Discover a remnant of a nearly lost coastal dune ecosystsem at Ma-le’l Dunes

Landscape photo of dunes with the California coast in the background

When most people think of California and a trip to the beach, they envision surfing, swimming, and sandcastles. On California’s far north coast, however, that beach trip can mean a hike through a world of wildflowers and wetlands in a coastal dunes ecosystem that has escaped the pressures of development. 

Ma-le’l Dunes, near the city of Eureka, is a 152-acre area of undulating sand dunes, supporting a surviving remnant of native plants and wetlands that have all but disappeared along the Pacific Coast as non-native plants, introduced to stabilize the shifting sands, have crowded out the natives. 

This ecosystem is so intact that the National Park Service has designated Ma-le’l Dunes and the adjacent Lanphere Dunes (managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service) as a National Natural Landmark. 

“Lahphere and Ma-le’l Dunes is a remarkably undisturbed yet easily accessible site with an outstanding variety of dune habitats,” the Park Service noted in its designation of the site as an National Natural Landmark. “The site is very scenic and affords the public an inspiring view of a natural coastal ecosystem that was once common and is now nearly lost.” 

Its name taken from an ancestral place name of the Wiyot people, Ma-le’l Dunes is a refuge for those looking for a different kind of hiking and coastal discovery experience. The Bureau of Land Management allows dogs in specific areas and horseback riders can use the Pacific Ocean wave slope. Interpretive kiosks tell the story of this ecosystem and the importance of conserving it. 

The Lahphere-Mal-le’l Dunes site is one of 13 sites in California where the BLM and National Park Service work together to manage National Natural Landmark values. There are nearly 600 of these sites nationwide. 

Important notes when planning a trip: 

  • Remember that the area is open for daytime use only. 

  • The entrance road is closed to vehicles Tuesday through Thursday every week to allow visitors to enjoy more of a “wilderness” experience. 

  • Hiking is limited to trails to avoid trampling fragile dune plants. 

To get there, take California Route 255 off U. S. 101 near Arcata.  Once you reach the northern part of the Manilla community, take Young Road and follow the signs. 

To learn more about Ma-le’l Dunes, please visit: https://www.blm.gov/visit/ma-lel-dunes-cma.