King Range National Conservation Area ~ Historic Lighthouses
Photo © Patrick Donnelly
The King Range National Conservation Area is home to two historic lighthouses, Cape Mendocino and Punta Gorda.
Gale force winds, frequent dense fog, shifting treacherous currents, and a rocky headland that juts out to be the western-most point of land along the California coast made Cape Mendocino a critical spot to put a lighthouse. Over 30 ships were wrecked due to the hazards in the area of the cape before a lighthouse was commissioned to warn mariners of the approaching danger. Cape Mendocino Lighthouse began operating on December 1,1868. The United States Coast Guard took control of the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in 1939 when it merged with the United States Lighthouse Service. The light was automated in 1951 and then abandoned in the 1970’s. Then in the mid-1990's, a group of dedicated citizens from southern Humboldt organized the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse Preservation Society. By 1998, this group had raised enough funds to purchase, relocate, and restore the lighthouse from Cape Mendocino to its current location at the BLM-managed Mal Coombs Park in Shelter Cove.
The Punta Gorda Light Station was known as the "Alcatraz of lighthouses" because of its inaccessibility and because Light House Service employees were supposedly exiled there because of misconduct. Supplies were brought in by horseback, mule-drawn wagons, and sleds with wood runners along stretches of the beach, from Petrolia, 10 miles away although occasionally light service tenders would heave to offshore and send small boats with supplies through the surf to the station. The Punta Gorda lighthouse began operating on January 15, 1912. It is believed that Paschal "Pass" M. Hunter was the first Punta Gorda Light Keeper. Unfortunately, Pass Hunter died of heart failure that very same year. His son Perry, became a Keeper when he grew up. The lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 5, 1976. The Fresnel lens and the flag staff pole were removed many years ago to the Maritime Museum in Eureka, California and there are no outbuildings remaining to service the Station.
Cape Mendocino Lighthouse is located at Mal Coombs Park in Shelter Cove. This lighthouse overlooks some of California's most ecologically diverse tide pools. Low tide is the best time to view the tide pools. However, the rocks may be slippery when wet: please use caution.
Punta Gorda Lighthouse is located at the northern end of the King Range NCA. It is a three mile hike from Mattole Campground (six miles round trip). One creek crossing may be difficult during winter months. Springtime provides excellent wildflower viewing opportunities.
Cape Mendocino Lighthouse is operated by a docent group, Cape Mendocino Lighthouse Preservation Society. The lighthouse is open to the public Memorial Day through Labor Day during mid-day.
Punta Gorda Lighthouse is open year-round. May be difficult to access during the rainy season.
Cape Mendocino Lighthouse is ADA accessible.
Punta Gorda Lighthouse is only accessible by hiking or horseback riding along the Lost Coast Trail.
While visiting Cape Mendocino Lighthouse with dogs, owners' should use dog bags provided at Mal Coombs Park to clean up after their dog.
While hiking to Punta Gorda Lighthouse, dogs must be under owners' voice control at all times. Dogs should be in good physical condition as the rugged and steep Lost Coast Trail can be difficult for dogs. Many dog owners provide dog booties for their dogs to protect against paw damage.