(population around 800) is the main settlement on the Lost Coast, and the 23 mile access road is relatively good, starting from Redway near US 101 and following a wooded valley for most of the way, but the two roads to Petrolia, though still paved, are rather more challenging and spectacular. The northern route (29 miles) is Mattole Road
, starting at the historic Victorian town of Ferndale
, at the south edge of the lower Eel River valley.
This climbs a wooded hillside and right from the start is narrow, steep and bumpy, the surface in a bad state of repair. It curves through the forest across gullies and around hills, runs along a ridge for a few miles then emerges from the trees into open, undulating farmland, giving fine views over the King Range and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean far below. Next is a short but extremely steep descent, down 1,000 feet over two miles via several 10 mph bends to the tiny village of Capetown
, along the Bear River; after crossing the river, the road climbs again through more woods to the top of the next ridge, crossing more deserted farmland and descending the far side of the hill to Cape Mendocino
, site of a coast guard reservation. For 6 miles south the road is right along the coastline, passing a continuous dark sand beach strewn with large rocks. There are no houses at all here, but plenty of pull-outs and beach access points, maybe suitable for free camping. The road eventually turns inland, over less steep land towards Petrolia, which has a general store, inn, post office and a single pump gas station. The Lost Coast access is via the 5 mile Lighthouse Road
, part paved, part gravel, alongside the wooded banks of the Mattole River and out to a camping/parking area at the edge of Mattole Beach. Back in Petrolia, the road is fairly wide and level as it continues southeast beside the river, to the next small town, Honeydew
, where a lengthy, winding route heads south and links with the road to Shelter Cove. The other road out of Honeydew turns north, and provides the quickest way back to US 101; this is still Mattole Road, and soon has another very steep and twisting ascent, up 1,500 feet over the first three miles then is fairly level for the next few miles along a high, wooded ridge. It enters Humboldt Redwoods State Park
and becomes generally wider, the curves slightly less sharp, though still quite winding as the highway makes a steady, continuous descent to the valley of Bull Creek
, where the first redwoods appear. The remaining 7 miles to US 101 are level though rather narrow in a few places, especially through the main redwood forest (Roosevelt Grove) near the east end.
The Lighthouse Road from Petrolia to Mattole Beach ends at a small, BLM-managed primitive campground, which is apt to be full at busy times of the year, is regularly patrolled by rangers and requires a fee of $8 per night, so this is not quite the tranquil, regulation-free location that might be expected, but the site is pleasant enough. A narrow range of sand dunes keeps the ocean out of sight but not out of hearing, as big, booming waves constantly crash against the beach just beyond. Beside the campground is the day use parking lot, rest rooms, trailhead and information board with camp rules, maps, tide tables and various warning notices, particularly regarding the dangers of being cut off by the tide along some sections of the Lost Coast Trail, which heads south along the coast all the way to Shelter Cove. Mattole Beach campground also has tables, drinking water and fire rings, with plenty of driftwood available for burning. Dispersed primitive camping is allowed anywhere along the beach, with a (free) permit.
Description of the first five miles of the Lost Coast Trail
are the only nearby towns with chain hotels.