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Mendocino Backcountry Discovery Trail

Updated: Apr 20

If you're looking to get away from the crowds and explore an expansive and rugged wilderness filled with endless dirt roads, then "The Mendocino" (as locals call it) has got you covered! The Mendocino segment of the California Backcountry Discovery Trail, was the very first BDT released in the mid-1990s. Well over a decade before KTM's Backcountry Discovery Routes.

Route Overview

Trip Length & Season

Adventure Rating: Epic Trip Length: 2-3 days, 167 miles Season: Late April - November. If you are going earlier or later in the season, be sure to check snowpack in areas like Hull Mountain, Anthony Peak and Black Butte.

Technical Ratings & Terrain

Recommended Vehicle / Moto / Adventure Vans

Fuel, Provisions, and Recommended Gear

Alternative Routes

Camping Recommendations

Discovery Points

Permits, Permits & Other Resources

Digital Maps & GPX Files

Adventure Badge: Get your Mendocino BDT adventure badge at our online store.


Route Description

The Mendocino National Forest is the only national forest in California that isn't crossed by paved road. Despite the fact that there aren't many paved roads in the forest, there's an overabundance of well kept dirt roads and trails, which will delight travelers who like to stray from the main thoroughfares. The updated version of the Mendocino BDT is largely based on the California Backcountry Discovery that is featured on the official Mendocino National Forest map. The Mendocino BDT runs the entire length of M1 from CC Camp (Middle Creek Camp) to the north where it spits out at the confluence of the middle fork Eel and Black Butte Rivers (just east of Covelo). We've taken the liberty of extending the official BDT from its original termination point at the Eel River to include an additional loop through some of the forest's most scenic and remote areas along the northern boundary of the Mendocino National Forest. If you're just getting into overlanding and offroad travel, the Mendocino BDT is a fantastic place to get start with its mostly wide dirt and gravel roads that can be easily navigated with a Subaru or stock 4x4. The route begins in the historic downtown of Upper Lake, before heading north into the forest. As you make your way up the switchbacks of Elk Mountain and into Mendocino National Forest, you'll notice many of the surrounding mountains and hills have succumbed to wildfire. The Mendocino Complex, the largest fire in California history ravaged large swaths of the forest along the southern boundary. The stretch of road from Upper Lake to Lakes Pillsbury is one of the well travelled routes in the forest. While Lake Pillsbury is a great place to relax and cool down from the sweltering mid-summer heat, you can expect crowds, especially in the developed campgrounds that dot the lake. But don't let that scare you away, as Lake Pillsbury is a great place to watch the sunset, take a cool dip, or view a variety of birdlife, including raptors, eagles, and osprey. As you leave Lake Pillsbury, you'll make your way up Hull Mountain (elev. 6873), which dominates the valley below. Hull Mountain rewards the steadfast traveller with numerous views of the surrounding coastal mountains as you make your way towards the summit. The wide dirt road gives way to a very mild technical section of rocks the last few miles up the summit. At the summit you'll find the remains of the old Hull Mountain fire lookout, along with spectacular 360 degree views. The crowds thin out dramatically as you make your way north from Hull Mountain along M1. The track grows wider and much more tame in natured, with the alpine landscape eventually giving way to rollings hills of golden grass dotted with oak trees and chaparral. There are a number of unique geographic areas and points of interest that you'll pass by as you continue north. Check out the lunar scape of moon dust (see POI on your map) just north of Hull Mountain, or one of several historical homesteads along the path. Eventually you'll find yourself passing the Black Butte River Ranch, which is a great place to grab a bite or have a cold beer on their patio. You've made it to the confluence of the Black Butte and Eel Rivers. The Eel provides some nice deep swimming holes, and unlike the the rivers that run through the Sierra, both the Eel and Black Butte are relatively mild in temperature during the warmer months (often low 70s but beware of toxic algae blooms in summer). The BDT makes a final loop around the base of Hammerhorn Mountain before heading to the summit of Anthony Peak, the highest point in Mendocino County. Anthony Peak is the only remaining staffed fire lookout in the Mendocino NF, and if you're lucky, you might just get invited inside! On a clear day you can see Mt Lassen to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Anthony Peak (elev. 6959) also a favorite location of stargazers, especially when meteor showers occur. The route concludes with a visit to the historic homestead of the family, which includes a maintained cabin the remains of the old apple orchards that the Keller's planted and kept.



Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by Overland Trail Guides, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.

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Most of the forest is closed following the massive August Complex fire in Summer 2020. Expect a good portion of the forest to remain closed through 2021.

OTG Crew
OTG Crew

Hi Brian,

Please use our new forums, specifically the Route Status sub-forum. You can find it here:

We will be shutting down the wix blog comments in the coming weeks (which is where you commented), and relying on the new forums.



We did a good part of that Route in may 2020 in a Land Cruiser, easy route no technical section. A good portion of the section from Clear Lake to Pillsbury lake burnt a few years back, but from Pillsbury Lake it is gorgeous, you quickly go up in elevation to Hull Mountain and get some splendid views. There are numerous Dispersed camping spot from Hull Mountain to Grizzly Flats. We really enjoyed it. Once we dropped back to the valley North and reach the Black Butte River, we turned left to Covelo to gas up and continued North towards Six Rivers forest NF.


BW Smith
BW Smith

This looks like a great trip. I appreciate the van advice since I have a MB Sprinter 4x4. Looking forward to doing this trip in 2020.

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