About the Forest

Square Lake in Yolla Bolly Middle Eel Wilderness

The only one of California's 18 national Forests not crossed by a paved road or highway, the Mendocino National Forest is especially attractive to people seeking an outdoor experience of tranquility and solitude. It is comprised of 913,306 acres and is approximately 65 miles long and 35 miles wide. The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument was established in 2015 and lies on the southern part of the forest. 

Elevations in the Forest range from 750 feet in the Grindstone Creek Canyon in the Sacramento Valley foothills on the Forest's eastern edge to the 8,092 feet of South Yolla Bolly Mountain in the northern part of the Forest. The average elevation is about 4,000 feet.


Thousands of years before pioneer explorers from the eastern United States entered the area, five Native American peoples lived off its bounty - the Yuki, Nomlaki Wintu, Patwin Wintu, Eastern Pomo, and Northeastern Pomo. Archaeological artifacts and records from more than 1,800 sites have told us a number of things about the distant past of these peoples, but we have much more to learn.

Man on horsepack leading a mule train down the trail.Between 1850 and 1900, many small sawmills operated within what are now the Forest Boundaries. Mining also played a role in the history of the area. Copper City and Pacific City, now just place names on the map, were mining communities before the turn of the century. Most mining activity was limited to exploration for copper in the late 1800's, completely disappearing before 1900. During World War II, responding to the needs of the war industry, miners re-entered the Forest to do exploratory digging for manganese and chrome.

The minerals that attracted most people, however, were the ones dissolved in waters of the Forest's gurgling, steaming hot springs. During the early 1900s, visitors would travel many miles to soak up the supposed health benefits of baths in several resorts and spas. You can see remains of three resort hotels, mineral baths, and a bottling plant for mineral water at Bartlett Flats. Fouts Springs, Hough Springs, and Allen Springs also boasted popular resort facilities, although little evidence of their buildings remains.

First set aside as a "forest reserve" by President Roosevelt on February 6, 1907, it was originally named the Stony Creek Forest Reserve and later the California National Forest on July 1, 1908. This designation proved to be confusing with relation to the state itself, and President Herbert Hoover renamed it the Mendocino National Forest on July 12, 1932. Mendocino takes its name from Mendocino County which was named for Cape Mendocino in Humboldt County. In 1542 explorer Roderiques de Cabrillo named the cape in honor of Don Antonio de Mendoza, first viceroy of New Spain.

Forest Overview

The Mendocino National Forest is divided into three Ranger Districts: Covelo, Grindstone, and Upper Lake. There are two units managed by the Forest which are not located within the Forest proper, the Chico Seed Orchard and Lake Red Bluff Recreation Area. Four Wilderness areas which are partly or wholly managed by the Mendocino National Forest are the 37,679-acre Snow Mountain Wilderness, the 147,070-acre Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, the 53,887 acre Yuki Wilderness, and the 10,571 acre Sanhedrin Wilderness.

[Photograph] Snow covered ridge.Grindstone Ranger District has both the highest and lowest points on the Forest (Mount Linn, in the Yolla Bolly - Middle Eel Wilderness at 8092 feet and Grindstone Creek at 720 feet as it leaves the Forest). It also shares the other two Districts' highest points.

Covelo Ranger District's highest point is Solomon Peak (7581 feet) in the Yolla Bolly - Middle Eel Wilderness on the District Boundary with Grindstone Ranger District; the lowest points are at 1480 feet, where the Middle Fork Eel and Black Butte Rivers leave the Forest near their confluence.

Upper Lake Ranger District's highest point is Snow Mountain West (7038 feet) in the Snow Mountain Wilderness, on the District Boundary with Grindstone Ranger District; the lowest point is 1480 feet, where Elk Creek leaves the Forest.

The waters of the Mendocino flow to the Pacific Ocean, westward through the Eel River system, and eastward through the Sacramento River system to San Francisco Bay.

All of the Ranger Districts have a wide variety of wildflowers that bloom at various times through spring and summer: California poppy, penstemon, shooting stars, wild iris, milkweed, Indian paintbrush, buttercups, dogwood, wild lilac, and many varieties of lupine. Vegetation types include mixed conifer forests, oak woodlands and savannah, chaparral, annual and perennial grass glades, and wet meadows.

A flowering shrub. The Districts also share many species of wildlife in common, including black-tailed deer, black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, skunk, jackrabbits, opossum, badger, gray squirrel, ground squirrel, rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, lizards, toads, pacific tree frog, quail, wild turkey, blue grouse, golden eagle, spotted owl, goshawk, prairie falcon, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, turkey buzzard, scrub jays, woodpeckers and a variety of migratory water and song birds. Upper Lake Ranger District has a small population of tule elk. Salmon and steelhead spawn in streams of the Covelo and Upper Lake Ranger Districts, and rainbow trout, western pond turtle, and yellow-legged frog live in and around many of the streams of each of the three Districts.

Lake Pillsbury, the only sizable lake on the Mendocino National Forest, is a popular attraction on Upper Lake Ranger District. Howard and Hammerhorn Lakes on Covelo Ranger District, and Letts and Plaskett Lakes on Grindstone Ranger District range in size from 3 to 13 acres, and are locally popular for camping and fishing. Yolla Bolly - Middle Eel Wilderness is shared by the Covelo and Grindstone Ranger Districts, and Snow Mountain Wilderness is shared by Grindstone and Upper Lake. Travel times to the major trail heads range from three to six hours from the San Francisco Bay Area, including one to two hours on dirt roads. Both Grindstone and Upper Lake Ranger Districts manage a system of off-highway vehicle trails that are recognized by users and environmentalists as a model for quality, environmentally sound Off-Highway Vehicle recreation.


Chico Seed Orchard

The Chico Seed Orchard is located on 209 acres, in Chico, CA. After the Forest Service acquired the station in 1974, the Center's program gradually changed to developing and producing genetically improved plant material for the reforestation program of the Pacific Southwest Region.

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