Modoc National Forest

South Warner Auto Tour Loop

Modoc, a best kept secret in California, has miles of wonderful mountain scenery

Modoc Country has always been California?s best-kept secret when it comes to tourism. Its landscapes are awesome; its solitude peaceful, and its un-crowded byways welcome visitors.

The self-guided tour starts in the county seat, Alturas, population 3,200, and heads 20 miles south down U.S. 395 to the town of Likely, then east through spectacular South Fork canyon to beautiful Jess Valley, and climbs over the Warners opening to a spectacular view of Surprise Valley and the Hayes Mountains of Nevada.

The route winds its way down the mountains to Eagleville, then travels north through some of the best agriculture land in the state to Cedarville. At Cedarville the tour heads west, crossing the Warners again at Cedar Pass and ends once again in Alturas.

The drive along this loop is easy and offers some special places and things to see.

Alturas, the hub of county government, is also full of historic attractions, including the Modoc County Museum on the south edge of town. The museum is worth a visit for a peek into the county?s interesting past.

Additionally, Alturas has several historic buildings, including the Elks Lodge and Whistle Stop (a.k.a. The Garden Club)?both rich in railroad history. The Modoc County Courthouse is a classic structure built in 1904 in the Beaux Arts style. Main Street includes several buildings constructed from local stone.
The Elks Lodge was the original Nevada-California-Oregon (NCO) Railroad office building, constructed in 1915.

Alturas has many fine restaurants, including cafes and dinner houses, 216 hotel/motel rooms, and 183 spaces for RVs and Campers. Alturas is also the retail shopping center for the area, and has 24-hour gas and convenience service.

The tour takes you to the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, a jewel among refuges and one of the least visited in the state.
To get to the refuge from Alturas, turn left off U.S. 395 onto County Road 56 at the park on the south edge of Alturas. Drive east on County Road 56 and turn right at the refuge sign, about a ½ mile. The entrance to the refuge is well marked on the east side of CR 115 about a mile from the turn.

Known as a ?High Desert Oasis for Waterfowl?, the refuge was established in 1960 to protect and manage migratory waterfowl.
The 6,283-acre sanctuary contains freshwater lakes and ponds, farmland and irrigated meadows, sagebrush upland, and riparian corridors.

A total of 232 bird species have been observed on the refuge, with at least 76 species documented as nesting in Modoc. Two of the birds, the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, are listed as endangered. Bald eagles are frequent visitors to the refuge in the winter. April through September is the best time to observe bird life. In addition to waterfowl, mule deer, antelope, coyote, skunk, raccoon, mink, muskrat, cottontails, and jackrabbits are year-round residents.

On 2,130 acres, sport hunting is permitted, in accordance with refuge, state, and federal regulations.

Continuing south 19 miles on U.S. 395 is the town of Likely, a ranching and railroad community with an old-time general store and home-town saloon and historic buildings.

The tour turns east at Likely on County Road 64. Immediately to the left are two buildings side-by-side. The first building is the old Ropers Club and the right hand building is the old Post Office. Both were built about 1910.

Heading east on CR 64, at about 2.1 miles east of Likely, is a turn to West Valley Reservoir. It is an area noted for fishing, waterfowl hunting, and boating sports.

Continuing east, CR 64 curves through South Fork Canyon, one of the most picturesque gorges in the area. The canyon was formed by the action of the South Fork of the Pit River, one of the major headwaters of the Sacramento River. Of special interest are the volcanic formations, specifically, hillsides of volcanic boulders rising up to sheer rock formations. The cliffs are home to falcons and eagles. The Pit River is also full of good-sized trout and beckons anglers and fly-fishermen to its pools and riffles.

Coming out of the canyon the tour opens into Jess Valley, a lush area of ranches, wildlife, and peat moss bogs.
A turn left and short side trip takes the traveler to Clear Lake and Mill Creek Falls. The Clear Lake Campground is the campground to one of the South Warner Wilderness Area trailheads. Mill Creek Falls is just a short walk up the Clear Lake Trail.

Turning right at the Jess Valley ?Y? keeps to the tour map. One of the real diamonds of the area, Blue Lake, is 6.5 miles from the ?Y? and just 2 miles off the main road. Blue Lake is a very popular fishing, camping, hiking, and sightseeing area, and is noted for its trophy German Brown trout.

