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Exploring Modoc County

Tucked into California’s north-eastern corner, Modoc County is vast, isolated and exceptionally beautiful.

Start:Alturas
End:Niles Hotel
1 - 3Days,7Stops,464Miles
Alturas
Jaxon Keller/Getty Images
Surprise Valley
Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images
Surprise Valley Hot Springs
Eakachai Leesin/Getty Images
Modoc National Forest
John Cichoski/Alamy
Mill Creek Falls
George Ostertag/Alamy
Modoc Wildlife Refuge
CampPhoto/Getty Images
Niles Hotel
Cavan Images/Alamy
Stop 1

Alturas

200 W North St, Alturas

As Modoc’s only incorporated city, Alturas serves as the county seat. A tight-knit community, which once marked the gateway to California for many a wagon train, Alturas still embodies the pioneer spirit. The city centre is marked by the impressive Modoc County Courthouse framed by the picturesque Warner Mountain Range. One of the last free-standing courthouses in California, the courtroom chairs feature hangers for cowboy hats underneath them. Half a dozen restaurants dot the main street, but don’t miss The Brass Rail, just a mile outside of the town centre, where Basque food is served family style, including delicacies such as roast lamb stew and picon punch. Stay for the night at the historic Niles Hotel. If you’re feeling restless, take the local approach at the Niles Saloon, where the beer-and-shot combination serves as a fail-safe nightcap.

Plan your visit

    Stop 2

    Surprise Valley

    507 Main St, Cedarville

    Every route to Surprise Valley requires traversing a mountain pass. But the winding drive to get there is only part of the fun. As you descend steep switchbacks, you’ll be greeted by lush landscapes and big skies where snow-capped peaks and green grasslands create a stunning contrast. In Fort Bidwell, visitors can see an old stone schoolhouse and the site of the former military outpost. Further south, the town of Cedarville boasts a lovely little centre. Depending on your appetite, sample a chicken-fried steak or a freshly baked cinnamon bun from Country Hearth Restaurant & Bakery. Just east of central Cedarville sits Surprise Valley Hot Springs Resort. Deluxe rooms include a private outdoor hot tub fed by geothermal pools, where you can watch the valley's skies turn from blue to black, filled with sparkling stars.

    Plan your visit

      SPOTLIGHT

      Surprise Valley Hot Springs

      67254 CA-299, Cedarville

      East of central Cedarville, book a deluxe room to enjoy your own private hot tub fed by geothermal pools, at Surprise Valley Hot Springs Resort. End your evening with an outdoor soak, watching the valley skies turn from purple to black, filled with sparkling stars.

      Stop 4

      Modoc National Forest

      Modoc National Forest, Alturas

      The Modoc National Forest protects more than 1.6 million acres of wildly gorgeous terrain. Visit the Devil’s Garden to see herds of wild horses grazing on the grassy plateau. Horses have been grazing here undisterbed for more than 140 years after settlers released the once-domesticated animals. Today, visitors can see black, bay, Appaloosa and palomino horses running free. While the land is largely undeveloped, it’s not difficult to find well-marked paths close to Modoc County’s town centres. Between Alturas and Cedarville lies the Cedar Creek Lower Trailhead where walkers can enjoy a steep 3-mile challenge through shaded juniper groves punctured by towering rocks.

      Plan your visit

        Stop 5

        Mill Creek Falls

        Eagleville

        Mill Creek Falls is located just on the Western edge of Modoc County’s South Warner Wilderness. Follow the protected land's only paved road to the Mill Creek Falls Campground. From there, visitors can walk a quarter of a mile up the path to see the flowing falls. The views are best in spring thanks to snow-melt, but the path is open all year round and the waterfall is active even in the ice and snow. On warm days, continue past the falls for another 10 minutes to a small wooden bridge. Downstream there is a swimming hole frequented by locals on steamy summer days.

        Stop 6

        Modoc Wildlife Refuge

        5364 Co Rd 115, Alturas

        Directly south of Alturas sits the Modoc Wildlife Refuge. Walk the three-mile circuit to see mule deer, antelope and more than 200 species of birds. Flow from the Pit River provides a natural oasis for the fauna that flock to the reserve to drink, nest and rest. Each spring and autumn, the protected land teams with countless birds, including sandhill cranes and tundra swans in the midst of their migration. Birds of prey are most easily spotted in the winter when bald eagles and hawks soar over the water hunting for fish.

        Plan your visit

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          Road Trip Snapshot

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          Stop 2Surprise Valley
          507 Main St, Cedarville
            SPOTLIGHTSurprise Valley Hot Springs
            67254 CA-299, Cedarville
              Stop 4Modoc National Forest
              Modoc National Forest, Alturas
                Stop 5Mill Creek Falls
                Eagleville
                Stop 6Modoc Wildlife Refuge
                5364 Co Rd 115, Alturas

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