5 Things To Do In Mendocino National Forest

Mendocino National Forest is an impressively large wilderness area in the northern part of California. It covers over 900,000 acres and is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. The forest is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a variety of recreational activities.

The Forest is long from north to south – over 60 miles. Across, it is roughly 25 miles wide at most parts. It sits in between Interstate Highway 5 and the famed Pacific Coast Highway, just on the northern tip of California’s wine country.

Many know Mendocino National Forest because of is its hiking trails. The forest has over 150 miles of trails that wind through scenic vistas, waterfalls, and old-growth forests. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just starting out, there’s a trail for every level of difficulty. Visitors can also enjoy camping, fishing, and hunting in designated areas of the forest.

There is a lot to do besides hike at Mendocino National Forest, though. We’ve been there several times, and here are the 5 things we think are worth planning a trip around if you go.


The hiking at Mendocino National Forest is frankly underrated. Lots of people spend weeks planning hiking trips to Tahoe or Yosemite, but overlook the much-less-traveled national forests. With its diverse terrain and breathtaking scenery, you would be crazy to not do at least some hiking if you visit, assuming you are able. Here are some of the best hiking trails to explore:

Snow Mountain Wilderness

Snow Mountain Wilderness offers a challenging hike for experienced hikers. The trailhead starts at the summit of Hull Mountain and descends into the wilderness area. The trail ismendocino national forest approximately 10 miles long and takes around 6-8 hours to complete. It offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Hikers should be prepared for steep climbs and rocky terrain. You will want to be in good hiking shape for this one, and have the right gear to avoid hiking injuries.

Yuki Wilderness

Yuki Wilderness offers a moderate hike for all skill levels. The trailhead starts at the Upper Lake Ranger Station and follows the Middle Fork of Stony Creek. The trail is approximately 6 miles long and takes around 3-4 hours to complete. You’ll get beautiful views of the creek and surrounding forest. You will encounter some elevation gain and lots of rocks. This can be a nice one for a hard trail run if that is your thing

Sanhedrin Wilderness

Sanhedrin Wilderness offers a moderate hike for all skill levels. The trail begins at the Sanhedrin Trailhead and follows the Sanhedrin Ridge. The trail is about 8 miles long and takes around 4-6 hours to complete. It offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. There will be spots of some pretty steep inclines during your hike.

Overall, hiking in Mendocino National Forest is a great way to experience the natural beauty of the area. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just starting out, there’s a trail for everyone to enjoy.


Want to setup a tent, camp kitchen, and live outdoors for a couple days? Camping is a favorite thing to do at Mendocino. All campgrounds provide campers with a table, a fire ring or camp stove, and restrooms. However, not all locations have drinking water, so visitors should bring their own or be prepared to treat water.

Here are some of my go-to camping spots in the Forest.

Lake Pillsbury

Lake Pillsbury campground is located on the east shore of the lake and has 42 campsites. It is a little lower in elevation so a good option for those with altitude issues. This campground is open from mid to late May until the water systems are shut down for the winter in October. It offers a boat ramp, fishing, and swimming opportunities. Visitors can also enjoy hiking and mountain biking on nearby trails.black hills campground

Howard Lake Campground

Howard Lake Campground is situated at an elevation of 6,200 feet and is surrounded by pine trees. It has 12 campsites and is open from mid to late May until the water systems are shut down for the winter in October. This campground offers fishing and hiking opportunities, as well as access to the nearby Howard Lake.

Hammerhorn Lake Campground

Hammerhorn Lake Campground is located at an elevation of 5,200 feet and has 16 campsites. It is open from mid to late May until the water systems are shut down for the winter in October. This campground offers fishing and hiking opportunities, as well as access to nearby trails. A nice feature of this campground is the access to lots of paddling at Hammerhorn Lake.


While the area is not exactly known as a fishing hotbed, you can have some good fishing days throughout Mendocino National Forest. Most of the good fishing spots are mainly centered around tributaries of the long Black Butte River or the large Eel River. The #1 fish people target is Steelhead, but there can also be some decent rainbow trout fishing as well. Most fly-fisherman in the area go to one of three spots:

Eel River

mendocino national forest fishing
Eel, Middle Fork

Eel River is one of the most popular fishing spots in the park. The river is home to a variety of fish species, including steelhead, Chinook salmon, and smallmouth bass. It is a large enough river you anglers can hit it from either the shore, using waders, or by boat. The river is easily accessible from several points in the park.

Eel River – Middle Fork

Middle Fork Eel River is another popular fishing spot in Mendocino National Forest, which flows into the Eel River as you might assume. It is a stretch of the Eel that is particularly narrow so pretty conducive to fly fishing. The river is well-known for its steelhead and trout populations.

Thatcher Creek

Thatcher Creek is a small creek that flows through Mendocino National Forest. The creek is home to a variety of fish species, including rainbow trout and steelhead. It is a nice area to fish if you are shore fishing or using waders.

Scenic Drives

There are some days when you just want to road trip. Whether you are driving a typical car, or lucky enough to have a convertible or motorcycle, there is some nice routing to follow if you want to get an eyeful of the national forest.

Mendocino Pass Road

For those looking for a scenic drive through the Mendocino National Forest, Mendocino Pass Road is a must-see and probably the number one drive. This winding road offers breathtaking views of the forest and surrounding mountains. The road is paved and well-maintained, making it accessible for most vehicles.

Along the way, visitors can stop at various pullouts to take in the stunning scenery and snap photos. The road also passes by several trailheads for those looking to stretch their legs and explore the forest on foot.

Forest Highway 7

Another popular scenic drive in the Mendocino National Forest is Forest Highway 7. This road winds through the heart of the forest, offering visitors a chance to see the diverse flora and fauna up close.

Unlike Mendocino pass road, Forest Highway 7 is unpaved and can be bumpy at times, so it is recommended for vehicles with high clearance. This road will get you to some of the more secluded campsites in the Forest. It can also be a good road to gravel bike, if you are in to that.

Both Mendocino Pass Road and Forest Highway 7 offer visitors a chance to experience the natural beauty of the Mendocino National Forest at their own pace. Whether driving a car or touring on a motorcycle, these scenic routes are sure to impress.

Fire Lookouts

One of the things I see lots of visitors miss is the fire lookouts. The National Forest has a few fire lookouts that give you a good, old-fashioned birds eye view of the area. I definitely recommend doing one or both of the lookouts below, assuming you are able.

There are not the Midwest lookouts that are built on big, high towers, basically on 100 feet of stilts – these are much lower to the ground. They are situated on mountain peaks which is what gives them the impressive views.mendocino national forest

Anthony Peak Lookout

One of the best ways to experience Mendocino National Forest is by visiting one of its fire lookouts. The Anthony Peak Lookout is a great option for those looking to take in stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. You climb up the tower for a panoramic view of the forest and the nearby towns. The lookout is staffed during the summer months, and visitors can chat with the ranger on duty to learn more about the history of the area.

Hull Mountain Lookout

Hull Mountain Lookout is another popular destination for visitors to Mendocino National Forest. You will be treated to great views of the surrounding forest and is a great spot for nature lovers and photographers. You can hike up to the tower or drive up the road to the top. The lookout is staffed as well, so you can ask plenty of questions if you are curious about the area.

Both Anthony Peak Lookout and Hull Mountain Lookout offer visitors a unique perspective on the beauty and majesty of Mendocino National Forest. Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike or a leisurely drive, these fire lookouts are sure to provide an unforgettable experience. Don’t miss them.

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