NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California


Mendocino National Forest- Willits to Howard & Hammerhorn Lakes

-Look But Don't Touch-

This is an abbreviated version of our write-up on exploring Forest Road M1. If you simply want to get to a remote lake stocked with rainbow trout and do some camping or fishing this is all you need. Click this link for our full write-up on FR M1.The campgrounds at and around these two small lakes are small but generally don't fill up unless it's hunting season. In the summer it can be hot (into the 100's) at the lower elevations and mosquitos can be an issue, particularly right at the lakes. But the biggest issue relates to the lakes themselves; both are clogged with water lilies and only about 15% of either is open water. You can push thru the lily pads with a small boat but they do detract from the experience. As for swimming, not recommended. In the summer of 2013 both lakes were full of algae and you'd badly need a shower after taking a dip. But the campgrounds are fine, particularly at Hammerhorn. So if you want to camp in a nice spot and look at a remote lake you're all set.

It's recommended that you gas up and get provisions in Willits, as Covelo has a more limited selection, one gas station. Diesel fuel is available in both places, but its cheaper in Willits. The Shell and Chevron stations offer it, as do others.

Forest Road M1 marks the entrance of Hwy. 162 into the MNF. First find Willits on Hwy. 101. Then drive 12 miles north to the village of Longvale (or about the same distance south of Laytonville) and turn east on Hwy. 162 and drive to the town of Covelo; there is a Ranger Station there. Stay on Hwy. 162- Mendocino Pass Road for 12 miles to the Eel River Work Center. You'll know you're at the right place because there is a bar there. At that intersection, you can turn right into the Eel River Campground or left onto FR M1 north. From here, it's about 23 miles to Hammerhorn Lake (the farthest away) and 28 miles to the end of FR M1.

Eel River Campground

Location: FR M1 at the Eel River Work Station.

Attraction: Proximity to the Eel River on the way to Howard and Hammerhorn Lakes. The campground is not at river level so you need to hike down to it. It's kind of a homely place with little to recommend it, in our opinion.

Campsite Description: 15 sites for tents or RV's to 21 feet. Picnic tables, fire grills, drinking water and vault toilets are available. At 1,500 feet it can be hot in summer.

Season: April thru December.

Reservations: Not accepted.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access No
Fees $8   Fishing Yes
Hook-ups No   Boating No
Drinking Water Yes   Lake on Site No
Showers No   Elev 1,500 feet
Toilets Pit   Supplies In Covelo

Information: Mendocino National Forest, Covelo Ranger District. (707)983-6118.

Day Hikes in Area: Travelers Home National Recreation Trail. From Covelo  its about 10 miles East)on Hwy. 162 to the junction with Blands Cove Rd. Turn left and go 3 miles. Trailhead on FR 24N21 marked "Travelers Home Trail." 7.6 mile jaunt that ends in a Wild and Scenic area of the Middle Fork of the Eel River. Starts at an elevation of 2,100 feet so is hot in summer; best to go in other seasons. The trail rises from 2,100 feet to 3,700 feet, a moderate elevation gain but enough to justify bringing water. This is not a loop, but you can turn it into one by crossing the river at the end and following the Hell Hole Trail south to its trailhead. See below. Mountain bikers share the trail. GPS location: Lat. 39.841256; long. 123.077989. Hell Hole Trail. The trailhead is just past the turn onto FR 23N29 and it follows the Middle Fork of the Eel River as you hike in a northerly direction. As noted above, you can cross the Eel River and hook up with the Travelers Home Trail to create a loop. If you are driving 2 vehicles, you can park one at each trailhead.

Backpacking Hikes in Area:

Off-Road Opportunities in Area: The OHV areas are on FR M1 south of the Eel River Work Station. See our write-up on FR M1 for more information.

Leaving the Eel River Work Center, past the Hell Hole Trailhead, M1 meanders vaguely north. Boardman Campground is a dispersed campground, meaning nothing there but a spot to pitch a tent. There are many places along FR M1 to do that, as this is a national forest and you can freelance. The first "official" camping opportunity is Little Doe Campground, a nice spot and the place where you would turn to go to Howard Lake. Howard Meadows Campground is nearby. These are fairly nice spots but there's nothing to do but camp. You would turn left off FR M1 on FR 23N37 (23 miles from the turn onto FR M1) right into the Little Doe Campground or continue on to Howard Lake. The road to Howard Lake has a small creek crossing which would only be a problem if the creek were raging in early spring. If you remain on FR M1 you will come to Hammerhorn Lake, the nicer of the two in our opinion.

Boardman Campground

Location: On FR M1 north of the Eel River Work Station, just past the Hell Hole trailhead and before you reach the Howard Meadows Campground.

Attraction: Dispersed camping.

Campsite Description: 3 dispersed sites with a toilet. No water or anything else.

Season: None posted.

Reservations: None accepted.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access No
Fees None   Fishing No
Hook-ups No   Boating No
Drinking Water No   Lake on Site No
Showers No   Elev 4,600
Toilets Pit   Supplies Covelo

Information: Mendocino National Forest, Covelo Ranger District. (707) 983-6118.

Day Hikes in Area:

Backpacking Hikes in Area:

Off-Road Opportunities in Area:

Howard Meadows Campground

Location: On FR M1 (Indian Dick Rd) 12 miles from the Eel River Work Center.

Attraction: Primitive camping near a remote lake. Howard Lake stocked with rainbow trout but its choked with lily pads and swimming is not recommended due to high levels of algae, at least in summer 2013. The campground is about 4 miles from the lake so try the Howard Lake Campground first if the lake is your destination.

