Ishi Wilderness

One of the lowest elevation Forest Service Wilderness Areas in the continental United States, the rugged topography of the Ishi Wilderness Area offers solitude, unique scenery and strenuous hiking.  Steep canyons carved by mountain creeks rushing over ancient volcanic rocks dominate the landscape and are home to a great diversity and abundance of wildlife.  

The east-west river canyons of Mill Creek and Deer Creek make the travel very difficult across the Ishi Wilderness, but they include many unusual volcanic rock formations.  The canyon walls provide ample habitat for a variety of birds including eagles and falcons, and the lush riparian vegetation of the creeks offers benefits to the many songbirds that can be found here. 

The largest migratory deer herd in California, the Tehama herd, uses the area in the winter.  Larger predators are also at home in the Wilderness Area, and you should always watch for rattlesnakes in the rocky terrain.

The Area was named for a man called Ishi, the last of the Native American Yahi People. Ishi and a small group of families survived for decades in the canyons and hills of the Ishi Wilderness Area until their secret camp was destroyed in 1908.  Ishi, the very last of his people, mysteriously walked out of the woods in 1911 and quickly became a source of anthropological insight and global curiosity.

Accessing and traversing the Ishi Wilderness Area, you can begin to see how people could avoid detection there.  It can be difficult at times to detect trails and camping areas, so be prepared for a true 'wilderness experience.'

The 40,000 acre Ishi Wilderness Area was established in 1984 and is located in the southern Cascade foothills, approximately twenty miles east of Red Bluff, California.

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Latitude: 40.0644097 Longitude: -121.7518616 Elevation: 2522 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Ben Miles

Recreational Opportunities

Hiking is rewarding in the Wilderness, and very strenuous.  Hikes are often up and down more than flat and straight, but the scenery is impressive and unique.  Camping is primitive, and flat places are at a premium.  Fortunately, there are never crowds in the Wilderness.  Nevertheless, campsite selection can be challenging.

Fishing in Deer Creek and Mill Creek can be good, but it is strictly controlled so check with the USFS for updated regulations and information.  Much of the Wilderness is a State Game Refuge where hunting is prohibited.

It is a US Forest Service Wilderness Area, so no motorized vehicles.  Bicycles are also prohibited.

Seasons Accessible

Summers are hot, and winters can be wet.  Four wheel drive is recommended for most access to the Wilderness.  Watch for rattlesnakes especially in the late spring and summer and be sure to bring plenty of water whenever entering the Ishi Wilderness Area.


There is no fee to enter the Wilderness Area.

ADA Accessibility Notes

All facilities in Ishi are primitive.


The Ishi Wilderness is all this and more! Sierra Institute gives a guided tour into the Ishi Marker that was placed above the Narrows and below Bruff's Camp. It's a fantastic tour lead by Beverly Ogle, author and historian; she shares personal stories about growing up in the shadow of Black Mountain in Ishi's homeland.

Lauri Rawlins-Betta, 12/5/2012

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