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Guide to Mendocino National Forest: FAQs + Activities

Mendocino National Forest has nearly a million acres of wilderness. It offers its visitors remote mountain peaks, lakes, creeks, and hundreds of miles of trails.

If you are planning to visit Mendocino National Forest, this resource will help you. 

On this page, you will find answers to the most common questions about the area (including the bear question) and what activities does the forest offer. 

Is Mendocino National Forest Open?

Mendocino National Forest is open to visitors 24/7 year-round. However, parts of the forest may be closed due to maintenance or fires. For the current status, see this page.

Where is Mendocino National Forest?

Mendocino National Forest is located in northwestern California, just 2.5 hours from Sacramento. It is part of the Californian Coastal Mountain Range. 

How to Access Mendocino National Forest?

There are many ways to access Mendocino National Forest, and the choice depends on your destination.

For example, Lake Pillsbury is accessed from State Route 20. Either via Potter Valley or from Upper Lake.

Another popular way to access the forest is to take State Route 162. This gravel backcountry road cuts through the national forest connecting Interstate 5 and Route 101.

State Route 162 provides access to many campgrounds and trailheads in the area.

Also, Mendocino National Forest is crisscrossed by fire roads open to the public; this creates access even to the most remote areas.

How big is Mendocino National Forest?

Mendocino National Forest is almost a million acres in size (913,306 acres). It is vast and remote. A month is not enough if you want to explore every nook and cranny here. 

Entrance Fees and Permits at Mendocino National Forest

Most activities in the Mendocino National Forest are free. However, some require permits, for example:

  1. Recreational Activities Fees
  2. Campfire Permits
  3. Firewood Permits
  4. Christmas Tree Permits
  5. Forest Product Permits
  6. Special Use Permits

Depending on your plans, you may require a permit to visit the forest. For more detailed information and how to obtain one, see here.

Which is the Nearest Airport to Mendocino National Forest?

The nearest airports to Mendocino National Forest are:

1) Redding Airport: 95 miles (2 hours).

2) Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport (Santa Rosa): 95 miles (2 hours 15 min).

3) Sacramento International: 140 miles (3 hours).

Because of the size of the park, the choice of the airport will depend on your destination. For example, Sonoma County Airport is a lot closer to Lake Pillsbury than Redding Airport. 

What is the Weather in Mendocino National Forest?

The northern California climate dictates the weather in Mendocino National Forest. It is dry and hot in the summer and wet, windy and cool in winter

The hottest months in the park are July and August, with temperatures frequently reaching 100F. These months are also the driest, usually with 0 inches of precipitation.

The winter months are prone to storms that bring a lot of precipitation; temperatures usually stay below 40F.

In Spring, March can be pretty cold and wet, while May is already relatively dry and warm.

In fall, September is still hot, while October brings more and more mild days with some precipitation as temperatures start to drop.

Does it Snow in Mendocino National Forest?

Yes. It snows in Mendocino National Forest, with some peaks getting over 60 inches of powder during winter.

What is the Best Time to Visit Mendocino National Forest?

The best time to visit Mendocino National Forest is in May. By this time, the winter storms end, there is little precipitation, but the temperatures are still mild compared to hot summer months. 

Also, the spring is when the forest wakes up after a long winter; flowers bloom, and wildlife becomes active.

What is the Elevation of Mendocino National Forest?

The average elevation of Mendocino National Forest is 4,000 feet. The lowest point is Grindstone Creek Canyon (750 feet), and the highest point is South Yolla Bolly Mountain, also known as Mt Linn (8,092 feet).

Are Dogs Allowed in Mendocino National Forest?

Yes. Dogs are allowed in Mendocino National Forest. The standard etiquette applies:

  • Keep them on a leash in campgrounds and public areas.
  • Clean up after your pet.
  • At night, let dogs in a tent or a vehicle with you.

Wildlife in Mendocino National Forest

Mendocino National Forest is home to hundreds of wild species, including some rare varieties. For example, you can find spotted owl, northern goshawk, and pacific marten here. 

Also, there is a population of tule elk near Lake Pillsbury. These species almost got extinct during the gold rush.

Are There Bears in Mendocino National Forest?

