Written by Benjamin Fordham
The road to Shelter Cove isn’t so much a back road as it is the only road into and out of this tiny seaside village. Winding and narrow, this 23-mile stretch is more like a roller coaster you can drive you’re car on than a road, but it’s well worth it the trip.
The Shelter Cove road takes you straight into the heart of the fabled Lost Coast. Beginning in Redway, the road travels through some beautiful shady redwood groves and crosses over the South Fork of the Eel River. From there, it’s a windy climb up through the hills. This is classic Southern Humboldt wilderness, with green hills, scenic meadows, and Douglas fir forests.
As the road winds onward, and upward, it begins to offer some spectacular views of the King Range National Conservation Area. Shrouded in a hazy blue, this is a truly special and untouched part of the world. While not specifically mountains (the tallest point, King Peak, stands at just over 4,000 feet), the range is still a n impressive wilderness of over 60,000 acres, and is home to bald eagles, peregrine falcon, black bear, and Roosevelt elk.
Shortly after the turnoffs to Whitethorn and Ettersburg, the road slowly begins to descend toward the ocean in a series of dramatic switchbacks. As the road continues, this is where the real payoff starts. The Pacific Ocean begins to come into view, seemingly out of nowhere. This is when you realize you are in the middle of one of the most truly beautiful places in the world.
Just 230 miles north of San Francisco, Shelter Cove is one of the most isolated places in the state. When you arrive in town and see the sheer cliff faces falling into the ocean on all sides, you can see why when the builders of Highway 1 reached the Lost Coast, they decided to go around. This is why the 1 travels inward to Leggett south of the Lost Coast, leaving the area as the longest undeveloped stretch of coastline in California. Aside from the Shelter Cove road, the only way into town is by way of the one-lane airport.
Once you arrive in Shelter Cove, there’s plenty to do. Visit one of the popular beaches for some surfing or playing, do some salmon or snapper fishing, or check out the world-class tidepools. Do some whale watching, or check out the abundant see life that includes brown pelicans and otters. Have a picnic at Seal Rock Picnic Area or Abalone Point. If golf is your thing, there is a 9-hole course right in town.
After all that, you’ll probably be hungry, so stop by Mario’s Bar and Grill for some fish and chips or get some Dungeness crab puffs at The Cove restaurant. There are plenty of places to stay the night in this resort community, including the Tides Inn, Spyglass Inn, and the Inn of the Lost Coast. In the morning, rested and refreshed, head back the winding path to the real world, left to dream about your next trip back to this paradise in our back yard.