Campsite Description: 8 sites for tents or small RV's. Picnic tables, fire rings and pit toilets. No potable water.

Season: April to December.

Reservations: Not accepted.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access No
Fees None   Fishing Yes
Hook-ups No   Boating Non-motorized
Drinking Water No   Lake on Site Yes
Showers No   Elev 3,500 feet
Toilets Pit   Supplies In Covelo

Information: Mendocino National Forest, Covelo Ranger District. (707)983-6118

Day Hikes in Area:

Backpacking Hikes in Area:

Off-Road Opportunities in Area: OHV areas are off FR M1 south of the Eel River Work Station.

Little Doe Campground

Location: At the intersection of FR M1 and FR 23N37. If Howard Lake is your destination try the Howard Lake Campground first. It's about 4 miles down FR 23N37. There's a minor creek crossing on that road.

Attraction: Primitive camping near Howard lake.

Campsite Description: 13 sites for tents or RV's to 16 feet. No hookups. Picnic tables, fire pits and vault toilets. No potable water.

Season: April to December.

Reservations: None accepted.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access No
Fees None   Fishing At Howard Lake
Hook-ups No   Boating Non-motorized
Drinking Water No   Lake on Site Close-by
Showers No   Elev 3,600 ft.
Toilets Pit   Supplies In Covelo

Information: Mendocino National Forest, Covelo Ranger District. (707)983-6118.

Day Hikes in Area:

Backpacking Hikes in Area:

Off-Road Opportunities in Area: OHV areas are off FR M1 south of the Eel River Work Station.

If you elected to go to Howard Lake, pass the Little Doe Campground after turning left on FR 23N37. The road is pretty good, a typical forest service road although this one is not maintained. There are numerous spots to turn around or pass another vehicle. There will be a creek crossing, which in summer would normally be a few inches deep but could be different in early spring. Drive to the end to the campground.

Howard Lake Campground

Location: At the end of FR 23N37.

Attraction: Primitive camping and fishing for stocked rainbow trout. As noted above, the lake is clogged with lily pads and too mucky to swim in.

Campsite Description: Four sites for tents or small RV's. One site with wheelchair access. Picnic tables, fire rings, pit toilets are provided. No potable water. Not all sites are level.

Season: April to December.

Reservations: None accepted.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access Yes
Fees None   Fishing Yes
Hook-ups No   Boating Non-motorized
Drinking Water No   Lake on Site Yes
Showers No   Elev 3,500 ft.
Toilets Pit   Supplies In Covelo

Information: Mendocino National Forest, Covelo Ranger District. (707)983-6118.

Day Hikes in Area:

Backpacking Hikes in Area:

Off-Road Opportunities in Area: OHV areas are off FR M1 south of the Eel River Work Station.

Six miles north of the Howard Lake turnoff sits tiny (5 acre) Hammerhorn Lake, which is a short 1 mile detour off FR M1 on FR M21 ( a right turn). The campground is very nice, in a forested setting. On a summer 2013 outing we had the place to ourselves over a weekend. The reason may be that the lake is clogged with water lilies and reeds and only about 15% of it is open water. You can force your way thru the lily pads with a small boat but you may not want to. There are 2 useless fishing piers so far from any clear water you'd need a rocket launcher to get your bait somewhere useful. As for swimming; don't. The lake is mucky and full of algae. In summation- a very nice place to camp and look at a small remote lake clogged with water lilies.

Hammerhorn Lake Campground

Location: From FR M1 23 miles from the Eel River Work center and 6 miles from the Howard Lake turnoff, turn right (east) on FR M21 and drive a mile to the campground.

Attraction: Remote camping and fishing for stocked rainbow trout. Potable water on site. The campground is very nice and rarely used except during hunting season.

Campsite Description: 9 sites for tents or RV's to 16 feet. No hookups. Picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water and pit toilets. Some sites have raised BBQ grills. One restroom ADA compliant.

Season: April to December.

Reservations: None accepted.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access Yes
Fees $8   Fishing Yes
Hook-ups No   Boating Non-motorized
Drinking Water Yes   Lake on Site Yes
Showers No   Elev 3,500 ft.
Toilets Pit   Supplies In Covelo

Information: Mendocino National Forest, Covelo Ranger District. (707)983-6118.

Day Hikes in Area: Hammerhorn Lake Trail. A 1 mile circle of the lake. The first 1/4 mile is ADA compliant. It leads to 2 fishing piers, now used for water lily viewing. As noted, the lake is stocked with rainbow trout.

Backpacking Hikes in Area:

Off-Road Opportunities in Area: OHV areas are off FR M1 south of the Eel River Work Station.

Leaving Hammerhorn Lake, FR M1 continues north until it ends at the Indian Dick Forest Station a few miles away. At that point FR 25N30 heads northwest to the Hoxie Crossing trailhead, and FR 25N45 heads northeast to the George's Valley and Soldier Ridge trailheads, both in the Yolla Bolly- Middle Eel Wilderness. From here you need to carry a pack or ride a horse. To get home you need to backtrack.

There are three trailhead dispersed camps in this area, about at the end of FR M1.  On FR 25N30 heading northwest into the Yolla-Bolly- Middle Eel Wilderness you will encounter Rock Cabin Camp, with 3 dispersed sites and no services including water. On FR 25N45 heading northeast into the Wilderness you will encounter the Georges Valley and Soldier Ridge camps. Both offer dispersed camping with no facilities or water.

End of Trip