Mendocino National Forest

Located only 3 hours from San Francisco, Mendocino National Forest is 913,306 acres of pure, silent California wilderness. As the only national forest in the state that isn’t crossed by any highway, interstate, or paved roads whatsoever, it has become known as a place of perfect solitude and quiet in the midst of an otherwise busy collection of cities.

The forest is 65 miles by 35 miles, which is somewhat small compared to other national forests, but also contributes to the inclusive, cozy atmosphere of gentle lakeshores and tranquil redwoods. You can expect to be surrounded by a seemingly endless number of fir species as well as diverse oak forests and grasslands.

Lakeshore - Mendocino National Forest features several beautiful lakes
When it comes to peaceful lakes, Mendocino National Forest is hard to beat – Photo by Uniq Trek on Unsplash

About Mendocino National Forest

Although it doesn’t offer hundreds of miles to trek horizontally, the forest does hold a beautiful array of vertical challenges. The lowest elevation point is in Grindstone Creek Canyon at 750 feet above sea level. Grindstone Creek is the ‘busy’ recreational area, bustling with four-wheelers and whitewater rafters. If these challenging waters sound fun to you, Grindstone may just be your ideal destination. However, be ready for a class III-IV rafting experience. The waters begin at a steady level II and shift into III as the creek drops into a gorge, steepening the gradient from that point forward into a IV. As an aside, multiple bear and coyote sightings have been reported along these feisty waters! In short, this area is not for the faint of heart

The highest elevation point in the forest is South Yolla Bolly Mountain, which tops out at 8,092 feet. You may also see this mountain being referred to as Mt. Linn, a previous official name that is still sometimes used. In between the raging waters of Grindstone Creek Canyon and the windy peak of Yolla Bolly, the forest’s average is 4,000 feet.

If you’ve ever been to Klamath or Lassen forests, then you already have a good idea as to where Mendocino is located and what its climate is like. Mendocino is the forest directly underneath Klamath and Lassen. Like them, the average summer temperature rarely exceeds 82 degrees. This makes Mendocino one of those popular forests for cooler outdoor enjoyment, even in July and August.

Mendocino’s Natural World

An ever-popular site for naturalists, birders, and photographers, Mendocino offers ample opportunity to view amazing and rare wildlife. The forest is home to several endemic species, that is, creatures that have evolved to live in California and nowhere else. Because of their scarcity and intrinsic link to the natural history of the state, endemic species such as Golden Fairy Lantern, Red Ribbons, and Santa Rosa Brodiaea are an especially magical treat to stumble across. These precious natives are the plants that nourished and healed the ancestral peoples of the redwoods. For example, the Golden Fairy Lantern bulbs were prepared and eaten like potatoes.

Whitewater rafters - Mendocino National Forest offers first-class whitewater
Grindstone Creek in Mendocino National Forest offers first-class whitewater – Image by mjthomas1 from Pixabay

History of Mendocino National Forest

Mendocino was designated as a forest reserve by Roosevelt in 1907, back when it was still called “Stony Creek Forest Reserve.” In 1932, President Herbert Hoover renamed it “Mendocino” after Mendocino County, California.

This forest is not only rich in recreation and resources, but it also offers historically educational sites. Visit these to appreciate life in the days of the Native Americans who thrived off the rivers, big game, and edible plants of the area. Thousands of years ago, the Yuki, Nomlaki Wintu, Eastern Pomo, Northeastern Pomo, and Patwin Wintu tribes owned what is now Mendocino and the surrounding forests. One of the best places to observe traces of these past civilizations today is Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.

This large swath of land, declared a national monument by President Obama in 2015, contains upwards of 1,800 archaeological sites. These sites provide crucial information about California’s distant ancestors.

Ranger Districts

Mendocino is administrated by one supervisor’s office at the forest headquarters and three ranger districts. Give these sources a call anytime between 8:00 pm and 4:30 pm to get answers to any and all forest-related questions, including passes, permits, and current road conditions, for example.

Supervisor’s Office
(530) 934-3316
825 N. Humboldt Ave.
Willows, CA 95988

Upper Lake Ranger District
(707) 275-2361
10025 Elk Mountain Road
Upper Lake, California 95485

Covelo Ranger District
(707) 983-6118
78150 Covelo Road
Covelo, California 95428

Grindstone Ranger District
(530) 934-3316
825 North Humboldt Avenue
Willows, California 95988

A hiking trail - Mendocino National Forest offers several fantastic ones.
Mendocino National Forest offers some fantastic hiking trails – Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Recreation in Mendocino National Forest

Visitors, by far, know Mendocino best for its wildlife viewing attractions. However, this is not to say that scenic trails and interpretive sites are all the forest has to offer. Just like any other national forest, Mendocino offers opportunities for hunting, fishing, camping, swimming, and OHV riding.

Have fun taking your four-wheeler or dirtbike out on Nail Track Play Area (just don’t let the name scare you!) In addition, it is located across the Mill Creek campgrounds. In short, if you’re an OHV enthusiast also looking for a good spot to bed down in the forest, we recommend Mill Creek, located close to the town of Stonyford.

If you’re one of the many naturalists visiting the forest, you absolutely must see the Chico Seed Orchard. This Plant Introduction Field Station is over 100 years old and contains the first exotic fruits that ever entered the U.S. Consequently, these fruit trees are among the oldest in the country and are available to observe and read about at Chico.

If you don’t already know, this Plant Introduction Field Station is where scientists first studied the non-native fruit and vegetable seeds before normalizing it into American farming, back when kiwi’s and pistachios were still a rare and exotic sight. So, through the efforts of this station, we now have an abundance of foreign fruits available in our grocery stores today. Though the site was responsible for studying food plants back in the early 1900s, today it hosts research for forest restoration projects and wildlife recovery.

Two dirtbikes - Mendocino National Forest has a trail designated for this
Nail Track Play Area in Mendocino National Forest is a favorite destination for dirtbikes and four-wheelers – Image by rihaij from Pixabay

Wilderness Areas

Mendocino National Forest helps to manage four designated wilderness areas. In other words, the Forest Service protects these lands from mining, logging, and development — a natural haven for wildlife to thrive undisturbed. To experience the real beauty of California’s virgin wilderness, see any of the following four wildlands:

Yuki Wilderness is 53,887-acres and a namesake of the Yuki Native Americans. It’s a spectacular place for wildlife enthusiasts and birders to get their fill of colorful wildflowers and elusive feathered creatures! For instance, it’s common to spot bald eagles, golden eagles, blue grouse, pileated woodpeckers, hawks, owls, and martens here. In addition to the plumage, one can also expect to catch glimpses of otters, porcupines, elk, foxes, and badgers. This wilderness area does not yet have developed trails running through it; the trek truly is as wild as possible!

Visit Mendocino National Forest

Whether you’re looking for a rough and rowdy time on the rapids or a quiet, scenic escape in one of the peaceful wilderness areas, Mendocino National Forest is a woodland adventure for anyone in need of some outdoor solace.

Stay up to date on Mendocino with the latest Alerts and Notices from the USDA, and save  to your reading list so you’ll always have a quick and easy connection to America’s national forests.

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-By Heaven Morrow

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