In northern California just outside Willows, Mendocino National Forest is the only forest in California that is not crossed by a highway or paved road. This means that the 913,306 acres of the vast wooded space is nature’s playground, and although many people visit here every year, it remains rugged and wild. The forest has four wilderness areas including Yuki, Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel, Snow Mountain, and Sanhedrin Wilderness. So, if you want to visit the wilderness in your camper, the Mendocino National Forest is perfect for you.
If you are into water sports, there are plenty of bodies of water in the forest as well, including five rivers, dozens of lakes, and hundreds of ponds and creeks. Lake Pillsbury in the southeastern part of the forest is the largest at 2,280 acres. There are several RV campgrounds around it with boat ramps and marinas, as well as other amenities. If you enjoy hiking, biking, or horseback riding, there are more than 250 trails from one to more than 20 miles to explore and enjoy.
Mendocino National Forest was first known as Stony Creek National Forest in 1907 but was changed to the California National Forest in 1908. Finally, in 1932, President Herbert Hoover renamed it Mendocino National Forest. There are 43 developed campgrounds in the Mendocino National Forest, and we will share our four favorites for RV camping with you.
From Interstate five to the east, Highway 29 to the south, and 101 to the west or north, Mendocino National Forest is in the northeast section of California. Some of the closest cities include Willows, Orland, and Corning to the east; Nice, Lakeport, and Clearlake to the south; Willits and Covelo to the west; and Alderpoint and Hayfork to the north.
On the way to the Mendocino National Forest, no matter which way you are coming from, the drive will be stunning so keep your camera handy. You may want to pull over a few times and get some pictures to share on Facebook or Instagram because the views of the mountains are amazing no matter what time of year you visit.
The roads in and out of the forest are primitive, so you should take your time when driving here. If you are driving a large RV or pulling a trailer, you will need to be extra careful. Keep an eye out for wildlife that sometimes cross the roads here as well, especially during dusk and dawn. The campgrounds are rugged, and the roads are typically gravel or dirt, so you should take it easy and watch out for potholes and low hanging branches.
Located near Lake Pillsbury, Pogie Point Campground has 44 campsites that can hold an RV or trailer up to 16 feet long. This quiet and attractive campground has two unnamed loops that meander through Manzanita, fir, oak, and madrone trees. Each campsite has a large cleared space, fire rings, and a picnic table. However, some have a pedestal grill or stone oven instead of a fire ring. They have eight water spigots with potable water and several vault toilets, both in various areas of the park.
Since you will be within walking distance to Lake Pillsbury, which has 2,280 acres of clear water, you can enjoy boating, water skiing, kayaking, or whatever water sport you like. There are plenty of fishing spots as well with lots of trout, bass, salmon, and crappie. If you are interested in hiking or horseback riding, the four-mile Lakeshore Trail is located nearby. Since they do not take reservations, it is best to get here early, especially during weekends and holidays. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained during your visit.
Middle Creek Campground has 23 sites that can accommodate trailers and RVs up to 30 feet long. Each spacious campsite has a pedestal grill or fire ring, as well as a picnic table and cleared space. In the campground you can find three toilets and a gravity water system but there are no showers or electric hookups. In the middle of a stand of oak and pine groves, this campground is popular with the ATV crowds because there is an ATV and equestrian staging area and 60 miles of trails for ATV riding and horseback riding.
Whether you are looking for an ATV site or just a nice campground, you can find it here. If you are looking for some water fun, there are several lakes and creeks in the area including Clear Lake, which is about 10 miles south of the park. However, since they do not take reservations, it is best to get here early, especially during weekends and holidays. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained during your visit.
Sunset Campground has 54 campsites that can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 40 feet long. Each campsite also have a fire pit with grill or stone oven, a picnic table, and a large cleared area. These campsites are right on Pillsbury Lake where you can swim, fish, go boating, do some water skiing, or whatever else you want to do. Most of the sites are lakeside while others are within a short walk of the lake.
There are some awesome trails right across from the campground with one being the Lakeshore Trail, which is about four miles. Open from mid-April until mid-September, this campground is popular with both locals as well as people from all over the country. Since they do not take reservations, it is best to get here early, especially during weekends and holidays. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained during your visit.
On the northwestern corner of Pillsbury Lake, Fuller Grove Campground has 30 sites that can accommodate trailers and RVs up to 22 feet long. A large loop on a hillside of fir and pine trees, most of the sites are on the banks of the lake while others are just a short walk away. Each campsite has a picnic table, large cleared space, and a fire pit or pedestal grill. Some even have stone ovens. There are several potable water access points around the park as well as vault toilets.
If you have a boat, bring it because they have a couple of boat ramps for use as well as a marina where you can get supplies and snacks. Bring along some bait so you can catch some of the hungry bass, trout, crappie, and salmon. Since they do not take reservations, it is best to get here early, especially during weekends and holidays. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained during your visit.
One of the most popular places to fish in the Mendocino National Forest is Lake Pillsbury where you can catch trout, salmon, catfish, bass, and many other aquatic critters. There are also over 2,000 acres of other lakes and ponds and 300 miles of streams to enjoy. The Eel River and Bar Creek are great for steelhead fishing. Letts Lake and Plaskett Lakes are awesome spots to catch trophy bass.
Make sure you pack your floaties and beach toys in the camper because there are several dozen beaches in the Mendocino National Forest to enjoy during the summer months. Be sure to bring some sunscreen too because the sun is mighty hot here. Two of the most popular spots to swim include Lake Pillsbury and Letts Lake. Whether you are planning to swim or just hang out on the beach, you will find your favorite spot at one of the many beaches in the forest.
You will want to make sure you hook up the trailer and bring your ATVs because there are over 200 miles of off-roading trails in the Mendocino National Forest. Lake Pillsbury has one large campground especially for ATV riders, Upper Lake Recreation Area has three, and Stonyford Recreation Area has over a dozen. Make sure you follow the rules of the road and wear a helmet when you ride at all times. Also, your vehicle must have a current green or red sticker or a highway license.
There are 266 named trails in the Mendocino National Forest that range from less than one mile to over 20 miles. Some of the best include the Red Mountain Lookout Trail, which is just over one mile and an elevation of 3,718 feet, as well as the Old Fire Trail, which is 2.4 miles long and has an elevation of 3,415 feet. These are both relatively easy trails that you can enjoy in just a few hours. The Sam Alley Ridge Road Trail is also a fun walk of almost two miles at an elevation of 2,098 feet. So get your hiking shoes on and get out there and explore.
Although all public land in the forest is open to hunting, there are two main campgrounds in the Mendocino National Forest that specifically cater to hunters: the Lower Nye Campground and the Grizzly Flat Dispersed Campground. Some of the big game include bear, deer, pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, and wild pigs. If you would rather hunt the little critters, the forest is home to plenty of squirrels and rabbits. So don’t forget to pack your hunting gear in the RV and keep your hunting tags and license on you when you hunt.
No matter what time of year you go to the Mendocino National Forest, you can find the perfect spot for a picnic. Gather the family and friends up and get them in the RV so you can all enjoy the forest at one of the pavilions that can accommodate from 12 to 200 people. They all have plenty of picnic tables and at least one BBQ grill and stone oven for your convenience. Or you can just bring your own sandwiches or food from a restaurant in town.