Where To Find Free Camping Near Ukiah, California
The Cow Mountain Recreation Area offers camping near Ukiah, just east of the City, through the town of Talmage. This area is located two and a half hours north of San Francisco. This large public land use area of South Cow Mountain offers 25,000 acres of use (from the total 52,000 acres) in the entire recreation area that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and State of California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division. With free campsites near Ukiah, this area is also popular for OHV recreation, with trails and roads in the South Cow Mountain OHV Area, south of Lyons Valley Creek and Scotts Creek. Besides this choice in free Mendocino County camping, visitors can also enjoy picnicking in day use areas, hunting, target shooting, horseback riding, hiking and bicycling. Some competitive OHV events are held on Cow Mountain.
Free BLM Campsites Offer More Than Camping
There are two free campsites located on Cow Mountain. One is called the Red Mountain Campground, which offers 10 sites. The other is Buckhorn Campground, offering four sites. Each camp area has pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits. However, there are periods of the year when Cow Mountain is closed for OHV competitions, when rains create unsafe road conditions or when high water levels force road closures in the winter. Therefore, it is recommended that campers call the BLM prior to planning a trip to Cow Mountain to ascertain the status of camping there.
All ten campsites easily fill up during the weekend. During the week, it is more common to see two to three campsites occupied. One of the best things about BLM camping is the 'getting away from it all.' This particular site, though close in proximity to Ukiah, offers visitors a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of town life.
No Water at the Campsite
When camping without water, bring water in containers. This is particularly true when camping in BLM campgrounds. If weather conditions change or mechanical failure plagues a visitor's vehicle, it may be a long wait for roadside service. Water then becomes essential when temperatures can range into the 100's in mid-summer months.
Free Campground on South Cow Mountain
A recent trip to the free campground on South Cow Mountain took us to Red Mountain Campground. Here, at the top of the mountain, visitors will enjoy a breathtaking view to the west of the city of Ukiah and beyond from one direction. A view of Lake County lies to the east, in the opposite direction. Cow Mountain Campgrounds can be accessed from a road leading from the Ukiah area. A second access road leads in from Lakeport, a city in Lake County.
Free Camping - Precautions
Keep Dogs Leashed
Red Mountain Campground - Primitive Camping
Considered a more primitive campground, Red Mountain Campground does offer pit toilets, cleared camp areas with fire rings and parking. Grounds are patroled by BLM rangers and the Mendocino County Sheriff Deputies. The campsites and day use areas are also under remote video surveillance.
While there is some signage, there are no lights on these roads and driving at night is not advised. Travel trailers and RVs are not advised. These roads vary back and forth from two-lane roads to one-lane roads, can be narrow at points and wind up to the mountain top. From the Ukiah side, the road starts as a paved street but turns to gravel and then clay for the last couple of miles. Campgrounds are well-marked and laid out as many of the traditional car-campgrounds found in populated areas are laid out, except that they lack water of any type (potable or non potable are lacking). Be sure to bring water.
Directions from Ukiah to Red Mountain Campground:
From highway 101, exit Talmage Exit and drive Eastfor 1.5 miles. When the road forms a T, turn right on Old River Road for .5 miles. Take a left on Mill Creak Road and continue east for 5 miles, where the entrance to South Cow Mountain is marked. After this point, the road will be red clay for approximately 3 miles, whereupon visitors will reach the campsites. Visitors will pass the entrance to North Cow Mountain on the way.
Directions from Lakeport to Red Mountain Campground:
From Highway 29, drive west on 11street. Then, take the rugged, unimproved road called Riggs Road. Go west and south for about a mile. Then take Scott Creek Road, turning right and driving 2 miles to the entrance.