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South Warner Wilderness

By Phil "Flip" Akers
The South Warner Wilderness is an isolated piece of mountain paradise that is remote, rugged, and seemingly untouched. Situated between a very large graben to the east (Surprise Valley), and a vast tableland of volcanic mud and lava flows to the west (the Modoc Plateau), it is an extreme juxtaposition of the verdant and the parched.

Modoc County South Warner Wilderness, Phil
There is wildlife galore and many fly-fishing hideaways await adventurous anglers. 

The South Warner Wilderness is completely contained within Modoc county. What does the name Modoc mean? Not known for certain but it is believed to have originated in the 1820’s from the Klamath Indian word “moa” meaning southerner and “dock” meaning near. According to records of Hudson’s Bay Company trappers – led by Peter Skene – the Klamath Indians used the word “Moadocks” referring to their Native American neighbors to the south. Modoc county is rich in Native American history and when traveling here please remember federal laws prohibit collection or excavation of historic artifacts. If you discover a site of archaeological interest, please contact the Forest Service or BLM. Artifacts cannot be removed from federally owned land.

Experience extreme solace while traveling the backcountry areas of the South Warner Wilderness, Modoc County, Phil
Expect to experience extreme solace in the backcountry of the South Warner Wilderness.

The Warner Mountain range is a dramatic watershed and demarks the exact Pacific Divide. The Summit Trail follows this mountain crest for the entire length of the South Warner Wilderness. When traveling northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), hikers follow the Pacific Divide for the length of the Sierra Nevada range. But after the Sierra Nevada dives below the Modoc Plateau, the PCT veers off into the Klamath Mountains instead of following the precise Pacific Divide through the Warner Mountains. All Warner Mountain east slope waters never reach the sea but instead end their short journeys at the salt-encrusted trinity of Upper, Middle, and Lower Alkali Lakes of Surprise Valley. Most all west slope waters flow into the Pit River drainage that eventually feeds the mighty Sacramento River.

Much like the Sierra Nevada, the Warner Mountain range’s west slope is gentle, with rolling, forested foothills, and the eastern escarpment is knife-edge sheer, rife with spurs, crags, bizarre rock and limestone formations. The Warner Mountains is rockhound country and a wildly popular attraction is the most unique obsidian deposits in the United States, including “rainbow” obsidian. There are four areas open for collection and commercial rockhounds have their areas identified. Contact the Forest Service or BLM for advise on where you can collect this rare obsidian, and receive proper authorization.

At 9892 feet, Eagle Peak is the highest point within the South Warner Wilderness. Phil
At 9892 feet, Eagle Peak is the highest point within the South Warner Wilderness.

A number of trailheads provide access to approximately 80 miles of trails offering stunning scenery and solitude within the South Warner Wilderness. Pine Creek Basin, Mill Creek Falls, Patterson, and Emerson trailheads all have campgrounds. Pepperdine and Soup Spring trailheads provide campgrounds with corrals and larger campsites for the equestrian travelers. Fees are charged at some of the trailhead campgrounds and they are all on a first-come, first-served basis.

Patterson Lake is a premier backpacking and fly-fishing destination.

The trailhead at Soup Spring campground provides access to Mill Creek Valley.

On this trail the visitor can experience the rare Washoe Pine. The Washoe’s habitat is extremely sparsely scattered, limited to only a few northeastern California and western Nevada locations. It is in this area, just outside of Soup Spring, the densest population of these rare trees can be found. The Washoe is very closely related to both the Ponderosa and Jeffery pines. The needles and yellow trunk plates match the Ponderosa while the cones match the Jeffery (although only a fraction of the size). The Washoe was only recognized as a separate species in 1938 and later studies have revealed the wood resin is a genetic match to the Colorado Ponderosa, leaving some experts to believe the Washoe is simply an offshoot of the Colorado Ponderosa. The experts still argue and the Washoe’s exact origin remains unknown to this day. (Lanner 1999)

Whatever your interest: camping, hiking, backpacking, horse riding, peak bagging, photography, history, wildlife, fishing, or just the feeling of truly getting away, the South Warner Wilderness handsomely rewards all visitors. At 9892 feet, Eagle Peak is the highest point of the wilderness area and at 9040 feet Patterson Lake is the largest and highest elevation lake. Wilderness permits are not required for overnight stays but you are encouraged to sign the trailhead registry. A valid campfire permit is required for use of fires or stoves.

Photos by Phil "Flip" Akers


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