Yep, pioneers raised this town in a grove of ancient redwoods and giant ferns back in the 1850s. It grew and grew to sprout the handsome Victorian mansions you can see stringing down Main Street, now a medley of vintage ice-cream parlors and Americana diners serving grits and bacon-topped pancakes.
In the mid-20th century, a group of free-spirited individuals sought refuge here, embracing a self-sufficient and countercultural lifestyle. Living off the land and rejecting societal norms, they formed close-knit communities that celebrated art, music, and spiritual exploration. Despite challenges, their legacy remains, inspiring others to seek freedom and a deeper connection with nature.
As the road zigzags south, it navigates the tussock-covered foothills of the King Range. You'll meander over blustery passes and see lonely barns now and then. Eventually, the great Pacific Ocean roars into view. You'll spot it first at Black Sand Beach, framed by the salt-caked rocks of Cape Mendocino and the arrowhead bluff of Sugarloaf Island, both of which are specially protected breeding grounds for Steller sea lions and harbor seals.
The route veers back inland from there. It continues in a montage of time-stood-still ranches and hay fields, with the higher mountains rising to the south forming the phalanx of forests and farms that cuts the Lost Coast off from the rest of civilization.
See Petrolia, where California's first oil well was drilled back in 1861. Stop to photograph the handsome covered bridge at Honeydew. Then, finally, it's onto the Humboldt Redwoods State Park to hike the Big Tree Loop, a trail that incorporates a fallen sequoia tree over a gushing mountain stream.
As you navigate this remote stretch of coastline, you'll experience a sense of solitude and serenity that is increasingly rare in our bustling modern world. The absence of development and the sparse population along the route only enhances the feeling of being transported to a simpler time.
The roads may be narrow and winding, but they lead you to hidden gems and secret pockets of paradise that reward your exploratory spirit. From hidden coves and tide pools to scenic trails that lead to breathtaking overlooks, the Lost Coast reveals its treasures to those brave enough to venture off the beaten path.
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