Top Trails: Northern California's Redwood Coast: 59 Must-Do Hikes for Everyone
Top Trails: Northern California's Redwood Coast: 59 Must-Do Hikes for Everyone
Discover classic destinations and lesser-known jewels of the Northern California coast through 59 incomparable hikes.
The Redwood Coast of Northern California is a magnificent and beautifully mysterious hiker’s paradise. Follow award-winning author Mike White into some of the most awe-inspiring terrain on earth. From a gentle half-mile morning loop to a 29-mile backpacking adventure, you’ll experience the best of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties. Explore a landscape of lush, old-growth redwoods. Find picturesque vistas to Pacific Ocean sea stacks. Traverse winding descents to undisturbed beaches and mesmerizing tide-pool life. Hike along pathways to inland canyons. See untamed wilderness teeming with herds of Roosevelt elk.
Top Trails: Northern California’s Redwood Coast presents 59 routes for hikers, backpackers, and cyclists. Each entry features key at-a-glance information, such as trail length, difficulty, and facilities. Trail descriptions tell you what to expect along the route. Plus, GPS-based trail maps, elevation profiles, and lists of “don’t get lost” milestones help to ensure that you know where you are and where you’re going. A trail-usage chart and a top-rated trails section allow you to quickly choose the perfect routes for your particular interests and needs.
Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a path for you along Northern California’s Redwood Coast. For readers ready to hit the trail, this is the guide to have, and for armchair travelers, it's 59 journeys into wonderland.
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About the Author
Mike White was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He learned to hike, backpack, and climb in the Cascade Mountains, and he honed his outdoor skills further while obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Seattle Pacific University.
After college, Mike and his wife, Robin, relocated to the Nevada desert, where he was drawn to the majesty of the High Sierra. In the early 1990s, Mike began writing about the outdoors, expanding the third edition of Luther Linkhart’s The Trinity Alps for Wilderness Press. His first solo project was Nevada Wilderness Areas and Great Basin National Park. Many more titles for Wilderness followed, including the Snowshoe Trails series; books about Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Lassen national parks; Backpacking Nevada; Top Trails: Northern California’s Redwood Coast; Best Backpacking Trips in California and Nevada; Best Backpacking Trips in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico; 50 of the Best Strolls, Walks, and Hikes Around Reno; and Afoot & Afield: Reno-Tahoe. Two of his books, Top Trails: Lake Tahoe and 50 Classic Hikes in Nevada, have won national awards. Mike has also contributed to the award-winning Wilderness Press classics Sierra South and Sierra North, as well as Backpacking California.
In addition to his books, Mike has written for Sunset, Backpacker, and the Reno Gazette-Journal. A community college instructor, Mike is a featured speaker for outdoors groups. He and Robin live in Reno; his two sons, David and Stephen, live in the area as well.
Read an Excerpt
Lost Coast Trail: Needle Rock to Bear Harbor
- Trail Use: Hiking, backpacking, running
- Length & Time: 6.2 miles, 2–4 hours
- Vertical Feet: +575¢/-750¢
- Difficulty: 3
- Start & Finish: N39° 56.569¢ / W123° 57.871¢
- Features: Beach, wildflowers, wildlife, views, history, secluded, backcountry camping
- Facilities: Campgrounds nearby, restrooms, visitor center
While much of the time on the 29-mile south section of the Lost Coast Trail is spent in the forest, this part travels through mostly open terrain with stunning ocean scenery on the way to one of the most scenic spots on the Lost Coast: Bear Harbor. Thanks to a trailhead a long way from anywhere, requiring a final approach on a 3-1/2-mile, narrow, steep, and unpaved access road, you may have a good chance for some solitude.
Abundant marine wildlife potentially seen on this trip includes harbor seals, sea lions, migrating gray whales in spring, and numerous species of tidepool creatures. On land, you may see black-tailed deer or Roosevelt elk. The skies above are often filled with a profusion of birds, including brown pelicans, black oystercatchers, cormorants, sandpipers, terns, gulls, ravens, and an occasional osprey or bald eagle.
The remote location and resulting potential for solitude belies the size of the human population the area once boasted in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a dairy near Needle Rock, a wharf and narrow-gauge railroad operating out of Bear Harbor, and a lumber mill at Usal Beach. While most of the human activity is long gone, the Needle Rock Visitor Center occupies the old dairy’s ranch house.
Due to an inland route, tides are of no concern on this section of the Lost Coast Trail. However, hikers should be aware that rattlesnakes, although uncommonly seen, are present in this community, as are poison oak and ticks (particularly in spring).
Even though the Lost Coast Trail can be hiked any time the weather is accommodating, spring and fall are typically the two best seasons. While temperatures are generally moderate during summer months, fog oftentimes drapes the Northern California coastline with an omnipresent veil. Along with typically clearer skies, spring offers the added bonus of a vibrantly colorful array of wildflowers on the low bluffs above the beach from mid-April through May. The annual migration of California gray whales occurs during late winter and early spring. Fall also offers generally clear weather, with the characteristic dried grasses of the Golden State replacing the spring flowers. Ticks seem to be less problematic in autumn as well.
Finding the Trail
Leave US 101 in Garberville at Exit 639B, and follow Redwood Drive for 2.5 miles to the small town of Redway. Drive west on Briceland Road, which becomes Mendocino County Road 435, and proceed for 12-1/2 miles to Thorn Junction (the road straight ahead is Shelter Cove Road). Turn left and continue for 9-3/4 miles on Briceland Road, passing through the small community of Whitethorn on the way. Go straight ahead at an intersection with Usal Road, remaining on Briceland Road. Beyond this intersection the last 3-1/2 miles are unpaved, narrow, steep, and winding and may be impassable during wet weather. Plan on a 1-hour drive from Garberville to the Needle Rock Visitor Center. There is a nominal parking fee ($6 in 2021).
