Along the northern coast of California, civilization has left its mark on all but the most rugged or remote stretches of coastline. One stretch that is largely untouched by major highways and towns is the 60,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area. Extremely steep and rocky terrain extends to the beach, and forced the coastal highway (combined Highways 1 and 101) about 30 miles inland from the King Range. The remote region is known as California's Lost Coast, accessed by only a few back roads.
The 20-acre Mattole Recreation Site is at the northern tip of the conservation area, where the Mattole River meets the Pacific Ocean. The Mattole River is the major inland collection point for 39 tributary streams, and drains 300 square miles of watershed. Its 100-acre estuary is important to migrating birds and shorebirds, providing the only protected wetland habitat along many miles of rugged coast. Wildlife of various kinds are attracted by the lush riverside vegetation, the beach, offshore rocks and the sea beyond.
The Mattole Recreation Site is also at the north end of the Lost Coast Trail, one of the few coastal wilderness hiking experiences in the U.S. The trail is considered one of the most attractive features of the conservation area - but it is a rugged hike, not a stroll on the beach. The beach is narrow, and at some points it disappears under rock slides or at rocky points that jut out into the surf.
Picture: View from the bluff overlooking the Mattole River and the Pacific Ocean.
Animals you may see here
- Migrating birds and shorebirds. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted in the King Range. Year-round: riverside vegetation houses Bewick's wrens, marsh wrens and wrentits. Great blue herons roost on the north side of the estuary. Estuary shallows attract semipalmated plovers, black turnstones, killdeer, and other shorebirds. Fall to early spring: look to deeper water in the estuary for common loons, red-breasted mergansers, western grebes and other diving ducks. Summer: riverside vegetation provides home for many warblers, finches and other songbirds.
- Harbor seals and sea lions, especially at the river mouth and on offshore rocks 3/4 mile north of the beach.
- California gray whales - look for them to pass within 100 yards of shore as they migrate, during January and February.
- Tide pool life in three tide pool areas.
Viewing tips for this area
- Very good viewing any time of year. But May to September is likely to be the most comfortable for human viewers - note the next item on weather.
- Weather: this is one of the wettest spots on the Pacific Ocean, as moist ocean air meets the coastal King Range. From October to April, expect rain. From May to September, warm, dry days may alternate with frequent dense fog - one day may bring fog, drizzle and 60 degrees, while the next is a dry 85 degrees. Expect frequent and dense morning fog. Prepare for rapid weather changes by bringing plenty of clothing layers, and carry rain gear on extended hikes.
- During winter, stay several hundred yards away from birds, so they can rest.
- Be sure to see tips for "Ultimate Wildlife Watching."
- Hiking trails along the beach and into the mountains provide a popular if rugged backpacking experience. Tide tables should be consulted when planning any hike along the beach. Water sources are scarce along the upland trails; hikers should carry drinking water.
- Several parcels of private property are located along the Lost Coast Trail to the south; please respect landowners' private property rights.
How to get here
Take the Honeydew exit from Highway 101 (about 25 miles north of Garberville). Turn left on Bull Creek/Mattole Road and drive 22 miles. At Honeydew, turn west toward Petrolia and drive 13.5 miles. Before crossing the river, turn west on Lighthouse Road. Drive five miles to the parking area.
OR: From Ferndale, take Petrolia Road 30 miles to Petrolia. Go 3/4 mile past Petrolia, cross the river and turn west onto Lighthouse Road, continue five miles to parking area.
-Note: be careful along the long drive from Highway 101, often on narrow, winding, steep paved roads. The drive is not a recommended from motor homes or vehicles with long trailers.
Size: 20 acres.
Managed by: Bureau of Land Management, Arcata Field Office.
For more information, contact: Bureau of Land Management's Arcata Field Office, (707) 825-2300. And see the King Range National Conservation Area/Lost Coast web pages.
Site 27 in the California Wildlife Viewing Guide.
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Watchable Wildlife Sites