Adventure entry by Ryan Henson | Senior Policy Director
Hike Name: Bloody Rock Trail located in the Mendocino National Forest
Name of area/general location: The described trail is in Lake County – east of Lake Pillsbury in the Snow Mountain Wilderness. *The Snow Mountain Wilderness is in the Mendocino National Forest within the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.
Land Acknowledgement: The land discussed in this article is within the ancestral lands and traditional territories of the Northern Yuki but they had close trading and family relations with the Pomo to the west and south and the Patwin to the east. To learn more about the original residents and stewards of the lands, visit native-land.ca.
Trail rating: Moderately difficult out-and-back trail. There is a 500-foot elevation loss over 2.4 miles from the trailhead to the Eel River.
Trail mileage: 4.8 miles out and back, but there are options (see below) to connect with other trails.
Permissible trail uses (dogs, horses, mountain bikes, others): Hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing, hunting, and horseback riding are all allowed in the Snow Mountain Wilderness.
Description of the area, sights, wildlife, and any key markers on the trail:
The Bloody Rock Trail is a moderately difficult out-and-back trail that starts on the south-side of MNF Road M6 at about 2,900 feet. From the signed trailhead there is a 500-foot elevation loss over 2.4 miles to the banks of Eel River.
The trail starts in open meadows and oak woodlands noted for spectacular wildflower displays in spring and early summer (conditions permitting) ie, effects from seasonal weather, or other external factors. Some people may choose to climb to the top of Bloody Rock for its impressive views. The vague route to the top of the rock is about 0.3 miles from the trailhead on the right.
After the turnoff to Bloody Rock, the trail passes through 2.1 miles of oak woodlands, forests of pine, and fir until it reaches the Eel River. Early in the summer the Eel River offers great swimming but by late summer there is not much water left, certainly not enough to swim in. Regardless, there are several good camping sites near the Eel that make it an exceptional place to recreate.
Note that from here, hikers who cross the Eel can struggle to find and follow the very poorly maintained Cold Creek Trail that climbs east from the Eel to Low Gap. The Cold Creek Trail and the Bloody Rock Trail together were once part of an ancient trading route between the Indigenous peoples of the Central Valley to the east (what is now the town of Stonyford in Colusa County) and those living along the Eel River. For those unwilling to brave the woefully unmaintained Cold Creek Trail to see this spectacular branch of the Eel, you can turn around and return to the trailhead the way you came. It is best to top off your water before leaving the Eel River.
More on the history of Bloody Rock:
Despite its beauty, serene quiet, breathtaking views, and innumerable garlands of spring flowers, Bloody Rock was once a place of horror and profound injustice. Since all the accounts of what happened came from the perpetrators, all we can really say is that several ranchers from Clear Lake decided to murder the Indigenous people living along the Eel River at what is now Lake Pillsbury. Estimates of the victims vary from 20 to 60; however, it is possible that the victims exceed more than 60. The people who lived along this part of the Eel River headwaters were called the Onkolukomno’m, or “ground of another valley people.” Our Eel River headwaters series will explore the history and culture of the region in more detail later. Regardless of the exact details of what transpired there, please treat Bloody Rock with the respect due to a revered monument to the fallen.
More info on the Eel River and Scott Dam:
You may have heard or seen the recent news that Pacific Gas and Electric Company is considering removing Scott Dam on the Eel River. Scott Dam creates Lake Pillsbury, a reservoir in the Mendocino National Forest (MNF) in Lake County. More than a century old, Scott Dam needs multi-million-dollar earthquake safety upgrades. In addition, it blocks miles of habitat formerly used by the Eel River’s chinook salmon and summer and winter steelhead. Removal of the dam would improve the river’s dwindling salmonid fisheries.
The Eel River (not including its many “forks”) extends for about 196 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Humboldt County to its “headwaters” (the source of a stream) in Lake and Mendocino counties. While most of the Eel River’s mileage is in private ownership, the first 25 miles of the Eel (and hundreds of more miles of major side streams) are federal public land within the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (BSMNM). The national monument is open to the public for recreation. For a guide to the BSMNM, click here.
To note: The region recently experienced major wildfires and fire-killed trees have fallen across the trail in several places. For your safety, please do not camp or sit under such trees. While the National Forest Road’s M1 and M6 are often used by standard passenger vehicles, a high-clearance vehicle would offer a more comfortable drive to the trailhead. If you are using a standard low-clearance vehicle, be alert for and try to avoid large rocks that may damage your vehicle or cause a flat tire.
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of State Highway 20 and the Potter Valley Road north of Ukiah and west of Clear Lake, follow Potter Valley Road north for 6.5 miles to the gravel Mendocino County Road 301, the Elk Mountain Road. Turn right and follow 301 for 17 miles (you will pass Lake Pillsbury) to unpaved Mendocino National Forest Road M1, turn left. Follow M1 for 6.3 miles to Road M6, also unpaved. Turn right and follow M6 for 2.7 miles to the signed Bloody Rock Trailhead on the right. Note, that while M1 and M6 are often used by standard passenger vehicles, a high-clearance vehicle would offer a more comfortable drive to the trailhead. If you are using a standard low-clearance vehicle, be alert for and try to avoid large rocks that may damage your vehicle or cause a flat tire.
Areas to camp nearby: The Lake Pillsbury Recreation area has 5 campgrounds described on the MNF website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mendocino/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=25166&actid=29
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. CalWild assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.