The rough strip of California’s coastline between Fort Bragg and Crescent City is often known to non-locals as simply “the Redwoods,” but to the people who live there, it is the Lost Coast, a land of wonder and defiantly eccentric culture, a land of drifting mists and towering trees. On your trip through the Lost Coast, discover its secrets by stopping at a few of these forests, wildlife refuges, beaches, and centers of local culture.

Hiking & Driving in the Redwoods

The Lost Coast is renowned for its Redwood forests and bountiful wildlife are best enjoyed in protected areas that cater to different sensibilities. For those who associate the Redwoods with Endor from Star Wars, the Redwood National Park offers the chance to hike and camp where Return of the Jedi was filmed.

For those who love rare birds, Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge is an incredible place for bird watching and quietly meandering along paneled walkways through the marsh. Almost any drive along the Lost Coast is a scenic experience, but the Avenue of the Giants is a particularly verdant stretch with turnoffs for drive-by tourists, photography enthusiasts, and hikers.

Those who travel to see unique natural areas will be enchanted by Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and the huge trees and gentle, swimmable rivers in Jedediah Smith State Park. Fern Canyon is one of most ethereal and calming places on earth, where the walls soar 70 to 100 feet high and are draped with waterfalls and graceful ferns. Jurassic Park lovers will recognize the beautiful canyon from the second movie.

As for Jedediah Smith, it has some of the biggest (over 300 feet tall and over 20 feet wide) living old-growth redwoods, which tower serenely over all their visitors. Looking up at them, you feel both very small and very connected to all around you. Additionally, the Smith river, which winds unobstructed through the park, is perfect for swimming, fishing, kayaking, and snorkeling.

The Coast Itself

There are many incredible parts of the Lost Coast shoreline accessible to visitors. Some of the safest and most breathtaking include Clam Beach (grassy, rolling dunes), Luffenholz Beach (incredible lookout points overlooking a popular whale-breaching area), Agate Beach (best rock and driftwood beachcombing), Fleener Creek Beach (best fossil and shell beachcombing), Moonstone Beach (rock formations for climbing and rappelling), Trinidad Beach (numerous tide pools and aquatic life), and Gold Bluffs Beach (accessible camping ground and lots of elk).

Redwood National Park

Towns and Festivals

The Lost Coast is a community that you can join simply by interacting with its culture. Stop by Fortuna during the family-friendly rodeo parades in July or the Apple Harvest Festival in October to learn about local ways of life and enjoy amazing cider.

Visit the Victorian Village of Ferndale to enjoy the oldest Memorial Day Celebration in the United States, Victorian shops and homes, and intriguing museums.

Explore Old Town in Eureka from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage, walk on foot through enchanting shops and museums, or take a boat tour of the bay to see porpoises and seals.

Go to the Farmer’s Market at Arcata City Plaza for all-natural foods, acrobats, live music, and the authentic hippie experience.

To learn about the original inhabitants of the Lost Coast, enter the Sumeg Village, an interactive display of traditional Yurok village life owned and operated by the tribe.

Finally, watch or participate in the Kinetic Sculpture Race, a three-day, 50-mile obstacle course on the world’s craziest contraptions (half art, half vehicles which mimic animals or mythical creatures) through sand dunes, rivers, woodlands, towns, and the bay. If you can’t make it to the race itself, you should still visit the museum, which changes location every year.

Other Cool Experiences

If you come to the Lost Coast between holidays, there are still plenty of fun activities and experiences for lone travelers, groups, and families. Chapman’s Gem and Mineral Shop and Museum is a wonderful place to learn about natural and local history and buy fossils, rocks, and geodes for a reasonable price.

The Sequoia Park Zoo has a large outdoor park and hiking area, a petting zoo, a beautiful aviary, and rare species like the red panda, making it a great place for kids and adults alike.

Trees of Mystery is a small theme park with fun features like an enormous talking Paul Bunyan statue and a sky rail that allows visitor to travel through the canopy of the redwoods from the comfort of an enclosed six-person gondola.

There is so much to see, smell, and do in this remote corner of the world for individuals, groups, and families, so seize the chance to travel there. California’s beautiful, wild Lost Coast is waiting for you to discover it.

—Sharon Valentine