When California started development on the famous State Route 1, which traces its inspiring coastline, it left 26 miles untouched. These miles ran right on top of the Mendocino Triple Junction, a highly unstable and rugged piece of land where the Gorda plate, North American plate and Pacific plate touch. Known as the “Lost Coast” it can only be crossed during summer over a dirt track with a 4WD, or you can hike it. The area covers the majestic King Range, which is typically crossed during low tide over the beaches, and the forested Sinkyone wilderness, which can be hiked on a lonesome mountain trail. As it was a nice weekend, I went for a short piece of the 26-mile trail starting from the southern terminus, in the Sinkyone wilderness.
In order to get to the trailhead, you drive 6 miles on Usal road. Usal road is a dirt road with big potholes, and it can be difficult to pass in winter, especially when it has recently rained. I got lucky, and it was a doozy, with beautiful views of the ocean. I even spotted an elusive baby mountain lion on the drive over, jumping away from me as I came past.
Arriving at Usal Beach, I couldn’t find the trailhead. Two young couples and their pack of dogs were helpful and pointed me towards it. One of them had hiked it as a kid, but he mentioned that him and his father did get lost on the upper ridges, so to be careful not to miss the turnoff.
It only took me about six miles and 1500 feet of climbing to realize that I wasn’t on the Lost Coast trail, but on Hotel Gulch trail, which runs parallel to it and does go higher onto the ridges. Sadly, it doesn’t have any campgrounds until Wheeler, which was farther than I had planned to go that day.
As I had started late in the day, and was delayed by an elk which didn’t allow me to pass a section of the trail for close to 30 minutes, I realized I wouldn’t reach another campground before nightfall, and had to turn back.
Getting back to Usal Beach, I found a great first night campground next to a little creek. I told my guide from earlier in the day how they had ended up on the ridges on his childhood hike. Shortly after, they came back to offer weed, beer and freshly caught mussels from the local beach (in that order!). ❤ the west coast.
Usal Beach, while frequented by a lot of locals with SUV’s, and even some doing target practice (despite the fact that weapons are prohibited in the park) has a lot of charm, and elk roam the grounds.
In the morning, these Elk came to say hi at the campground, which attracted the dogs of my fellow campers. This little guy knew to stay well away. Afterwards, I went looking for the actual trailhead, and found it! The trail climbed much more quickly than Hotel Gulch road, which makes it a more pleasant stroll, even with a heavy pack.
This is me being happy to finally be on the right trail the next morning.
Much of the actual Lost Coast trail climbs through dark, dense forests, following canyons that run around two main streams. Once they reach a certain altitude, they go all the way back down, and end up at the beach, only to begin climbing again.
The Mendocino coastline is significantly at risk from Tsunamis generated due to earthquakes either on the local faultlines, or all the way across the pacific in Japan. So it’s amazing to be able to see how far the regular wave patterns stretch out from the coast.
On the drive back to San Francisco, I took State Route 1 until Mountain View Drive, and it was a simply gorgeous day on the Mendocino coastline.