Although the southern boundary of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument sits just 1.5 hours drive north of San Francisco, we didn’t meet many people who knew of its rather new existence (designated in 2015). At roughly 330,000 acres (133,500 ha), it extends over seven counties and is managed by the US Forest Service on the Mendocino National Forest side, and by the BLM in the region of the Berryessa Lake. The monument was designated for its outstanding geology, to protect migration corridors and waterways among several ecoregions, as well as to preserve traces of the long human history (read Presidential Proclamation for more details). Unfortunately since our visit last year, the Mendocino National Forest and the national monument have seen the destructive power of the giant Mendocino Complex wildfires, so we are not sure what the condition of the trails is now but this map from the Snow Mountain Hiking Association will give you an idea of where the fires burned (contact the local Forest Service for latest information). The BLM map of the national monument is pretty basic, so it’s recommended to purchase a map of the Mendocino National Forest or a guide to the Snow Mountain Wilderness online or at the field office in Willows, CA (contact them to make sure they have it). When we visited in late September we hiked up to the two summits of Snow Mountain on an 8 mile there-and-back trail from the Summit Spring Trailhead, and camped right outside the Snow Mountain Wilderness. The East Snow Mountain Peak is located in Colusa County, while the West one is in Lake County, with a 0.58 mile hike between the two peaks. This map from the same Snow Mountain Hiking Association is the best we could find online containing the hike we did and a longer, 14-mile alternative. We started hiking in the afternoon and made our way back to camp at sunset, which gave us the opportunity to marvel at the landscape in the sunset light. We spent another night in the monument close to the Cache Creek Wilderness, where the habitat is dominated by oak savanna and where archaeological sites from the first people in this region abound. At sunset we spotted a pretty large herd of tule elk feeding in the grasslands. The campgrounds available in this part of the monument aren’t as sheltered or nice, but they work for one night. Finally, we made our way to the southernmost boundary, near the artificial Berryessa Lake. This lake which is central to the irrigation system of the region is not part of the national monument and is surrounded by resorts with a focus on motorized water sports. We hiked in a portion of the national monument called the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve administered by the University of California Davis, which is dedicated to studying the return of vegetation and wildlife after destructive fires. We hiked the Homestead-Blue Ridge Trail and did so in late afternoon to avoid the heat. We timed it to be on the ridge at sunset and it was breathtaking. Hiking back in the dark isn’t something we would recommend for everyone as the terrain is rugged, not very well marked and there are snakes and other critters, but if you’re OK with it then it’s worth catching the sunset up there. Nearby Lake Berryessa there are several options for accommodation, including public and private campgrounds, as well as delis, restaurants and shops. The cities of Napa and Vacaville are only a short drive away. Unfortunately this region as well has been severely affected by wildfires in 2018 so check for the latest conditions. Up north, the national forest has a wide range of camping options and you can find accommodation and food in the nearby towns. If you’d like to contact a local NGO which was involved in the protection of this national monument, head to the page of the Tuleyome organization.
For more stories from national monuments you can also check our blog.