As you head inland from the coast, Jackson State Forest appears just as the ocean recedes in your rearview mirror. There are nearly 50,000 acres of redwoods, river canyons and lush woodland waiting for intrepid visitors seeking an adventure off the beaten path. Though the land – which was purchased by the state ofCalifornia in 1947 – has been logged for more than 150 years, timber is now harvested in a sustainable manner. Cal Fire also manages the forest with recreational use in mind, resulting in bountiful opportunities to experience this wilderness.
California’s largest state forest offers solitude and tranquility just minutes from the Mendocino Coast.
The Egg Take
Lovers of nature would be wise to find their way to Camp One, known to locals as The Egg Take because the Department of Fish and Game collects salmon eggs there. Located off Highway 20 at mile marker 5.9 in the western part of the forest, then another 3.5 miles down a well-maintained dirt road (Road 350) that’s usually passable by most vehicles in dry weather, the day-use area features ample parking, tables, a fire pit, charcoal grills and pit toilets. This tranquil picnic spot is nestled along the South Fork of the Noyo River, a mysterious, turquoise stream flowing through a dark canyon overgrown with ferns, lichens and towering trees competing for sunlight. Don’t let the sight of salmon finning in the current lure you into fishing, as angling is illegal in Jackson State Forest.
There are dozens of secluded campsites scattered throughout The Egg Take area, open from mid-May through September, weather permitting. They cost $15 per night and require a free camping permit that can be obtained from the camp host or the Cal Fire office in Fort Bragg. Be sure to bring your own firewood and water, as neither are readily available. If you’re looking to stoke a fire, pitch a tent and disappear into the forest for an evening, Camp One feels like a lost world – but it’s just a twenty minute drive from town.
Another day-use area and several more campsites can be found on the eastern side of the forest near Willits, in a spot called Camp 20, located at mile marker 17.
Trails for Everyone
Jackson State Forest offers a number of trails popular with hikers, runners, mountain bikers and horseback riders. The Chamberlain Creek Waterfall Trail, located 17 miles east on Highway 20 near Willits (near Camp 20), is one of the most accessible. After following another unpaved road (Road 200) into the forest for 5.5 miles, visitors are rewarded with a short hike to a 50-foot waterfall and a grove of virgin redwoods that were spared the timber companies’ sawblades.
Those looking for a more intense or rugged experience, whether it be on mountain bike or horseback, would enjoy the Brandon Gulch to Volcano Point trail, an 8-mile loop that crosses Riley Ridge, the highest point in the forest at approximately 1,000 feet. There is a camp here with a picnic table, an outhouse, a firepit and benches.
There are also three well-maintained demonstration trails designed to educate hikers about forestry management and ecology, such as the Forest History Trail, which has sections dedicated to early logging methods, Native Americans and reseeding.
A Magnificent Drive Through Mendocino
Jackson State Forest is still a worthy destination for those who’d rather not venture down dirt roads. Beginning just south of Fort Bragg, Highway 20 bisects the forest for thirty miles, all the way to Willits. The serpentine drive features one tight curve after another winding through steep hills blanketed in undulating stands of redwoods, Douglas fir and hemlock. If you need to travel from one side of Mendocino County to the other, this is a scenic way to do it – but aren’t they all?