Spanning 330,780 acres of public land, Mendocino National Forest became a monument in 2015, praised by then-President Barack Obama for its “biodiversity and an abundance of recreational opportunities.” The magical, massive land parcel rises from near sea level in the south to above 7,000-foot elevations in the northern mountains. Along the way, it encompasses nearly 100 miles and dozens of different ecosystems.
Nearly half that land is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, and visitors can enjoy a variety of recreational activities—from hiking on rustic trails, to boating and all-terrain vehicle driving. There are a lot of fish to be caught around here, too, from the rainbow trout in streams to the bass in Lake Pillsbury.
No visit is complete without embracing the Cache Creek Wilderness, east of Clear Lake in eastern Lake County. Come hiking here (on sometimes steep terrain) for stunning views, or bring your tent to one of the area campgrounds; go boating on the 17-mile canyon creek, enjoy horseback riding, or just come for the wildlife viewing. Keep an eye out for deer, Tule elk, black bears, wild pigs, and even magnificent bald eagles, which are particularly active from mid-October through mid-August. Come in spring to see wildflowers such as lupine, poppies, and lilacs.
The Cedar Roughs Wildlife Area is another gem, more secluded and rugged in its forested mountains west of Lake Berryessa in Napa County. Home to the rare Sargent cypress trees that thrive in the area’s bluish-green, rocky serpentine soil, it’s also a treasured habitat for Napa County’s remaining black bear population.
Thrill seekers also gravitate to the Knoxville Wildlife Area, ideal for four-wheel-drive vehicles, motorcycles, or all-terrain vehicles. Whatever way you travel, you’ll be surrounded by spectacular scenery.
Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal region, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests, and whales spout offshore. Along the coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of crashing surf and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose-filled gardens.
Each year, December through May, look to the sea to witness roughly 15,000 gray whales swimming south for the summer.
It’s also a place where a new generation of farmers and winemakers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favorite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco, and Eureka, a former logging town 2 hours further north, and the gateway to breathtaking Redwoods National and State Parks.
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