NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

Exploring Modoc National Forest


If you like life in the slow lane, this is your spot. Modoc National Forest is located in the far northeast corner of the State of California, bordered in the north by the Oregon border, in the east by the Nevada border and in the south by the rest of California. The only major metropolitan area is the city of Alturas. The forest border is about 140 miles northeast of Redding on Hwy. 299. You can also get there from Mt. Shasta by taking Hwy. 89 east, or from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Range from Hwy. 395.

The origin of the word "Modoc" is uncertain, but the area was inhabited by the Modoc, Pit River and Northern Paiute native American tribes before arriving Europeans. The natives are known to have come in contact with trappers from the Hudson Bay Company and things changed forever in the early 1840's with the arrival of masses of emigrants led by Peter Lassen and his fellow trailblazers. Native American/European conflicts culminated in the so-called Modoc War in 1872-73 near what is now Lava Beds National Monument, which pretty much settled that matter with the usual result.

Things To Do


The Warner Mountains are known for their deposits of obsidian; this natural glass-like rock, used by the original inhabitants for arrowheads is also widely collected by living people. So much so that there are designated areas for commercial collectors. Casual collectors should check with the local forest service office for guidance as to where you may collect.


The South Warner Wilderness has 79 miles of trails to interest the hiker or backpacker. The Pit River winds thru the Pit Wilderness Study Area and  the Lava Wilderness Study Area reminds us that volcanic activity helped shape the landscape. The Pacific Crest Trail also traverses the region. Blue and Medicine lakes also offer hiking opportunities.

Winter Sports

Snowmobiles are popular here; there is a formal trail at the Doorknob Snowmobile Park just south of Lava Beds National Monument. It offers paved parking, restrooms and a warming hut. Groomed trails lead to Medicine Lake and several other spots. Though not a hotbed of downhill skiing, the Cedar Pass Ski Area off Hwy. 299 in the Warner Mountains is there for the using. It features a T-bar lift and rope tow for those with a nostalgic bent. Lastly, as a national  forest there are plenty of places to lace on a snowshoe or cross-country ski and make your own fun.


Hunting is popular throughout the forest, with Rocky Mountain mule deer, pronghorn antelope and a variety of waterfowl and other game birds. Nearly half of the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge is open to hunting for waterfowl.


Though not as populated with lakes as some forests, some do exist. The main lakes popular with anglers are Blue and Medicine lakes. Stream fishing is popular in Ash Creek near Adin and East Creek in the Warner Mountains. The Pit River and Hat Creek also provide opportunities to catch a trout.


Numerous forest service campgrounds dot the area and are discussed in depth in our coverage of the area. Being a national forest, you are free to boondock almost anyplace excepting wilderness areas and private lands.

Off-road Adventures

The California Back Country Discovery Trail has a 200 mile presence here. This is a series of forest service roads (mostly dirt/gravel) that will eventually stretch from Canada to Mexico and is designed for travel in a stock SUV or better. To travel the entire length you need a street-legal vehicle. The portion in Modoc National Forest starts (or ends) on FR 48N21 at the California/Oregon border southeast of Lakeview, OR and finishes (or starts) at the junction of FR 43N48 and FR 15 at the boundary of the Klamath/Shasta Trinity National Forest. Elevations range from 4,300-7,600 feet and portions of the trail are closed in winter. There are many points of interest including Cave & Lily lakes, Ft. Bidwell, Big Sage Reservoir, Lava Beds National Monument, Medicine Lake and the rentable Little Mt. Hoffman fire lookout. Services on these types of roads are few and far between so partake of the "buddy" system and travel prepared for almost any contingency. Carry extra fuel, water, camping gear, a shovel and a chainsaw. Early in the year (thru June) snow and downed trees are likely challenges. Maps are available at several Modoc National Forest offices. A good resource for information is


Medicine Lake- A well-regarded trout fishery stocked with brook and rainbow trout. A unique place in that the lake sits in a volcanic caldera, not unlike the much more famous Crater Lake in Oregon. Click the Medicine Lake link for more information. Tiny Bullseye Lake is nearby, a nice option for those who don't have a boat.

Blue Lake- A 160 acre lake with good fishing for brown, rainbow and Eagle Lake trout and ample camping. Not a bad combination. Click the Blue Lake link for more information.

West Valley Reservoir- A 970 surface acre lake set at 4,770 feet with limited primitive camping but where boat-in camping is allowed. For more information click the West Valley Reservoir link.

Big Sage Reservoir- A 5,000 surface acre warm water fishery set at 4,400 feet where largemouth bass await your arrival. Dorris Reservoir is nearby. Click the Big Sage/Dorris Reservoir link for more information.

Dorris Reservoir- Located within the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, you'll need to share this experience with waterfowl and other wild critters to the extent that road access is seasonal. Fishing is for trout, bass and catfish. Click the Big Sage/Dorris Reservoir link for more information.

Lava Beds National Monument- A unique place dotted with caves formed by volcanic activity, some of which are explorable. History buffs can view sites from the Modoc War. Nearby are the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, the latter being the most significant over-wintering area in the lower 48 states for bald eagles. For more information click the Lava Beds National Monument link.

Roadtrips in the Area

Hwy. 395- Likely North to Alturas

Hwy. 299- Burney East to Cedarville

-The End-