Covering 37,000 acres of the California coastal range just north of San Francisco Bay, tiny Snow Mountain Wilderness is one of the best kept secrets (whoops) in the outdoors. The area boasts 52 miles of trail above 6,000 feet and two summits over 7,000 feet. It is considered one of the best preserved ecological areas in California. Sightings of bear, wildcat and rattlesnake (gulp!) are not uncommon. And while getting there involves 30-odd miles of wrangling over dusty forest service roads, the seclusion and scenery are well worth it.
Recommended Trip: The crowning trip in Snow Mountain Wilderness is an ascent of Snow Mountain (el. 7,056 ft) itself. From West Crocket Trailhead, two routes to the high country are possible: the eastern side of the Waterfall Loop Trail (formerly known as the North Ridge Trail); and the western side of the Waterfall Loop Trail (formerly known as the Crooked Tree Trail). North Ridge is shorter, much steeper and more difficult. Crooked Tree takes its time and meanders past a number of waterfalls.Both trails meet at Milk Ranch Meadow after roughly eight miles of climbing. Milk Ranch is a fine campsite. From Milk Ranch a quick assault on the summit (roughly 1.5 miles east of here) is possible. But given the time, take a second day looping the summits of Snow Mountain East and Snow Mountain West. Head back to your vehicle on the third day.
For a loop experience, consider coming up Crooked Tree Trail (west branch of Waterfall Loop). From there, tie into the second loop that curls around the Snow Mountain summits. Then return to the West Crocket Trailhead on the rapidly descending North Ridge Trail (east branch of Waterfall Loop).
NOTE: Contact ranger station about seasonal water availability.
Permits: Camp fire permits are required. No other visitor permits, fees or quotas are in place. Contact Stonyford Ranger District.
Getting there: Take I-5 north to Willows. Take CA 162 west to Elk Creek. In Elk Creek, turn left. At a green California Division of Forestry (CDF) road sign turn right. Follow this to Ivory Mill Road. Follow Ivory Mill Road for several miles into the forest. At the Ivory Mill Saddle (a large open area on a hill) turn left down the"most improved" road. This is M3/24N02. Follow this for 13-15 miles to the turn-off for West Crocket Trailhead. Turn left here and travel the half mile to the trailhead.
Public Transit: Ha!
Maps: The Forest Service publishes the Snow Mountain Wilderness map, available for a nominal fee, but it is outdated, and several trails on it have been changed or closed. Request the updated topo map to supplement the first, which is larger and easier to read. The Forest Service provides the updated version free of charge.
Guidebook: The Hikers Hip Pocket Guide to the Mendocino Highlands, by Bob Lorentzen. Excellent guidebook with special attention to natural history of the area. Available from Bored Feet Publications, P.O. Box 1832 Mendocino, CA 9546, (888) 336-6199, or on the web (scheduled to be up this spring) at www.boredfeet.com.
Mendocino National Forest
Stonyford Ranger District
P.O. Box 160
5171 Stony Ford-Elk Creek Rd.,
Stonyford, CA 95979
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication