The Wilderness act of 1984 established 23 new wilderness areas including the 37,000-acre Snow Mountain Wilderness in the Mendocino National Forest. The Snow Mountain Wilderness straddles the summit of the North Coast Range within Colusa, Glenn and Lake counties. The area is less than a four-hour drive from San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and Sacramento.
The central feature of this wilderness is the large broad topped Snow Mountain, which drains water toward the Sacramento River on the east and the Eel River Basin on the west. Elevations range from 1,800 feet in the gorge of the Middle Fork of Stony Creek to 7,056 feet on the summit of East Snow Mountain Peak. The deep canyons skirting the Wilderness compress ecological life zones creating a unique biological sky-island.
Forty miles of trail are located in the wilderness. This leaves a vast amount of acreage very remote and highly conducive to cross-country exploration. The moderate hike to the top of East Peak affords visitors a magnificent view of the Sacramento Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, Clear Lake to the southwest, the Coastal Mountains to the west, and the timbered mountains of the Mendocino National Forest to the North.
Good drinking water is scarce in the Snow Mountain Wilderness during much of the summer. Plan ahead and refill canteens at every opportunity. Mountain streams may look inviting but they may not be safe for drinking. Treat all water for drinking and cooking by either processing through a portable water filter or by boiling over a portable cook stove.
At a Glance
You must obtain a California Campfire Permit if you plan to build a campfire or use a stove, unless you are in a developed recreation area (campground or picnic area).
Permits are available free-of-charge at offices of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Individual Use Permits are not required to enter the Wilderness areas on the Mendocino National Forest, although we suggest you sign in at the trail heads. Also check with the nearest Ranger Station before going, to obtain current information and weather conditions on the area. Maximum group size is 25 people/25 stock animals.
Wilderness travel is limited to foot or horseback - NO gliders, bicycles, motorized vehicles, or mechanized equipment of any kind are allowed within the wilderness areas. Wheelchairs are allowed.
Vegetation in the Snow Mountain Wilderness ranges from chaparral on the low elevation slopes to black oak and mixed conifer at the mid-elevations. In the crest zone, thick stands of true fir, weather-shaped Jeffrey pine and incense cedar exist around natural openings of bare rock and erosion pavement. At the dry lower slopes hikers will find scattered patches of lupine, golden eardrops, coyote mint and Indian paintbrush. As hikers progress up, they will encounter scattered moist meadows and streams, which are accented by scarlet and yellow monkey flowers and other colorful moist-site herbs. As they reach the exposed rocky ridges, wild buckwheat, penstemon, wild onion, purple monkey flowers and pussy paws are more common.
The rocks that constitute Snow Mountain were originally formed during the Mesozoic era and are composed of sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, shale, and thin beds of chert.After the formation of the rocks, mountain building forces deformed and faulted the rocks into their present position. The lower flanks of the Snow Mountain area consist of sedimentary rocks, while the upper portions of the mountain consist of greenstone. In addition to these rocks, small amounts of serpentinite are found, which may be remnants of the original ocean crust or may be later intrusions along the fault plane.The north slopes on the upper elevations of the wilderness underwent glaciation during the Pleistocene era, which created small, flat meadows. Today some of these areas are wet with abundant vegetation, while others are dry and sparsely vegetated.