Yes. There are black bears in Mendocino National Forest. Usually, this type of bear avoids humans at all costs. If you see one, make some noise, make yourself look big, and don’t run.

Check out the Forest Service advice on how to deal with bears.

Are There Mountain Lions in Mendocino National Forest?

Yes. There are mountain lions in Mendocino National Forest. Typically, these predators stay away from people but, in some rare cases, may attack.

Read the Forest Service advice on mountain lions.

Are There Rattle Snakes in Mendocino National Forest?

Yes. There are rattlesnakes in Mendocino National Forest. It’s important to look where you step and listen for rattling to avoid getting bitten. 

Check out the Forest Service advice on rattlesnakes.

Can You Fish in Mendocino National Forest?

Yes. Fishing is allowed in Mendocino National Forest, subject to California fishing license and regulations. 

There are over 300 miles of streams and 2,000 acres of lakes to test your luck. Popular fish in the area includes trout, bass, and steelhead.

Can You Hunt in Mendocino National Forest?

Yes. Hunting is allowed in Mendocino National Forest, subject to state and national regulations and licensing.

Hunting is a seasonal activity in the forest. Some game species include black bears, blacktail deer, and some birds.

Are There Redwoods in Mendocino National Forest?

No. There are no redwood trees in Mendocino National Forest. The nearest area where you can find redwoods is Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve

Can You Drive Through Mendocino National Forest?

Yes. You can drive through Mendocino National Forest. Many gravel roads crisscross the forest in all directions and provide access to lakes, campgrounds, and trailheads. 

However, Route 162 is the best option if you’re zooming through. This route crosses the park east-to-west, from Willows to Covelo. It is an unpaved gravel road like all others in the park.

Where to Stay in Mendocino National Forest?

There are no hotels or lodges within Mendocino National Forest boundaries. Hence, if you don’t want to camp, your best options are the towns of Willows, Upper Lake, and Covelo. 

Yet, there is one cabin – Pine Mountain Lookout – that you can rent directly from the Forest Service. It is a rustic and simple place with sweeping views.

For more information and booking, see here

Camping in Mendocino National Forest

Mendocino National Forest has dozens of campgrounds to offer its visitors. Most open in mid-May and close in October for winter. 

Facilities differ from campground to campground, but many have picnic tables, fire rings, and sometimes vault toilets. Hence, you must bring your own water and pack out any garbage.

There are also options for group camping, RV camping, and dispersed camping. So, the forest can accommodate any visitor.

For the complete list of campgrounds and how to book, see this page.

Top Things and Activities to Do in Mendocino National Forest

1. Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking

Although Mendocino National Forest isn’t a popular mountain biking destination, there are plenty of routes here for all levels. 

You can ride on gravel doubletrack, singletrack trails, or zoom through the woods; the choice is yours.

Because multiple roads provide access to remote trails, you can explore these distant locations, which isn’t possible in many state parks.

2. Bikepacking


Bikepacking is a combination of bicycling and camping. It is the perfect way to explore as you can cover large distances every day yet remain outdoors. 

If you don’t mind riding on gravel, Mendocino National Forest is a fantastic place for bikepacking

With hundreds of miles of roads and trails, you can take weeks to explore the area moving from one campsite to another. 

3. Day Hiking

Day hiking is a popular activity in Mendocino National Forest. With hundreds of miles of tracks, you are spoiled for choice here. 

However, keep in mind that this is wilderness. Hence, many hikes are very remote, and trails are not as developed as in national parks. Be prepared!

Also, consider the weather. It gets scorching in summer, with temperatures in some areas rising to 100F. Hence, don’t exert yourself and drink plenty of fluids.

Get some hiking motivation: Funny and Inspirational Hiking Quotes.

What Is the Best Trail in Mendocino National Forest?

The best trail in Mendocino National Forest is the Snow Mountain Peak trail; it starts at the Summit Spring Trailhead. 

It is an 8.5-miles, out-and-back route that takes you to the west summit of Snow Mountian. Also, you can easily include the east peak to this hike, which will extend the overall distance by 1.5 miles.

Although the hike is rated moderate, it has steep ascents; and the weather and altitude can make this trail rather challenging.

