It is unusual that a mountain environment within the orbit of the San Francisco Bay Area is actually considered one of the remotest wilderness areas in California. That is, however, exactly what one gets with the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness. Their anonymity is a result of distance from transportation lines and population centers and the fact that, for the most party, they are just not quite as spectacular of some other, nearby areas. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by other Northern California allstars (Lassen, Shasta and the Trinity Alps are all within site of the Yolla Bollys), they still afford hikers the opportunity to climb some great peaks, explore beautiful meadows and appreciate attractive lakes. This is particularly true of the North Yolla Bolly Mountains, which are probably the most scenic part of the wilderness. It is fortunate that these mountains are served by good routes. The trail network in the Pettijohn Basin of the North Yolla Bolly Mountains offers several possible destinations and route variations on a well established yet little used trail complex. The primary destinations are North Yolla Bolly (Mountain) and North Yolla Bolly Lake and Black Rock Mountain and Black Rock Lake. Meadows in the Pettijohn Basin and connections to trails penetrating deeper into the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness also draw a few adventurers. All of the primary destinations are worthy of visitation though the obscurity and isolation of the region curtail the number of people who venture into the area.
From the Stuart Gap trailhead, the Pettijohn Trail begins climbing at a very reasonable grade. After a couple quick switchbacks, the trail begins a long traverse of one of North Yolla Bolly’s lower shoulders. After 0.75 miles the trail crosses into the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness. This portion of the trail crosses a seasonal tributary that feeds into the fledgling South Fork of the Trinity River. Even if the creek is dry, the area tends to be lush, a harbinger of the meadows found in the Pettijohn Basin. After crossing the wilderness boundary, the trail continues another 0.25 miles to the first of three trail junctions. Staying to the right here leads to Black Rock Lake. The lake is 1.5 level miles from the Pettijohn Trail. A further 0.25 miles on the main trail leads to the second junction with the route leading to North Yolla Bolly Lake. To get to the lake, the trail climbs 500 feet
Continuing on the main trail once again, the route begins to climb at a steeper grade. The trail crosses over several streams, all of which are the headwaters of the South Fork of the Trinity River. The streams all seep from the extensive meadows of the Pettijohn Basin. For the next 0.75 miles from the junction with the route to North Yolla Bolly Lake the trail continues arcing around Pettijohn Basin, gaining elevation as it goes. After the 0.75 miles, the trail begins a series of switchbacks that ultimately lead to the summit of the ridge high above the Pettijohn Basin. The ridge top is grassy and exposed with views of North Yolla Bolly and the rest of the wilderness to the south as well as the Klamath Mountain stretching out to the north.
Route information on the way to reach the summit of North Yolla Bolly is available here.
Once on the North Yolla Bolly crest, follow the trail 1.5 miles to the west, toward the base of Black Rock Mountain. The trail passes through extensive lupine fields, which are open areas affording great views of North Yolla Bolly. The trail is generally level all the way to the base of the mountain, though it is faint at times. Once at the base of the mountain, the route consists of a tight sequence of switchbacks over 03. miles. Once on top the views are excellent, a fact substantiated by the presence of a look out tower.
Two other routes from the Pettijohn Basin to the summit of Black Rock Mountain are possible. The first route involves circling around to the south shore of Black Rock Lake. Once there it is a simple matter of climbing a westerly oriented gully to the top of a ridge radiating out from the mountain. Once on the ridge, follow the cliff line through the trees all the way to the summit. The other possible route ascends the last major (usually dry) creek bed before one reaches Black Rock Lake. In taking this route, it is possible to follow a fairly well established deer trail all the way to the North Yolla Bolly crest. If it proves to be impossible to locate the deer trail, then one should maintain a course that stays to the right of the creek bed as well as on the right side of the canyon while ascending the meadows. Once on the crest and pick up the crest trail, which leads to the summit of Black Rock Mountain. By taking either of these two routes, one is able to establish an attractive loop hike around Black Rock Mountain.
Getting ThereGetting to the North Yolla Bollys is a long drive, no matter which direction one comes from. The mountains are located south of Highway 36, which is one of several state highways that transect the North Coast Range. Consequently, the North Yolla Bollys can be accessed from either Highway 101 in the west or Interstate 5 in the east. Directions from both sides are given (the same cannot be said for the South Yolla Bollys, which are only accessible from the east).
From Highway 101:
From the intersection of Highways 101 and 36, drive east on Highway 36 for 81.5 miles. Just before the bridge crossing over Hayfork Creek, turn right onto Forest Road 30 / Wildwood-Mad River Road.
From Interstate 5, southbound from Redding:
From Redding, continue south on Interstate 5 to Cottonwood. Take exit 662 for Bowman Road. Drive west on Bowman Road for 14 miles to the intersection with Highway 36. Turn right onto Highway 36 and continue west for 37.5 miles. Turn left onto Forest Road 30 / Wildwood-Mad River Road just after crossing the bridge on Hayfork Creek.
From Interstate 5, northbound from Red Bluff:
As one enters Red Bluff on Interstate 5, take exit 650 for Adobe Road. Turn left onto Adobe Road and then right onto Main Street. Continue for 0.5 miles and then turn left onto Highway 36 / Beegum Road. Continue on Highway 36 for 55 miles. Turn left onto Forest Road 30 / Wildwood-Mad River Road just after crossing the bridge on Hayfork Creek.
From the intersection of Highway 36 and Wild Mad Road:
Once on the Wildwood-Mad River Road, drive 9 miles to Pine Root Saddle. Turn left onto paved Forest Road 35. Follow this road for another 10 winding miles to Stuart Gap, which is a nexus of five roads. Veer slightly right (roughly 2:00) onto a dirt road signed for the Stuart Gap trailhead. Stay on this road for almost 2 miles to the trailhead.