Please Don’t Try Usal Road Right Now, Says Local


Usal in the summer. [Photo by Thewellman]

Usal Road, an extremely rural route that runs near the coast and that sometimes can be gated, is being suggested to travelers coming from the north as a way to avoid the slide blocking Hwy 101 north of Leggett.

According to Kelly McGittigan, a resident of Whale Gulch, “[J]ust today my boyfriend and I have had to turn around 3 cars trying to get south on Usal Road, and yesterday one of my customers at Whitethorn towed a Honda Civic off Usal that had gotten stuck.”

We have also heard of an RV that had to be towed off the road after getting stuck.

Though there is often a gate across Usal Road, McGittigan isn’t sure whether it is closed or not because, as she says, “I can’t even get that far down that road.”



  • Please you might have a chance to make it in the dry of summer but notnow when i was young my father worked for mendo co roads he kept the road open year round that was back in sixtys no body does enything now another good reasons to keep usal road open u never know when you might need it .

  • Please listen folks!!!

    GPS DOES NOT WORK WELL HERE, DONT FOLLOW IT!!!! People have been getting stuck on backroads all winter from bad gps directions.
    There are many areas, especially on the lost coast, where there is NO cel service.
    Really listen folks, when locals say its not a viable route, ITS NOT.
    We’re not making it up just to stop people from being on the road. It takes away from our public resources that we pay for when people drive these roads and then need assistance. We end up paying for the roads to get fixed too. Being stuk in the middle of nowhere in the dark where theres nothing close to a streetlight&no cel service sux worse than going around, really.

    Usal road is so not passable and you are literally endangering your life to try to drive it. If those of us who live here dont drive it why would anyone else.

    Heres the hard truth,
    There is no viable route around, accept it and go to the 5.
    Its nature, shift happens. Its out of your control, out of all our control, you cant change it. It sucks and makes things hard, if you can change appointments or whatever, do that. So you have to postpone something, so what, nature is reminding us she’s in control.
    You can hire a local small plane pilot if you absolutely have to be there quick. We have multiple air fields in the county. Or pay the 600 to fly into arcata on short notice, which really sux.
    I know people have good reasons to get through, but sometimes we have to just be patient.
    We all survived back when confusion hill closed the 101 for over a week.
    Does CHP really have to sit at the ends of this road too?

    • Good advise, but it’s not ‘the 101’. It’s just plain ‘101 or hwy 101. (LA) Also, people that ride bicycles are not ‘Bikers’. Thank You –

    • Life time local

      Ya except they allowed traffic over bell springs then and rocked the road… there was no chp blockade !

  • Usal road is 31.9 miles from Shelter Cove Road to Hwy 1. On a nice dried road it takes 3 hrs and 15 minutes. The gate in closer to Hwy 1, near the campground. I would tell costumers to go with a full tank of gas and a packed lunch.

    • And 4 wheel drive with LOTS of clearance! Even in the summer.

      I met a couple of tourists yesterday in the Kings Range that were trying to take a short cut to get to a hiking trail. I was on a motorcycle and told them their VW wagon wasn’t going to make it any further. They drove 100 yards to where they could see where the road was washed out, turned around and went back the way they came. I’m surprised they made it back out frankly. The road is terrible and it had to be hard on the car!

      The Usal is signed so drivers are warned, they just don’t think it applies to them.

      Maps and Google will show a road exists but they don’t show how bad it can get.

    • The road is not maintained over the winter that I know of and this has been one of the worst winters yet.

    • Lefthanded Lunatics

      And a sleeping bag, and some water, a coleman stove, groceries, a tent and a compass, a satellite phone, some flares….

  • With the weather we have had this winter even if this road was maintained by the county of Mendocino, it would be unusable. My frickin driveway is almost unusable. Usal road has not been “punched through” yet this year. You would need a winch, chainsaws, comealongs, a small dozer, and a lot of coffee. Forget about it, if it could be done, I would be using it.

  • Usal road (now) has a gate (on both ends), which remains
    closed until the rains stop.

    If a car is on that road either somebody has developed a ‘way’
    around it… or somebody has opened/destroyed the gate.

  • What about a lifted jeep with mud tires, lockers ect?

  • In a place like Humboldt DON’T USE GPS in or near any mountain roads. Most are not maintained,and are dirt and ruts. GPS doesn’t tell you road conditions,it should ,it would be helpful.

  • Being showed in and having all my critical infrastructure pushed to the edge this January I got online to see what I really need to be built for. I thought it was going to be 1964, it was actually 1861 This winter wasn’t even a drip compared and we are at each others throats? Try no food. This should be a wake up call, relying on the kindness of Hwy 36 to save your ass is not wise.

  • Muddy Black Dodge

    I’ve been stuck out there

  • >”What about a lifted jeep with mud tires, lockers ect?”

    That would be easy. Especially if you had a chain saw to take out downed trees.

    Some people used to use the road for ‘recreational’ 4×4’s in the past.
    Popular spot for taking ‘adventure’ bikes through too.

    Even in the ‘old’ days most anyone in a 4×4 pickup with mud tires could make it through. In some spots there were deep mud holes… there was a pretty big one about 1/2 way through the road. In winter time the ruts got filled in by small logs to allow passage.

    IMHO: That mud hole would be the only one that was a challenge.

    Mendo county re-graded the road about 5 years ago (?)…
    then they put in the gates.

    Don’t know if it was to ‘preserve’ the road… or because people were dumping garbage (and cars) out there… or both.

