Modoc County Places to Visit & Things to do

Modoc County is the home of many of California’s best kept outdoor secrets: the South Warner Mountain WildernessSurprise Valley, Devil’s Garden, ghost towns, Fandango Pass, the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, the Lava Beds National Monument, the Tule Lake Internment/Segregation Center and much, much more.

Tucked into the far northeastern corner of California, in a land the Native Americans once called, “The Smiles of God,” this diverse frontier region is also home to the quaint towns of Fort Bidwell, Lake City, Cedarville, Eagleville, Likely, Davis, Canby, Adin, Newell and the historic town of Alturas, the county seat. Here, there is literally something for every outdoor adventure seeker and western history buff. Visitors can actually step back in time to where the west still lives, a place rich in Native Culture and pioneering ways and yet so vast and unexplored there are still discoveries to be made.

To refer to Modoc as a place of spectacular natural diversity is an understatement.

Modoc comes with unspoiled breathtaking landscapes, the bluest skies and brightest stars. Also waiting are pristine mountains, green fertile valleys, beautiful alpine lakes and streams, a meandering river, wetlands and high desert terrain. Unique hunting, fishing and outdoor experiences are everywhere you look — from premium hunt zones and hidden high desert reservoirs to summit trails and major geological and geographical features worthy of study, exploration and appreciation. And, on its western edge near the town of Newell, sit the remains of the largest of World War II’s Japanese Internment/Segregation Camps.

Alturas, nearly surrounded by the Modoc National Forest, is located at the crossroads of Highway 395 and 299. When entering Alturas, the majestic Warner Mountains towering in the background are simply captivating, beckoning the visitor to explore further.

The downtown sector in Alturas offers the visitor a variety of motels, unique shops and some of the best restaurants in the region.T

Take the Historic Walking Tour! The famous Historic Niles Hotel built in the early 1900’s and newly restored is a must see. It has been said that people would travel miles for a drink at the Niles. There is a 9-hole golf course. Try your luck at the Desert Rose Casino, which provides RV and camping areas. And watch for the annual events that take place every year including the Sweetheart Pow Wow, Fandango Days, the Annual Sportsman’s & Outdoor Expo, the Balloonfest & Art Festival, Winterfest and more. Alturas has transportation too. The Sage Stage travels in and out of town and there is also a fine municipal airport.

The Modoc National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR) located south and east of the Alturas city limits is part of a chain of National Wildlife refuges along the Pacific Flyway. It is home to greater sand hill cranes, golden and bald eagles and a host to both resident and migrating birds.

MNWR is an important resting and feeding area for waterfowl. More than 240 different bird species can be seen here seasonally so the refuge is a bird watcher’s paradise.

The MNWR also provides some of the best waterfowl hunting in the Northern Eastern corner of California. There are a variety of habitats in the hunt area including dry and flooded grain fields, wet meadows, ponds and marshes. The areas include rough, uneven terrain and deep, dense stands of bulrushes (tules) and ditches. The most common species harvested include Canada geese, mallards, widgeon and gadwall with decoying techniques being the most effective method. There are three spaced blinds available, out of the North hunt lot, which are all ADA accessible. The new Grandma Tract hunt area offers five assigned hunt units (two wetland, one dry grain field, and two units with freshly planted grain or moist soil/wetland) available.

In addition to the migratory bird populations, the diverse habitats of the refuge supports, a wide range of other wildlife such as Mule deer, Pronghorn antelope, bobcats, coyote and more. Take MNWR in the auto tour loop and you’ll be amazed.

Likely is a small town located on the west side of the Warner Mountain range about eighteen miles south of Alturas along Hwy 395 near the South Fork of the Pit River. it is surrounded by high desert plateaus and towering mountains.

Likely is one of the most aesthetically picturesque places in Modoc and is considered one of the last frontiers of the west. Infernal Caverns located just west of Likely is the site where one of the last American Indian Wars was fought.

