Name of area/general location: Mendocino National Forest
Land Acknowledgement: These lands are the ancestral and traditional territory of the Nomlaki Tribe
AllTrails Hike Link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/california/thomes-gorge-trail
Trail rating: Moderate. Portions of the trail are poorly maintained with encroaching shrubs, including poison oak
For more information: Mendocino National Forest, 825 N. Humboldt Ave., Willows, CA 95988, (530) 934-3316 https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mendocino/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=25302&actid=51
Description of area, sights, wildlife and any key markers on the trail:
This trail begins at an elevation of 2,048 feet in a region of the Coast Range dominated by chaparral and oak woodlands. It descends after 5.4 miles to an absolutely stunning rocky gorge on Thomes Creek. Some visitors shave 1.4 miles off of the trail by parking at Road 23N35 which it crosses.
The Thomes Creek Trail provides an opportunity to explore the Thomes Creek Inventoried Roadless Area and a segment of Thomes Creek identified by the Forest Service as eligible for National Wild and Scenic River protection. The creek rises from the 7,369-foot-high Sugarloaf Mountain deep in the heart of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness. It then flows south out of the wilderness and heads east towards the Sacramento Valley. As the creek descends into the Coast Range foothills, it enters the 15,900-acre Thomes Creek Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA). A potential wilderness, the Thomes Creek IRA is managed by the Forest Service to provide an undeveloped forest environment, maintain a diversity of plant and animal life, and provide an opportunity for primitive and semi-primitive recreation.
The lower 11 miles of Thomes Creek to where it exits the Mendocino Forest was determined eligible for Wild and Scenic River protection because of its free-flowing condition and the outstandingly remarkable geological feature of the rugged Thomes Creek Gorge. The 670-acre Devil’s Basin Research Natural Area (RNA) is located within the Thomes Creek IRA along the north bank of the creek. The RNA was established by the Forest Service to preserve the black oak vegetation type for scientific research.
The trail offers outstanding views of the Central Valley and the Sierra at first, and then breathtaking views of the Coast Range as it proceeds. The trail is also one of the best botanical hikes in California. In spring the area offers a profusion of wildflowers and is remarkable for both the number and diversity of Coast Range flowers that can be seen along the trail. As a result, many amateur and professional botanists include the Thomes Gorge Trail among their favorites. The area also offers excellent birdwatching.
After 2.4 miles from the trailhead, hikers arrive at cool Bowers Creek. This clean, shallow but steadily-flowing stream offers a place to refill water bottles and rest in the shade of the streamside trees.
After a little over 4 miles the trail arrives at a large seasonal pond known as Dead Rabbit Lake. The lake offers extremely important wetland habitat for birds and other wildlife. Up until Dead Rabbit Lake the trail remains fairly gentle. For the remaining 1.3 miles from Dead Rabbit Lake to Thomes Creek at 1,300 feet the trail switchbacks numerous times. Please stay on the trail and do not shortcut the switchbacks. After 5.3 miles from the trailhead the trail arrives at the banks of Thomes Creek under the shadow of an enormous rock face called The Gorge on the map. The Thomes Creek Gorge is a deep, narrow canyon near where the stream enters the Central Valley. Thomes Creek is deep enough for swimming or at least wading after the hike. There is room for 3-4 parties to camp at the creek, but there are no developed sites. If there are too many people on the south side of the stream, there is additional camping space available on the north side.
Despite the stunning beauty of the flowers and scenery along the trail, this part of the Mendocino National Forest has a tragic history. In 1863 the U.S. government forced 461 Indigenous peoples to walk from Chico on the eastern edge of the Central Valley to Round Valley in the Coast Range in Mendocino County. This arduous journey was called the Nome Cult Trail. Only 277 people completed the forced march that passed through what is the heart of today’s Mendocino National Forest. Those who did not complete the journey were too sick to go on, some escaped, and others were murdered. In recent decades, Indigenous people and allies have begun commemorating the Nome Cult Trail tragedy with an annual walk from Chico to Round Valley. The Nome Cult Trail crosses the Thomes Gorge Trail at Road 23N35. When crossing the road, please spare a moment to ponder this tragedy and to honor the people who suffered.
Warnings: The trail can be terribly hot in the summer and is best visited in spring, winter, and fall. The trail is not well-maintained, and it is often encroached upon by shrubs, including poison oak. Visitors should know what poison oak looks like and be alert for it on the trail.
How To Get There: From Interstate 5 in Corning, take Corning Road west for roughly 20 miles to the small community of Paskenta. Turn left (west) on Round Valley Road and follow it for 10.5 miles to the signed Thomes Gorge Trailhead on the right. The trailhead has 2 picnic tables and enough room to park several vehicles.
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. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.