The Lost Coast is a long way from anywhere and just driving to trailheads will be a time-consuming endeavor—plan accordingly.
From the Needle Rock Visitor Center, follow the course of Briceland Road, a narrow dirt road that at one time provided vehicle access to Orchard Creek Camp. Due to ongoing safety issues, the road has been closed to motorized travel for several years, leaving access solely to human-powered visitors or equestrians. For 2.7 miles, the old road rolls up and down, crossing Flat Rock Creek and passing the promontory of High Tip. Beautiful ocean views are frequent accompaniments to the journey, as are numerous bird and seal and sea lion sightings. The road ends at a large parking area, with Orchard Creek Camp a short walk upstream along a trickling brook.
Beyond the old parking area, single-track trail makes a bridged crossing of Orchard Creek and then heads downstream for 0.2 mile to Railroad Creek Camp, with three developed campsites tucked beneath eucalyptus trees. Continue across Railroad Creek on a bridge and proceed another 0.2 mile downstream on pleasantly graded tread to Bear Harbor, providing by far the most scenic of the campsites in the area, with four sites boasting fine views of the ocean. At the conclusion of your visit, retrace your steps to Needle Rock.
Bear Cove Harbor
As remote and wild as the Lost Coast seems today, this area was once the western terminus of the Bear Harbor & Eel River Railroad, as still evidenced by the rusting rails dangling over the rocks on the north side of Bear Cove. A small wharf was completed in 1885 for shipping tanbark and railroad ties. Construction of a 10-mile railroad connecting Bear Harbor to a site near Indian Creek began in 1893. The terminus was named for Lew Moody, who built a hotel and saloon nearby. The Southern Humboldt Lumber Company took over the railroad in 1902 for the purposes of transporting lumber, finishing the extension of the line 7.5 miles in 1905 to a mill and millpond at Andersonia (across the river from present-day Piercy). A new, larger wharf at Bear Harbor was also built.
Although logs were eventually delivered to the millpond via the railroad, a series of tragedies prevented the mill from producing any lumber. Harvey Anderson, president of the lumber company, died as a result of wounds from being struck in the head by a timber brace pulled by a steam engine in 1905. Tax problems, right-of-way issues, and finally damage from the Great Earthquake of 1906 halted milling operations before they could begin. New buyers were prevented from restarting the operation thanks to subsequent litigation and a damaging flood during the winter of 1925–1926, which broke the millpond’s dam and sent logs into the Eel River. Ultimately, the Southern Humboldt Lumber Company’s legacy became, “the million-dollar mill that never milled.” The railroad’s locomotives were later restored and placed at Fort Humboldt State Park. Andersonia became a ghost town but was used temporarily as a construction camp during the building of US 101.
0.0 Start at Needle Rock Visitor Center
2.7 Orchard Creek Camp
3.1 Bear Harbor
6.2 Return to Needle Rock Visitor Center
Table of Contents
Redwood Coast Trails Table
The Redwood Coast Map
Using Top Trails
Introduction to Location
On the Trail
- Big Hendy Loop
- Montgomery Woods Trail
- Fern Canyon & Pygmy Forest Loop
- Chapman Point & Spring Ranch Headlands
- Big River Haul Road
- Mendocino Headlands
- Russian Gulch Loop
- Point Cabrillo Light Station
- Ecological Staircase Trail
- Chamberlain Creek Falls Loop
- Ten Mile Beach
- Needle Rock to Bear Harbor
- Needle Rock to Whale Gulch
- Hidden Valley to Nicks Camp
- Black Sands Beach to Gitchell Creek
- Lightning Trail to King Peak
- Mattole River to Sea Lion Gulch
- Lost Coast Headlands Trails
- Franklin K. Lane Loop
- Stephens Grove Loop
- Nature Trail Loop
- Founders Grove & Mahan Loop
- Rockefeller Grove Loop
- Big Tree Loop
- Big Tree & Homestead Loop
- Bull Creek Flats & Big Tree Loop
- Allens Trail
- High Rock River Trail
- Girdled Tree
- Drury-Chaney Loop
- Cheatham Grove
- Elk River Trail
Redwood National Park & Vicinity
- Trinidad Head Loop
- Agate Beach & Rim Trails
- Stone Lagoon
- Redwood Creek Trail
- Lady Bird Johnson Grove
- Tall Trees Grove
- Emerald Ridge Loop
- Dolason Prairie Trail
- Lyons Ranch Loop
- Coastal Trail: Skunk Cabbage Section
- Trillium Falls Loop
- Fern Canyon Loop
- Irvine & Miners Loop
- Big Tree Loop
- Brown Creek Loop
- West Ridge & Prairie Creek Loop
- Hope Creek & Ten Taypo Creek Loop
- Ossagon Trail
Del Norte Coast Redwoods
- Coastal Trail: Hidden Beach to Klamath Overlook
- Yurok Loop & Hidden Beach
- Damnation Creek Trail
- Coastal Trail: Crescent Beach Overlook to Enderts Beach
Jedediah Smith Redwoods
- Boy Scout Tree Trail
- Stout Grove Loop
- Leiffer & Ellsworth Loop
- Simpson-Reed & Peterson Loop
- Myrtle Creek Trail
Appendix 1: Top-Rated Trails
Appendix 2: Campgrounds & RV Parks
Appendix 3: Hotels, Lodges, Motels, & Resorts
Appendix 4: Major Organizations
Appendix 5: Useful Resources
Author and Series Creator