Modoc County California

Travelling, hiking, and camping in Modoc County in California’s northwest are as close to the last-century life as you get. For many, this NorCal County is the last outpost – vast open spaces, farmlands and ranches, and cowboys! The small towns are pit-stops like movie sets, and locals speak of Modoc County living as the only way!

County Modoc is known for its vast open spaces and volcanic landscape. There are mountain ranges and lakes. Cattle farming and lumber and the Gold Rush once influenced life here. Tourism is not a key sector. The County’s checkered past includes civil wars, and memorials are dotted on the landscape.

Shasta Trinity National Forest - California Places, Travel, and News.

What is Modoc County California Known For?

Modoc County’s rich archaeological past is evident in its volcanic terrain. The County’s controversial history dates to the first encounters between immigrants and the century-long inhabitants, the Modoc. The County is known for its scenic beauty – mountains, rivers, and lakes. And, there’s evidence of the west, wild horses.

  • Vast Openness
  • Wild horses
  • Modoc Lava Fields
  • Warner Mountains
  • Modoc National Forest

The riches of Modoc County lie in its open planes, solace, and isolation. The County has unexpected historical relevance and is rich in archaeological grandeur.

Vast openness

Anyone who spends time here finds a special connection to Modoc County, California’s undiscovered terrain! The almost pristine landscape attracts hikers, joggers, and naturalists. The geographical landscape and the terrain’s biota offer unrivaled mystique.

Modoc County is one of California’s largest counties, a 4,203 square miles size with 3,918 square miles of land and 286 square miles of water. Yet, it is the third least populated region with a population of 8,700.

The small towns are attractive with a few houses, a general store, and a windowless saloon! The town folk – in cowboy gear – chat animatedly about generations’ life here.  

Wild Horses

The Modoc National Forest has the largest herd of wild horses at the Devil’s Garden Plateau. In an area of 250 000 acres, there are nearly 4000 wild horses. The horses are the descendants of early settlers’ ranch horses.

In the Surprise Valley near Cedarville, there is a unique grouping of mustang, free-roaming horses. These are descendent of horses the Spanish brought here. In both settings, the horses are managed through state rehabilitation programs. Many horses are put out for adoption as over-grazing in the area is a problem.

Modoc Lava Fields

The Modoc lava field is part of North America’s great belt’s igneous rock. The Modoc lava fields are where some of the world’s most significant volcanic eruptions happened. The jagged and corded lava here is a national monument.  

The Modoc lava fields have historical relevance as early inhabitants fought wars here against the settlers and the U.S. government.     

Warner Mountains

The Warner Mountains, a range of 85 miles long, are on the eastern side of Modoc County. The Mountains are part of the Great Basin Ranges and are semi-arid. The Warner Mountains, classified as horst and graben (fault-block) topography, also include several pluvial (ephemeral) lakes.

See also  Madera County California

One of the largest is Goose Lake, a 28-mile-long closed-basin lake in the northern part of Modoc County and also in Oregon. The highest peak in the range is Eagle Peak – at an elevation of 9,892 feet and is part of the Modoc National Forest.

Modoc National Forest

The Warner Mountains and the Modoc National Forest are state-protected wilderness areas. The Modoc National Forest is 1,654,392 acres of land, of which over 80 percent is forest land in Modoc County. One can see the impact of lava flows that happened more than 500,000 years ago in the forest area.   

Road to the Wilderness of Mount Shasta Highway 97 in Northern California heading South - California Places, Travel, and News.

What’s In Modoc County?

Modoc County is the third least populated and most undiscovered part of California. Part of the Shasta Cascade region, the early inhabitants, are the Modoc tribe, and the County is named after these early inhabitants. Today the County’s seat Alturas and small towns attract visitors to many historical sites, the mountains, rivers and lakes, and national parks.


The County seat, Alturas, in Spanish means height. The City is at an elevation of 4,370feet in the Shasta Cascade. Alturas is one of the County’s largest cities, with a population of under 3,000. The arrival of the first settlers in the mid-1700s displaced the Modoc tribe. Alturas was initially known as Dorris’ Bridge (later Dorrisville) in 1871.

Today Alturas is an attractive destination near the scenic Warner Mountains. It depends on wild rice fields, growing potatoes, and cattle and sheep for its economy. The lumber industries – started in the Californian Gold Rush – collapsed in the 1980s. Alturas is the headquarters of the Modoc National Forest, the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, and other recreation areas.


Canby, about 17 miles from Alturas, is the historic site of The Old Immigrant Trail (the route of the Californian Gold Rush prospectors) and the Tule Lake War Relocation Center. The center is one of ten concentration camps the U.S. government built in 1942 to incarcerate Japanese Americans.

The Tule Lake Segregation Center was a maximum-security camp. It functioned as a holding area before the Japanese Americans were deported to Japan. The U.S. government forcibly removed close to 120 000 Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast and incarcerated them here.  

Canby is also where the I’SOT (‘In Search Of Truth’) religious community is based.   


On the east side of Alturas is Cedarville, a city known by other names – Surprise Valley and Deep Creek. The population here is around 500, and the town dates back to 1864 when it was known as Deep Creek – a stop-over post for wagon trains.