The natural lake is 160 acres and includes a hiking trail around the lake, handicapped access, restrooms, fishing pier, and a boat ramp. Blue Lake is accessible to motor homes and trailers.
Continuing up the main road from Blue Lake about 4.7 miles, another side trip goes to the Jenkins Springs Silvaglyphs. Turn right on Long Valley Road, go to the fork at 1.2 miles, and turn right for another 3.3 miles. Make a hairpin turn to the left and drive up to the aspen grove on the right. Silvaglyphs are carvings in the trunks of living trees. Carving dates and names in the tree trunks has long been a custom among Basque sheepherders, who have traversed the mountains in Modoc County for over a century. Many of the carvings in the grove are dated.

Once back on the South Warner Road, head east to Patterson Campground and Guard Station. The Patterson Guard Station was built in 1920-21 to serve as the residence of the district guard. The Summit Trail into the South Warner Wilderness starts here.

The South Warner Wilderness is one of the most pristine and least visited in the northwest. It?s 18 miles long by 8 miles wide and offers breathless vistas and the highest peaks in northeastern California. All of Modoc County, much of Lassen County, and Black Rock Desert in Northwestern Nevada are visible from the higher elevations. Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen dominate the view to the west.

In addition to the beauty of the area, ample opportunities arise for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, hunting, and fishing. The Wilderness offers solitude and nature in a pure form amid snow-clad peaks, mountain meadows, sparkling trout streams and blue-green lakes, a profusion of wildflowers, and countless birds and animals.

There are 77 miles of trails in the wilderness, with trail elevations ranging from 7,000 to 9,000 feet. With the combination of trailheads and trails, a person can travel 5 to 70 mile loops with little or no area covered twice.

From Patterson Station, take the road east for 2.7 miles. A left turn on a dirt road takes the traveler 1.3 miles to Bear Camp, a Basque sheep camp where a Basque oven is located. The ovens were used to bake famous Basque bread.

One of the most spectacular and surprising views comes as you drive another 2 miles on the South Warner Road and start the descent into Surprise Valley. The view opens up and the Hayes Mountain Range located across Surprise Valley comes into view. Lower Alkali Lake is seen on the valley floor and Sworinger Reservoir sparkles from far below.

The road snakes its way down the east side of the mountain and enters CR 1. A left turn takes the traveler to the town of Eagleville.

Eagleville is a small community with a rich ranching past. The community Hall is a 1910 two-and-a-half story building, with bellcast roof, shiplap siding, and bay windows. On the left side of the street is another 1930?s style home with a Chinese pagoda style parapet.

The tour continues north on CR 1 for 19 miles through lush ranch land to Cedarville. There are several restaurants, grocery stores, and other services in Cedarville. The Modoc Fairgrounds and Warner Mountain Ranger District office of the U.S. Forest Service are also located in Cedarville.

The Fairgrounds are home to ?Louieville?, a complete replica of an old western town, including many historic buildings that have been moved to the site. The Cedarville Park, in the middle of town on Bonner Street, contains the Cressler-Bonner Trading Post (State Historical Landmark No. 14), a log structure that was the first building erected in ?Deep Creek Settlement?, now Cedarville. The building was constructed in 1865 and was the first trading post north of Susanville.

Cedarville?s Main Street has several fine examples of historical commercial buildings including Surprise Valley Drug built in 1890, the Cressler-Bonner General Store (now containing several small shops), and the Kober Store at the southwest corner of Main Street and SR 299. Leaving Cedarville on SR 299 west, there are many historic homes on both sides of the street.

Just up the road about 2 ½ miles is Rock Spring, a non-potable water source that was used to replenish radiator water in early-era cars as they attempted to drive over the pass.

The Cedar Pass Ski Area is near the summit. It features downhill and cross-country skiing?without crowds and high prices. The ski hill has a T-bar lift and a rope tow for beginners.
Just before the summit, a Forest Service road takes the traveler into Stough Reservoir, a nice place to picnic or camp.

A turnout overlooking the ski area also allows the visitor a look back at the Great Basin. There is a sign stating, ?Leaving the Great Basin?, at the turnout. The Great Basin is an important geographic area in northeast California, northern Nevada, and western Utah. It is also one of the three prehistoric culture areas in Modoc. Bands of Northern Paiute lived in the area.

Just down from Cedar Pass summit is the turnoff to Cedar Pass campground. The campground is accessible to small trailers and is situated along Thoms? Creek.

Coming down the west side of Cedar Pass, a spectacular view of Mt. Shasta 150 miles away, dominates the horizon. Continuing down SR 299 3.3 miles from the campground, turn left on CR 58 and go another 6.8 miles to CR 56. A right turn takes you to Dorris Reservoir. Fishing, water-skiing, swimming, and bird watching activities are available. The reservoir is also part of the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge.

CR 56 will bring you back to Alturas for a good night?s sleep and ready for another tour of Modoc County tomorrow.
For more detailed information on the South Warner Wilderness Area, trailheads and trails.