For the visitor, Likely offers many places to see and stay. The Likely Place RV Resort and Golf Course is a full service, 50-space RV Park with a beautiful 18-hole, 6900-yard golf course, clubhouse, restaurant, and other recreation facilities. Willow Creek Ranch Surf and Turf feeding company, one of the largest producers of caviar in the U.S. offers daily tours of its sturgeon ponds

The North Warner Mountain Range is comprised of some of the most diverse and dramatic terrain in Modoc County from its steep mountain ridges to its astonishing high alpine meadows. In the spring the mountain landscape is enveloped with a mosaic of spectacular colors. The scenic views provoke a photographer’s fantasy, one of which was world-famous Ansel Adams. A profusion of geological resources await anxious rock hounds. Here you’ll discover historic gold and silver mines. Other areas contain a variety of uncommon rocks and minerals such as colored obsidian, needles, and opal. New Pine Creek Wild Plum Winery, located on the California/Oregon border specializes in spirits made from wild plums indigenous to the area and only found in Modoc County.Davis Creek and Goose Lake Valley run along the foothills of the North Warner Mountain Range nineteen miles north of Alturas along Hwy 395 to the east and the beginning of Goose Lake to the west. Rich in western culture and history, here you’ll find remnants of the Applegate/Lassen emigrant trail where, the remains of broken-down wagons provide grim testimony to the difficulty of this route once traveled by pioneers looking to settle here or to join the Oregon Trail.  

Cedar Pass Snow Park is located within the Modoc National Forest. It is approximately twenty miles east of Alturas and four miles west of Cedarville. This small but alluring snow park is a hidden gem perfectly positioned in the Warner Mountains. The stunning and scenic panorama enriches the ski experience.

The Snow Park provides a wide variety of winter sport activities including, snowboarding, cross country, downhill, Nordic and Telemark skiing. There are a variety of slopes, steep runs, and snow conditions that can vary from powder to ice, giving both the experienced and beginner skier an opportunity to explore at their own skill levels.

Other winter activities include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledding and ice skating. During the warmer months outdoor activities include; horseback riding, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, rock-hounding, and more. 

Surprise Valley located on the east side of the Warner Mountain Range is graced with stunning natural beauty, fertile agricultural land, pristine air, diverse wildlife, and is home to four rural, historic towns: Cedarville, Eagleville, Lake City and Fort Bidwell.

The many small communities in Surprise Valley retain an authentic “Old West” ambiance introduced by pioneers who traveled west on the Lassen Applegate Trail and settled this area in the 1800′s.

Government offices, cattle ranching and alfalfa hay production fuel the local economy. Cattle drives still take place across open terrain and along valley byways. Surprise Valley is host to the Annual “Squirrel Round-Up”, a variety of barbecues, dances, horseshoe tournaments, the Super Bull Rodeo, tribal Pow Wows, the Modoc District Fair, parades, art shows, home tours, sports tournaments, vast outdoor recreational opportunities, wild horse viewing, and much more. A fine selection of amiable shops and a variety of fine dining choices are also here. Accommodations in the area range from homey ranch lodging with corrals to economical motels, historic inns, RV parks, and campgrounds and the ever popular Surprise Valley Hot Springs Resort, which features private hot springs-fed spas behind each exclusive room. The largest mule deer (15 point) in California was taken here in 2013.

Beautiful Jess Valley is the gateway to the South Warner Mountain Wilderness Area, offering backpackers and horsemen a true wilderness experience. Campgrounds and horse camps on both sides of the range offer staging areas for travelers leaving on overnight trips and pleasant spots for tent and trailer campers. Some of the finest stream and high mountain lake fishing in northeastern California is available in the valley and the South Warner Wilderness.

Here you’ll find the headwaters of the South Fork of the Pit River plus numerous other destinations and trailheads: West Valley Reservoir, Blue Lake (located on the Modoc/Lassen County border) Clear Lake, Mill Creek Falls, Soup Springs, the East Creek and Pine Creek Basin Trailheads and Patterson and Emerson Lakes to name a few. Many other high alpine lakes are also stocked with a variety of native and other trout species. There are several guest ranches available and all are situated in the magnificent scenic mountain setting, providing everything the visitor needs for a wonderful quiet and comfortable vacation getaway.

Modoc National Forest provides twenty-nine clean and simple campgrounds with many of these campgrounds situated at elevations of 4,000-6,000 feet and up. The highest campground is at 7,200 feet. Camping at these sites is considered some of the most captivating in the north state and several campgrounds offer free horse corrals and facilities.

