Cow Mountain Recreation Area got its name after the longhorn cattle that once used to roam this vast 52,000 acres of wilderness. Today, it is a recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management, that lies east of the city of Ukiah and west of Lakeport, in Northwestern California.
The landscape here is versatile, offering steep canyons and rugged hills. Forests of pine, oak, and fir cover the terrain, making for a beautiful and scenic wilderness destination.
Cow Mountain Recreation Area has been divided into three parts, the North Cow Mountain Recreation Area, South Cow Mountain OHV Recreation Area, and Sheldon Creek Recreation Site.
The North Cow Mountain Recreation Area is nestled at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains, covering 26,000 acres of land and is strictly maintained as a non-motorized area. It invites hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, and equestrians to take on its thirty or so miles of picturesque wilderness trails.
South Cow Mountain Recreation Area offers beautiful views of the two nearby cities, as well as two OHV staging areas. The OHV trails are well-maintained, allowing you to zip past pockets of old-growth fir, oaks, and willow trees, past reservoirs, and over streams. One can also occasionally spot wild turkey and black-tailed deer during these off-road expeditions.
Sheldon Creek Recreation Area is an isolated area with primitive camping facilities. However, all three recreation sites permit camping with a few developed campsites.
Cow Mountain Recreation Site is located east from the city of Ukiah and west of Lakeport, some 120 miles north of San Francisco, CA. The region lies at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains in Northern California.
If you are driving from Ukiah, take State Highway 101 and exit onto the Talmage Road. Take a right on East Side Road and drive for half a mile, before you reach Mill Creek Road. Drive for another three miles down Mill Creek Road to arrive at the North Cow Mountain Recreation Area. Driving for another five miles will get you to the South Cow Mountain Recreation Area.
The roads are reasonably maintained and are both gravel and paved in certain areas. The drive is scenic and enjoyable with plenty of greenery and wildlife to look at on the way.
Mayacamas Campground is one of two campgrounds maintained by BLM at the North Cow Recreation Area. The campground boasts a total of ten primitive campsites. Campground facilities include toilets, BBQ, fire pits, picnic tables, and a limited parking area. Potable water isn’t available and you must have a campfire permit for a campfire. The campground offers plenty of shade and privacy and serves as a trailhead for the non-motorized Glen Eden and Mayacmas trails.
This campground isn’t suitable for RVs or horse trailers as the road leading to it is steep and narrow.
The Goat Rock Campground also lies on the non-motorized Glen Eden and Mayacmas trails and offers two primitive hike-in or ride-in campsites. The campsites have picnic tables, BBQs, and stream water for animals. The campsites offer plenty of shade and lies in an oak woodland setting near a perennial stream.
Red Mountain Campground at the South Cow Mountain Recreation Area facilitates RV camping. The campground boasts ten shaded units under pine trees, from which seven are tent-only campsites and three are reserved for RV camping enthusiasts. The stay limit is 14 days and facilities include vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, and ADA access. Potable water isn’t available. RV limit is 30 ft maximum.
A primitive campground consisting of four tent-only campsites located in the South Cow Mountain Recreational Area. Buckhorn Campground is surrounded by towering pine trees and is subjected to closure during the rainy season. The primitive campsites have picnic tables, fire pits, vault toilets, and waste disposal.
Sheldon Creek is a detached and isolated campground in Hopland but considered a part of the Cow Mountain Recreation Area. There are three campsites with vault toilets and picnic tables. Potable water isn’t available. OHV use is not permitted on this campground and it is more popularly known for its hiking, hunting, picnicking, and equestrian recreational activities.
South Cow Recreation Area is primarily known for its off-highway vehicle use. There are two OHV staging areas along with gravel access roads that can be approached by standard road-going vehicles.
The Recreation Area boasts more than 120 miles of OHV trails, all of them marked with their difficulty ratings and the recommended type of vehicle. Motorcycle riders, four-wheel drivers, and all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts can enjoy the bumpy ride along this spectacular scenic route.
Hunting is a popular activity at the Cow Mountain Recreation Area. The vast wilderness offers big and small game animals including black bear, squirrel, rabbit, black-tailed deer, dove, feral pigs, and quails. There is also a shooting range at the North Cow Mountain Recreation Area where target shooting is permitted.
Pick all your litter, cartridges, shotgun shells, and targets after you’re done. Violation of laws can lead to up to 12 months of imprisonment and/or heavy fines.
There are several small streams and reservoirs scattered throughout the Cow Mountain Recreation Area, and you can stop anywhere for a relaxing angling experience. Rainbow trout can be found in the cold water streams and many of the reservoirs are stocked with sunfish and many other species of small-sized panfish. You are responsible for all things angling, including licenses, laws, and gear.
North Cow Recreation Area boasts a seventeen-mile network of foot trails for nature enthusiasts who prefer quiet and non-motorized activities as compared to loud and speedy outdoor fun. The Glen Eden Trail is a 12.5-mile hike that is rated as difficult and also features a river crossing. Your dogs are allowed to accompany you on this trail.
Trekking your way through this beautiful and lush green wilderness is simply mesmerizing. Visitors can also take to the trails on horseback or on bicycles.
Wildlife enthusiasts can make their way to Cow Mountain Recreation Area if they wish to get glimpses of Californian wildlife. The lovely water bodies, mountains, and vegetation of the recreation area provides a perfect habitat for bear, Columbian black-tailed deer, feral pigs, brush rabbit, western gray squirrel, raccoon, bobcats, coyote, and even mountain lions. Foothill Yellow-legged frog in the area is a special status species that also resides in this fragile ecosystem.
If you are a devoted birdwatcher then you couldn’t have picked a better place to cross off a few of those exotic and hard-to-sight birds in your bird book.
Avian species in the recreation area include California quail, turkey vulture, mourning dove, wild turkey, California thrasher, raven, woodpeckers, kestrel, scrub jay, and red-tailed hawk to name but a few.