  • People who don’t live in rural areas, or who think of places like Sebastopol as”rural,”, rely too much on GPS and online map services. Not knocking them, or these things; I’ve seen GPS and a sophisticated Garmin work splendidly in crazed Bay Area traffic. But obviously, the North Coast is a whole different universe. The worst thing about GPS is that people learn to rely on it and can’t even figure out how to look at a paper map. If they used an old-fashioned state road map bought at the gas station, they wouldn’t even see Usal Road — so they’d stay out of trouble.

  • I used to work the front desk at the King Range office, and people would come in asking if the Usal Road was passable (when the gate was unlocked). I would tell them, “It might be possible, but only if you have two high clearance 4X4 vehicles equipped with winches to pull each other out of the mud holes, a chainsaw to clear the fallen trees and a survival kit with flashlight, batteries, food and space blankets. Then you might just make it. If you don’t, there is no cell service.”

    Mostly, their faces fell and they decided against it. But at least they got the truth.

    • Of course, some of us drive it, with those supplies, just for fun. I haven’t been down there in a while though, and I certainly wouldn’t use it as part of a detour around 101 – it’ll take longer than going out to I5. As 4×4 trails go, it’s not particularly bad. But that’s what it is this time of year – a 4×4 trail, not a road. Treating it as a road will only lead to unhappiness.

  • Me and my family just came back today from needle Rock after camping all weekend and I had to turn back a SUV full of old terrorists, they said Google told them they could go usal to Highway 1. I wonder if Google could be sued when someone got lost in the middle of nowhere trying to follow their stupid Maps?

  • When did people start acting like babies in humbolt? This is the frontier the road is perfect for what it is my truck had no problem. If you are not equipped to deal with living off the grid in the mountains then don’t attempt it. And when bad things happen don’t blame anyone but your own self. Did you buy a Prius? Stay on the pavement

    • I am planning on driving from Seattle to San Diego next month. I was looking forward
      to Usal Rd. I will keep checking this site, would like to do as much as possible before
      heading over to 101. Thanks everyone.
      Oh, it will be 20 May when I hit that stretch.

  • How about a adventure motercycle with 80-20 tires that are more street tire than heavy knobs?

  • Gps took us this way, started out fine and slowly got worse. Ended up bottoming out 17 times, cried twice, and turned around after 7 miles. It was as close to hell as I could imagine. Wish I saw this forum ahead of time, FML. Through the good times and the Usal.

  • Wife and I are coming up Friday morning… has the road been graded/punched through yet? we have a lifted 4runner, so we’re not worried about too much. I noticed that most of these posts are from April…

  • Just took Usal Rd (CR 431) from Shelter Cove to Highway 1. I ride an XR650 with 70/30 (street/dirt) tires and made it through no problem. There’s a sign at the beginning that says “no through traffic” or something like that, but with the right vehicle it’s doable.

    Squeezing a smaller SUV through there seems like it could be done. The mud isn’t too bad, but there are still 3 or 4 areas that are pretty rutted out and don’t seem dry yet. Deepest ruts I saw were about a foot, so best to try and take em off center I suppose. On my dual sport I just rode through the middle, so no issues there. The road does get narrow at points, maybe 7 feet wide in a few areas.

    I did see a baby mountain lion halfway through, so I upped the pace out of fright. Took me 2 hours and 15 minutes with a few stops to get all the way through.

    It’s slow going at first, but as you get the hang, you’ll get moving. There are some flatter and wider parts of the road so you can really open it up, but the road conditions can change quickly so keep your eyes peeled.

    There’s no cell service so take everything you need in case shift happens. I didn’t see anyone until Usal Campground. Will definitely ride through again!

  • returned from usal road trip on june 30. went from highway one to shelter cove/four corners. rented a ford expedition and did just fine. had never driven that road before but glad i had a four wheel drive vehicle as i had to use 4 low.

  • Here’s a fun shot of my novice, poorly planned attempt on the Usal a couple years ago- had to be “rescued” after 12 hours. Took my wife and kids up to see how beautiful it is. (Now I have a Rubicon with a winch and emergency supplies… and some PTSD). Been back once since with the Rubicon- no worries- and planning the next trip now.

    • Wow…what time of year? May I use that photo to make an icon for bad roads.

      • Ha! It was Easter weekend, ’15. CHP couldn’t even get to us, broke the 4×4 tryin. Felt like an idiot when I called the local towing guy on Easter Sunday for help- he was super nice and helpful thank goodness. And charged me half what he charged the CHP to tow there “rescue” rig out. We got picked up in the middle of the night by some coast guard folks in a Jeep trying to take a “shortcut” to Eureka from Alameda…

  • I did the stretch from Highway 1 to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, where the road was unfortunately gated, in early December. Driving in a stock 2010 Subaru Outback with manual transmission (though no transfer case) and factory tires, I never came anywhere close to the car’s limits on that stretch in either direction. Spectacular drive in fact, though it would probably have been much harder if the road was wet/muddy, and it’s definitely not something to try with a 2WD car even when dry.

  • I am thinking about this road mid May 2018. I need to get someone to SFO so not on the way down, but on my way home. Have Jeep will travel, a stock Rubicon at the moment, but should have some recovery gear mounted by then.

  • The portion of this gem that begins in the north off Briceland Road and Highway 1 in the south, is 22 miles of four wheel drive trail masquerading as a legitimate street-legal road. It has all the R’s: Roots, Rocks, and Ruts. God help the adventurous dad with family in tow that mistakes this line on the map as a shortcut to be driven in his 2 wheel drive Toyota Prius. Just did the trek on my dual sport from north to south. By myself. First time ever on this road. Kinda thought to myself I should’ve had someone come along after the first few miles. It’s out there, man. Loved it though. Will do it again.

  • I got stuck out there in a Volvo XC90 in January 2017. A local guy named Val towed us out – he was amazing! The previous time I visited there, I hiked the whole road! It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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