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—which is less than three hours north of San Francisco—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 of 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 motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles. Whatever way you travel, you’ll be surrounded by spectacular scenery.