Humboldt Section 11

Ferndale to Cape Mendocino

Humboldt Section 11

Ferndale to Cape Mendocino

South of Ferndale, rugged terrain along the coast forces the California Coastal Trail inland over high ridges of the Coast Range. CCT makes its longest passage away from the coast in northern California, following the paved Mattole Road until it returns to the coast south of Cape Mendocino.

This truly lost portion of the Lost Coast was not always so impassable. The original stagecoach road from Ferndale to Petrolia, completed in 1871, followed the tideline south from Centerville Beach past Bear Gulch before climbing steeply over Oil Creek Ridge to reach Capetown on the Bear River. In 1995 the author and ten other Coastwalkers hiked the 11 miles of this tricky and treacherous Lost Coast from Centerville Beach to Singley Creek. Preceded by several scouting trips, the trek took 2½ days to walk the 11 miles because no fewer than five points could be passed only at major minus tides. Even then we got very wet rounding one of the points and also had a precarious climb over a major mudslide only 1½ miles into our trek. The mudslide washed away in 1998-99 winter storm surf.

When the CCT Whole Hikers attempted the same feat the summer of 1996, they got drenched at one low-tide point and spent four soggy, chilled hours trapped at another. In short, walking this stretch of coast is EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS and NOT recommended. The nature of the terrain often changes drastically from one year to another, and some years won't even have sufficiently low summer tides to make it through.
Walk the shoulder of Mattole Road south from town. The road climbs 800 feet in the first 1½ miles to gain Wildcat Ridge. Turn around for grand views over the verdant Eel River delta and the Victorian village of Ferndale visible for the first ½ mile. Your ascent eases as the road follows the ridge south, gaining another 200 feet by 2¼ miles. Before 3¼ miles you have climbed 1400 feet.

Mattole Road contours and descends slightly to 4 miles, then resumes climbing fitfully along the headwaters of Guthrie Creek. By 6⅛ miles you reach Malfunction Junction at 1818 feet, an intersection with Bear River Ridge Road on the left.

Continue along Mattole Road as it dips across the headwaters of Oil Creek at 6⅜ miles and turns west. Ascend to 1880 feet, the road's summit, at 7¼ miles where a clearing overlooks the Lost Coast around False Cape to the west and Eel River delta, Humboldt Bay and Trinidad Head to the north.

From 7⅜ miles your road offers the best views of the coast to the west as it descends around Bunker Hill until 8⅛ miles. The descent turns southwest to cross another fork of Oil Creek, then follows Bear River Ridge seaward. After a brief climb around 9 miles, begin a gradual but steady descent with occasional ocean vistas.

By 12⅜ miles you begin a steep winding descent into Bear River Valley. Arrive at Capetown Ranch only 50 feet above sea level at 14⅜ miles. You're only 1½ miles from the coast. Capetown was once a stagecoach stop, but only this private ranch remains today. Your road crosses the Bear River at 14½ miles and begins a steep ascent over Cape Ridge.

This last big climb continues for 1⅝ miles, passing an immense lily pond west of the road around 15⅝ miles, then topping Cape Ridge (980 feet) at 16⅛ miles. Descend briefly then contour to a seasonal fork of Singley Creek beyond 16¾ miles. Then descend steeply, paralleling Singley Creek's deep canyon toward the coast, with expanding views. The access road to the Cape Mendocino lighthouse is on the right at 17¾ miles.

A big bend to the left at 18 miles offers expansive views of the wild coast including towering Sugarloaf Island off Cape Mendocino, westernmost point in California. To the south Steamboat Rock sails on a brisk current. Follow the road as it straightens out to descend to the coast at Singley Creek at 18½ miles.

Continue along the road shoulder for one more mile. At 19½ miles you come to a bridge across an unnamed creek just north of Steamboat Rock offshore. This is the start of Section 12.

SUGGESTED ROUND TRIPS & LOOPS: We DO NOT recommend you attempt to get around False Cape and nearby narrow points even at major minus tides. Well organized groups have done it during calm weather in summer at the very lowest tides of some years, minus 1.5 feet or better. You CAN day hike the coast south from Centerville Beach, 5 miles west of Ferndale. You need a minus tide even to get to Guthrie Creek at 2⅜ miles. Another narrow spot impassable at tides above -1.0 foot is Bear Gulch at 2¾ miles where in 1996 the CCT Whole Hikers got trapped for 4 hours before beating a way through blackberry thickets. The beach south of there has at least three narrow passages which require even lower tides to pass, one at the base of Oil Creek Ridge, another at False Cape, and a third at Cape Mendocino.

Distance: 19½ miles (31.4 kilometers).

Open to: Hikers, bicyclists.

Surface: Road shoulder.

Access point: Town of Ferndale.

How to get there: Take Ferndale exit, Milepost 64.5 from north, Milepost 62.9 from south, from Highway 101 south of Eureka. Cross Fernbridge and go 5 miles to the south end of Main Street. Turn right on Ocean Street and park near Mattole Road.

Other access: Anywhere along Mattole Road.

Difficulty: Hard

Elevation gain/loss: 2960 feet+/2940 feet-.

Cautions: Watch for vehicle traffic on this steep winding road where drivers are not expecting to see anyone walking. Road is closed one day each May for the Tour of the Unknown Coast, a bicycle event. No services on route

Further information: City of Ferndale (707) 786-4224. Humboldt County Road Department (707) 445-7421.

Facilities: Ferndale has restrooms, water, phone. Mattole Road has no facilities.

Campgrounds: Humboldt County Fairgrounds in Ferndale allows camping. Fortuna has a KOA campground.

Lodging: Ferndale has several.

Points of Interest

No individual points found.

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