Modoc National Forest

Modoc National Forest is named after the county in which most of the land resides, Modoc County. The county’s name originates from the Modoc Native Americans who settled this beautiful land of ponderosa pines, volcanic lakes, and wild horses. Considered one of California’s most peaceful forests (next to Mendocino Nation Forest, which has no highways or paved roads intersecting it), Modoc is regarded as a quiet refuge with a much different atmosphere from the hustle and bustle of the Sierra Nevada territories next to it. In fact, a backpacker can expect to go days without seeing another person in parts of Modoc.

The weather of Modoc can be unpredictable. Some winters are mild while others may be one blizzard after another, with weeks at a time spent below zero. In addition, the forest is somewhat dry, with Modoc County receiving about 14 inches of rain per year on average (The United States Average is 38 inches). Most of the total precipitation occurs in the heavy winters, where Modoc receives about 34 inches of snow per year (The United States average is 28 inches of snow). Summer temperatures in Modoc typically hover in the seventies and eighties.

Snow in a forest - the weather in Modoc National Forest can be unpredictable!
Be prepared, the weather in Modoc National Forest can be upredictable! -Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

About Modoc National Forest

Modoc measures 4,000 feet above sea level to 9,906 feet from valley to peak, providing some vertically challenging hikes along with mild and easy ones that keep to the flowery, open valleys below. You can expect to navigate a sunny sea of mahogany, pines, and junipers, about 43,400 acres of which have been identified as pure old-growth forest. These evergreen thickets fill the woods with a sweet, calming scent worthy of several good deep breaths. The Devil’s Garden Plateau comprises 300,000 acres of western juniper, possibly the largest juniper forest in the world!

Making your way through the valleys towards Devil’s Garden may spot horses roaming freely. These are the famed wild horses of the area, whose ancestry traces all the way back to when the first horses were brought to California and some were either released or escaped. If you are an equestrian interested in adoption, believe it or not, these wild horses are sometimes rounded up and put up for adoption to good homes. For information on currently available wild horses, contact or call 866-468-7826.

History of the Forest

This forest was established in 1904 by The General Land Office, although it was slightly smaller then, as Warner Mountains National Forest was not added to Modoc until 1908, creating The South Warner Wilderness Area. Today, the land sees about 6,000 visitors every year.

The Modoc Nation, historically known as The Modoc Tribe, has inhabited Northeast California and Central Southern Oregon for thousands of years. They are one of two federally recognized tribes in the area, The Klamath Tribe being their neighbor for which Klamath National Forest is named.

The wild horses that live in Modoc National Forest are occasionally rounded up for adoption – Image by Steppinstars from Pixabay

Ranger Districts

Modoc has implemented a virtual phone service to answer most general questions at 530-233-5811, however, you may ask to speak to a forest representative at the supervisor’s office or any of the four designated ranger districts that oversee passes, permits, regulations, and general land management:

Supervisor’s Office
Phone: (530) 233-5811
225 West 8th Street
Alturas, California 96101

Big Valley Ranger District
Phone: (530) 299-3215
508 South Main Street
Adin, CA 96006

Devil’s Garden Ranger District
Phone:  (530) 233-5811
225 West 8th Street
Alturas, CA 96101

Doublehead Ranger District
Phone: (530) 667-2246
49870 State Hwy 139
Tulelake, CA 96134

Warner Mountain Ranger District
Phone:  (530) 279-6116
710 Townsend St.
Cedarville, CA 96104

The forest service invites visitors to keep in touch by following their Official Facebook Page. Stay up to date on current findings and programs in the forest, wildlife and geology news, and fun volunteer projects.

Recreation in Modoc National Forest

Are you an amateur geologist, or do you just enjoy shiny things? Either way, At Modoc National Forest, you are welcome to pan for gold, hunt for mineral deposits, and go metal detecting! Visitors find and keep obsidian, petrified wood, and gemstones all the time. Just make sure you’re in the correct areas to do so by calling the Forest Minerals Personel at the Supervisor’s Office first.

If you’re looking for a beautiful, natural beach for swimming and sandcastles, you don’t have to drive all the way to the coast. Visit Medicine Lake’s breathtaking freshwater cove. Surrounded by thick, songbird-laden woods, Medicine Lake provides visitors with their own swimming area roped off from boaters. Set out your beach chair here to enjoy the sun, the shade, and the gentle lapping of the sapphire waves.

Not interested in rocks or water? (First of all, how is that possible?) Don’t worry, there’s so much more to do at Modoc, it would take a lifetime to try it all! From snowshoeing to hunting, camping, hiking, biking, and riding, you can find your outdoor muse somewhere in this enchanting forest. Look for your favorite outdoor hobby here and find more information on activities and available campsites!

Snowshoeing through snow - Modoc National Forest is a great place for this.
Into snowshoeing? Modoc National Forest is a great place for that! – Image by Beatrice Schmuki from Pixabay

Wilderness Areas

South Warner Wilderness contains the highest peaks in Northeast California, making this picturesque area a very attractive destination for photographers. You an view several counties in California and Nevada from these tremendous, sun-soaked peaks of snow and mountain meadows. You may also see trails of riding horses escorting visitors up and down the mountain, along with multiple songbird species and bighorn sheep. Sound like paradise? It really is!

The USDA wants wilderness area visitors to be aware of certain standards of conduct, such as how to plan your trip, what to pack, what to wear, and how to make sure you aren’t carrying any foreign seeds into the wilderness area. For more information on these important guidelines for keeping both visitors and forests safe, click here.

Visit Modoc National Forest

Whether you’re on a quest to spot some wild horses, hunt for gold, or get in some quality time with your snowboard, Modoc National Forest is a one-stop scenic source for any city-dweller who just needs a break in nature. Want the calming effects of nature, but don’t want to leave your car? That’s doable too, with scenic byways such as the ones illustrated in handouts from each of the four Visitor’s Centers.

Stay up to date with the latest road conditions and permit requirements with this Alerts and Notices Page from the USDA, and save  to your reading list so you’ll always have a quick and easy connection to all of America’s national forests.

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-By Heaven Morrow

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