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King Range  National Conservation Area

Hikers at King Range National Conservation Area. Bureau of Land Management.
Hikers at King Range National Conservation Area. Bureau of Land Management.
Established: 1970
Location: About 230 miles north of San Francisco and 60 miles south of Eureka California
Size: Covers close to 60,000 acres and extends along 35 miles of the coastline

Special Features

The King Range is a dramatic meeting of land and sea along the California coast. Mountains seem to thrust directly out of the surf, and the highest point at 4,087 feet is only three miles from the ocean. The 35 miles of remote coastline between the mouth of the Mattole River and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is known as California's "Lost Coast."

A Wet, Wild Landscape

King Range is at the edge of the North American tectonic plate, which is being forced upward by the other two offshore plates. These mountains have risen about 66 feet in just the last 6,000 years. Most of the rock is graywacke, a dark gray crumbly sandstone. Contrary to popular belief, the Black Sands Beaches are made up of this rock, and are not volcanic in origin.

Seals, sea lions, and a variety of marine birds inhabit the tide pools and kelp beds along the NCA's shore. California grey whales can be spotted in the winter and spring. Though this is the wettest spot in California, hot dry summers make it too dry to support the redwood forests that surround it on three sides. Nearly 300 species of native and migratory birds have been observed at the King Range, including the northern spotted owl, bald eagle, and coopers hawk. Streams running from the mountains to the ocean provide habitat and spawning grounds for salmon and trout. A herd of Roosevelt Elk roams the area from Chemise Mountain south into Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

The recreation opportunities in the NCA are as diverse as the landscape and wildlife. The Douglas-fir clad peaks attract hikers, hunters, campers, birders, and mushroom collectors, while the coast beckons to anglers, surfers, beachcombers, and abalone divers.


The King Range coastal area has attracted humans for 6,000 years. Village sites, shell middens, and other cultural remains can still be found from the Mattole and Sinkyone tribes, which practiced a seasonal migration along the coastline based on the availability of food sources. They were also extremely skilled in basketry and in creating re-curved bows with simple wooden arrows.

European settlers arrived about 150 years ago and largely wiped out the tribes. Settlers raised cattle and sheep in the area. By the 1940s-50s, mechanized equipment made industrial logging of the area's once largely inaccessible stands of Douglas Fir cost-effective. Clear-cuts and minimal reforestation led to incursions by different tree species, as well as soil erosion from poorly constructed logging roads, higher sediment loads in rivers, flooding, and declines in salmon and steelhead populations.

By the late 1960s, area residents were pushing for protections for King Range. It would become the nation's first National Conservation Area, designated on October 21, 1970.

Management and Threats

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in the process of updating its management plan for the King Range NCA. The BLM released a draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement at the beginning of 2004; both documents are available for review (click here). A final plan is expected in 2005.

A big challenge for BLM in King Range's sustainable management is the area's growing appeal as a tourist attraction. BLM estimates that King Range received about 65,000 "visitor days" in 1973, but 150,000 in 2001. Use of the popular Lost Coast Trail jumped from 1,000 visitor days to 17,000 in the same period, according to the BLM's draft Resource Management Plan (2004). That means more hikers, campers, human waste, and trail and campsite impacts, vandalism, and safety violations.

Other issues include:

* Securing long term protection for approximately 25,000 acres of wilderness study area, which the BLM has recommended that Congress designate as wilderness. Congress has yet to act.

* Securing long term protection for several streams in the management area which BLM found eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation.

* Funding and undertaking the road removal and restoration, and native species restoration.


Bureau of Land Management - King Range 
Environmental Protection Information Center - California
The Wilderness Society - California:415-561-6640

Updated June 2004