Never crowded or overrun with campers and tourists, the MNFoffers the fishing enthusiast, a myriad of creeks, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that provide an abundance of native species and other game fish.

In the higher elevations the angler will find rainbow trout, redband trout, brown trout, and brook trout. High plateau lakes and reservoirs hold blue gill, crappie, trout, Sacramento perch, largemouth bass, channel and bullhead catfish. Fishing season is open year round with the exception of stream fishing which opens in April and closes in November. Hunting is also year round. Coyote and squirrel hunting starts the season off. Spring wild turkey season follows, other upland game bird seasons begin in the in the late summer starting with Blue or Ruffed grouse and dove. Big Game hunting also begins in the late summer and runs through the fall, beginning with, Pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain elk, Mule deer and bear. In the late fall and winter, upland game birds and waterfowl are plentiful including fall wild turkey, pheasant, quail, chukar, and a wide variety of ducks and geese.

The Devil’s Garden lies in the heart of the Modoc Plateau. The Modoc Plateau is a mile-high expanse of lava flows with cinder cones, juniper flats, pine forests, and seasonal lakes. The plateau is thought to have been formed approximately 25 million years ago.

The Devil’s Garden lies directly under the Pacific Flyway. During their migration from Alaska and Canada to Mexico, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl use the wetlands as rest stops.

Devil’s Garden is also shared by Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, wild horses and Pronghorn antelope. Many of the reservoirs on Devils Garden are stocked with crappie, catfish largemouth bass and trout. Four of the five developed campgrounds on the Devil’s Garden charge no fees for camping, day use or boat launching. Even so, these facilities rarely fill to capacity and are considered the perfect getaway by the few who venture there.

Big Valley, located on the Modoc/Lassen County border along Hwy 299 depicts a panorama of big open valleys and rich fertile agricultural lands. Quaint little towns along the highway such as Canby, Adin, and Lookout enhance the beauty and charm of this area.

Visitors come from miles away every Christmas to view Canby’s unique Nativity scenes along both sides of Hwy. 299E.

This region is also a very special place for star gazers as Big Valley possesses the darkest skies in California. An astronomer’s playground, folks congregate here from all over the world to observe these pristine skies and participate in the Golden State Star Party which is held each summer. And just southwest of the historic town of Adin is the the Ash Creek Wildlife area, which contains a wealth of wildlife that can be observed throughout area. Trout fishing in Ash Creek is also awesome.

Lava Beds National Monument is located approximately 60 miles northwest of Alturas along Hwy.139 near the towns of Tulelake and Newell on the California/Oregon border. If cinder cones, spatter cones, pit craters, hornitos mars or lava flows intrigue you then, Lava Beds National Monument is where you want to be.

Lava Beds National Monument is a land of turmoil, both geologic and historic.

Over the last half-million years, volcanic eruptions have created a rugged landscape here where one can explore numerous caves via guided or self-guided hikes, or enjoy majestic overlooks. Lava tube caves, Native American sites such as Petroglyph Point; the historic battlefields of Captain Jack, and a high desert wilderness experience await you.

Tule Lake Unit of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is also located here. Established in 2008, this a nationally significant site dedicated to telling the story of the cost of World War II on the home front.

The lasting effects of the unjust incarceration of over 29,000 US citizens and long-term residents of Japanese ancestry at the Tule Lake Segregation Center can be studied here.

A WWII German POW camp was located a few miles to the west of the Japanese camp. A visitor center with guided tours is available in the summer months.

Other areas of interest include Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the Basin Birding Trail and nearby Medicine Lake, Tionesta and Glass Mountain in neighboring Siskiyou County

Whatever your interest or sport; hunting , fishing, camping, backpacking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, hang gliding, kayaking, wind surfing, kite boarding, rock climbing, rock hounding, bird watching or star gazing, Modoc is the place for the ultimate outdoor experience. In the winter locals enjoy snowmobiling, snowboarding, cross country and downhill skiing, sledding, ice skating, snow shoeing, and ice fishing. If you prefer to hunt with a camera or binoculars many surprises await you. If you enjoy taking pictures, the mountain forests, high desert plateaus, plains, and wetlands provide habitat to a large variety of wildlife, scenic opportunities are endless and the sunrises and sunsets are magnificent, giving the photographer a chance to capture that perfect shot.

Come visit and explore the Modoc Outback!