Naturally, the sweeping views from the peak are worth the effort. From the height of 7,055 feet, you will see lonely mountain tops in every direction and not a soul around.

4. Backpacking


Backpacking is another common activity at Mendocino National Forest. There are multiple wilderness trails here that take days or sometimes weeks to complete.

As a backpacker, you will have many options where to spend the night as well. Mendocino National Forest offers developed campgrounds and dispersed campsites scattered throughout the area. 

What is the Best Backpacking Trail in Mendocino National Forest?

The best backpacking trail in Mendocino National Forest is Snow Mountain Wilderness Loop. This 39-miles route takes 3-5 days to complete.

With 8,090 feet of elevation change, this trail is rated strenuous. But if you keep time on your side, i.e., take more days to complete the route, it’s a pleasant and rewarding wilderness expedition.

One of the trail’s highlights is the ascent of Snow Mountain peaks; it has two – East one and West one. As mentioned in the day-hiking section, the views are incredible from the tops, and you can see rugged mountain landscapes in every direction.

5. Horse Riding

Horse Riding

Mendocino National Forest also allows horse riding and horse camping on its territory. It is a fun way to explore the forest.

And you don’t have to ride on the roads either; most hiking trails are suitable for horses. 

The only issue is that horse camping is only allowed in the designated campgrounds, so you can’t stay in wild dispersed campsites with your horse. 

This limits the options of where you can stay and how far you can ride. But for the day trips, exploring on horseback is a fantastic option.

6. Off-roading

Off Roading Mendocino National Forest
Photo: Brett Levin / CC BY 2.0

Mendocino National Forest is a superb off-roading destination. With hundreds of miles of fire roads and tracks, it’s easy to find challenging routes.

It doesn’t matter if you are using a truck, a baggy, or a motorcycle; you will have fun here. And the best thing is that you get to see much more in a day than many people would. 

Generally, access to remote trailheads in the park is so rugged that conventional vehicles can’t handle it, but four-by-fours can. Hence, you can find the way to the most inaccessible regions of the forest.

7. Fishing


Fishing is a widespread activity in Mendocino National Forest. As mentioned before, there are over 300 miles of streams and 2,000 acres of lakes and ponds where you can fish.

The most common fish in the forest is bass and trout. But you can also catch steelhead below Lake Pillsbury.

National and state rules and regulations apply to fishing. Also, check the Forest Service’s restrictions; they tend to close some areas for fishing to manage the stock.

8. Trail Running

Trail Running

Trail running is a great way to explore Mendocino National Forest. As mentioned before, there is no shortage of trails here. 

Beginners may find it difficult as most routes in the forest have significant elevation changes. But more experienced runners will feel at home among the forest’s oaks and pines. 

If you drive a 4×4 vehicle, the sky is the limit. You can access pretty much any trail in the forest and run to some of the most remote peaks.

9. Canoeing and kayaking


Canoeing and kayaking are fun. However, Mendocino National Forest has just one major lake – Lake Pillsbury

Apart from that, there are just a few smaller options for paddling: Letts Lake and Lily Pond in the south of the park and Howard Lake in the north.

So if you are planning to go paddling, you will have to stick to these locations. Or, try your luck in the forest’s rivers and streams, which is also possible.

10. Climb Mount Linn

Mt Linn
Photo: John Game / CC BY 2.0

Mount Linn, also known as South Yolla Bolly Mountain, is a remote, 8,098 feet peak in the north of the Mendocino National Forest and its highest point.

Ascending this peak is an adventure that is more than a walk in the park

Mountain Linn Loop trail takes you to the top, but getting to the trailhead requires a high clearance vehicle or a 2-miles extension to the route. 

Also, there are complaints of difficulty finding the trail as it gets overgrown. So be prepared to use route-finding skills.

Overall, it is a fun challenge. Mountain Loop Trail is only 6.5 miles long and can be completed in one day. 

Indeed, your efforts will be rewarded by spectacular sweeping views of the rugged terrain all around. You can even see Trinity Alps from the Linn.

Final Thoughts

Well done for getting to the end. Hopefully, you have a good idea of what the Mendocino National Forest is all about and can now plan your wilderness adventure. It’s gonna be grand!

Check out the Funny and Inspirational Hiking Quotes to get motivated. 

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