Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Just a few shorts hours from Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, the Mendocino National Forest is beloved by those who know its splendor. The crowds tend to flock to places like Lake Tahoe, the high Sierra, and Big Sur, leaving the Mendocino splendidly wild-- just the way we like it!
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 301 miles, 4-7 days
Season: Late May - November (check
Technical Rating: Green
Typical Terrain: Dirt forest roads, minimal pavement. There are some minimal rocks and off-camber sections, such as the upper third of Hull Mountain Road (M1).
Recommended Vehicle: Truck or SUV with 4x4 and all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage the entire route.
Alternative Routes: n/a
Gear/Fuel: Most stock vehicles will struggle to complete the entire route without additional fuel resources. While there are no gas stations directly along the route, you may fuel up at Soda Springs store (Lake Pillsbury) or in Covelo (about a 20 min drive from Black Butte River Ranch).
The Mendocino National Forest is a hidden gem of a forest. You'd think with its proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento, that people would be flocking to this forest. But hey, that's fine by us, as one of our favorite things about the Mendocino, is how easy to escape the crowds and the trappings of modern civilization.
While the Mendocino Backcountry Discovery Trail is a great introduction to the forest, it really doesn't do justice in terms of exposing the visitor to some of its more scenic areas. The Mendocino Grand Circuit was intentionally designed to take advantage of the plentiful natural and recreation opportunities within the forest. For the most part, the route follows the M-road system in the forest, which consists of primarily wide and graded dirt forest service roads that can be driven a a 2 wheel drive vehicle in most instances. We still recommend a truck or SUV with 4x4, but for the majority of the route, something like a stock RAV4 or Subaru will manage just fine. The route begins in the east side of the forest on FH7, but ends on the west side of the forest, in the Eel River Canyon and Potter Valley. Over the course of 300 miles, you'll traverse through mixed conifer forests, oak dotted rolling grasslands, river canyons, and some amazing lookout points-- Hull Mountain and Anthony Peak being our two favorites. From the top of Anthony Peak, on a clear day ou can see Mt Lassen to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The forest is filled with hundreds of miles of sided roads and some more technical OHV trails. If exploring the backwoods of the backcountry is your thing, the Mendocino has got you covered in spades! The forest also offers ample opportunity for boating, swimming, hiking, bird watching, target shooting, and OHV riding.
Dispersed camping is permitted throughout the forest. Some of the best spots for dispersed camping include M1 north of Hull Mountain, sideroads off of FH7. Some of our our favorite spots are:
Pine Mountain Lookout
West of Anthony Peak
DP1 - Rattlesnake Fire Memorial
DP2 - Keller Place Historic Cabin
DP3 - Twin Rocks
DP4 - Anthony Peak Fire Lookout
DP5 - Buck Rock
DP6 - Hammerhorn Lake
DP7 - Rattlesnake Creek falls & swimming hole
DP8 - Howard Lake
DP9 - Eel River & swimming hole
DP10 - Blacke Butte River
DP11 - Milsap Cabin Site
DP12 - Surface of the Moon
DP13 - Hull Mountain
DP14 - Bloody Rock
DP15 - Rice Fork river crossing
DP16 - Pine Mountain Lookout
DP17 - Tule Elk
DP18 - Big Signal Peak Lookout
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