It became a trading post when the first road was built, the Cedar Pass between Surprise Valley and Alturas. Of historical interest is the Cressler and Bonner trading post built in 1865.    

Modoc War Battle Fields

See also  Calaveras County California

Much of Modoc County’s history is documented in skirmishes between immigrant and settler groupings and the original inhabitants of this land. The Modoc War or the Modoc Campaign (also known as the Lava Bed Wars) is the most significant.

The conflict between the indigenous Modoc people and the United States Army happened between 1872 and 1873. The Modoc, led by Kintpuash (also known as Captain Jack), staged an uprising to regain their lost land.

Things To Do In Modoc County

Settlement in Modoc County began in earnest in the 1870s. That started the timber, gold, agriculture, and railroad industries here. Now visitors come here for the great outdoors – hiking, camping, deer, bird, and wild horses watching and photographing!

  • Hiking And Camping
  • Self-guided Historic Tours
  • Lava Bed Trails
  • Lakes
  • Country Excursions
  • Photographers’ Paradise
  • Modoc County Fairs

The landscape is equally enticing whether you camp, hike or climb. And if you are keen on photography, Modoc County is the opportunity to discover and photograph!

Barn in Modoc County California - California Places, Travel, and News.

Hiking And Camping

The national forest, an area of 1,654,392 acres, is open to exploring. There are mountains, meadows and lakes, and canyons and wetlands. The County is known for flights of cranes and egrets and is home to the pronghorn antelope and wild horses.

There are many camping areas along routes and hikes. Also, sites that allow R.V.s.

Self-guided trails

Walking in the open, hiking in the forest, and along mountain paths is a favorite past-time. Some walking trails include battlefields and volcanic or lava fields.   

Many trails are in national parks like the Fremont-Winema National Forest, the Modoc National Forest, Cascade Siskiyou national area, and the Shasta Trinity National Forest.

Lava Beds Trails

One of the best camping experiences is at the Lava Beds Camping site, which is also not far from Madison Lake. The Lava Beds’ surreal landscape includes over 700 lava tube caves. The lake is a sought-after trout fishing spot.

One of the most dramatic hikes is the Sentinel Trail. Petroglyph Point’s stone carvings here are also at least 5,000 years old.


Most memorial hikes include camping at Modoc County’s many lakes. The largest lake is the magnificent Goose Lake, an alkaline lake shared by Oregon in the north. Like other lakes in the Great Basin, Goose Lake was formed from precipitation and melting glaciers during the Pleistocene period.

Goose Lake is part of the Fremont National Forest where the forest hikes also have views of the lake. Other lakes are the Upper and Middle Alkali Lake regions near the towns of Bidwell, Lake City, and Cedarville.

Country Excursions

Besides hiking, camping, and fishing, journeying into the country brings unexpected pleasures. There’s the beautiful Jess Valley at an elevation of 1,536 meters. The Jess Valley is near Mill Creek, a spot known for its natural beauty. It is also near the town Likely, known for mountain views, nearby forests, and meadows.

See also  Butte County California

There are cattle and horse ranches. The town has one of the busiest golf courses in the County. And a charming and well-stocked general dealer, the Likely General Store.  

Photographers Paradises

Modoc County’s scenery is a photographer’s paradise! The open land and desert scrub, distant mountains, sunsets and moonrises, and a sky full of bright stars! The various parks and the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge are keen birdwatching places and photographers love the outdoors.  

Picturesque settings include Mill Creek Falls Campground, close to the spectacular 75-foot-high waterfall.

Modoc County Fair

If you are in the mood to see what living in Modoc is about, go to one of the county fairs. Here you can horse ride and even take part in a rodeo competition! You can even learn to throw a lasso… instructed by a cowboy!

Modoc County is a place where the deer and the antelope play! Don’t be surprised to hear songs like Gene Autry’s ‘Home on The Range’ or Roy Roger’s ‘Don’t fence me in.’  

Famous People From Modoc County

Modoc County’s wall of fame includes statesmen and the inventor of aerogel.  

Ernst S Brown

Ernest S. Brown was born in Alturas, became a lawyer, and was briefly appointed the U.S. senator to Nevada in 1954.

John E Raker

Ernest Brown, born in Alturas, was a U.S. statesman. He is the author of the Raker Act – an act to protect public land from private developers’ profit.

Steven Kistler

Steven Kistler, an engineer, scientist, and inventor, came up with the chemical structure of aerogel. He was born in Cedarville. NASA has followed through on Kistler’s findings for aerogels – the lightest solid materials known to humanity. NASA has numerous applications for aerogel, space, and distant planets!

Modoc County FAQs

Interesting Facts About Modoc County?

The earliest form of trade for the oldest indigenous grouping in Modoc County, the Modoc, was tube-shaped mollusks used as currency.  
The shells came from the far northwest coast (close to Vancouver Island) and, through trading, ended up in Modoc County!

Is Modoc County A Good Place To Live?

Tourism’s potential, yet to be fully discovered, provides future opportunities. Farming and ranching are options though these would take investment and commitment.

Is It Expensive In Modoc County?

Living in Modoc County offers a range of experiences that equally differ in costs of having these. Though small-town living is appealing, life here is difficult if one is not earning.



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