Mendocino National Forest is in the Coastal Mountain Range in northwestern California. It covers 913,306 acres (3,696 km²). There is a variety of recreational opportunities — camping, hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, backpacking, boating, fishing, hunting, nature study, photography, and off-highway vehicle travel.
The forest includes four wilderness areas:
- Sanhedrin Wilderness - 10,571 acres (42.78 km²)
- Snow Mountain Wilderness — 60,076 acres (243.12 km²)
- Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness — 180,877 acres (731.98 km²) (partly in Trinity NF, Six Rivers NF)
- Yuki Wilderness - 53,887 acres (218.07 km²)
Lake Pillsbury is the largest recreational lake in the forest at 2,280 acres (9.2 km²) and offers boat ramps, camping and resorts.
Letts Lake, southeast of Lake Pillsbury is 35 acres (140,000 m²) in size and has hiking trails, campgrounds and is close to trailheads into Snow Mountain Wilderness.
Other lakes include Plaskett Lakes in the middle of the forest, Howard, Hammerhorn, Square and Long Lakes near Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness in the northern portion.
- Mendocino National Forest, Office: 825 N. Humboldt Ave., Willows, ☏ .
The tule elk is one of the largest land mammals native to California, with cows weighing up to 350 lb (160 kg), and the largest bulls weighing roughly 500 pounds. Hunted to near extinction during the state's gold rush era, the animals were reintroduced to the Lake Pillsbury Basin in the late 1970s by the California Department of Fish and Game, and the herd has steadily grown, numbering around 80 in 2007.
The elk live on the north shore of the lake at the bottom of Hull Mountain, and enjoy wild clovers and grasses, along with the green summer and fall foliage around Lake Pillsbury's edges. Mendocino National Forest and Los Padres National Forest are the only two national forests in California to have tule elk.
It is the only national forest in the state of California without a major paved road entering it.
It is 133 mi (214 km) NW of Sacramento. Take Interstate 5 northwest to Willows, then west on Route 162.
Fees and permits
There is a 10-day elk hunting season beginning on the second Wednesday in September each year.
Be on the watch for wildfires. Between late July and early September 2018, the Mendocino Complex Fire burned approximately 284,000 acres (1,150 km²) in the southern portion of the forest, or around one-third of the forest's total area. The burned area included the entire Snow Mountain Wilderness.
Originating as 38 separate fires started by lightning on August 16 and 17, 2020, the August Complex Fire became the largest wildfire in California history. The fire was primarily burning through the Mendocino National Forest, and grew to over 1,026,000 acres.