Geography of Modoc County, California

Modoc County, located in the northeastern corner of California, is a region renowned for its vast, unspoiled landscapes, diverse geography, and abundant wildlife. Encompassing an area of approximately 4,203 square miles, Modoc County is one of the most sparsely populated counties in California, characterized by its rugged mountains, high desert plains, and pristine waterways. In this comprehensive overview, we’ll explore the geography, climate, rivers, lakes, and other significant features of Modoc County. Check homethodology to learn more about the state of California.


Modoc County is situated in the northeastern part of California, bordered by Oregon to the north and Nevada to the east. The county is part of the Great Basin region and is characterized by its diverse terrain, ranging from volcanic plateaus and sagebrush-covered plains to pine-studded mountains and alpine meadows. The Warner Mountains, part of the larger Cascade Range, dominate the eastern part of the county, while the Modoc Plateau extends across the western and central portions.


The climate of Modoc County varies depending on elevation and location within the county. Generally, the region experiences a continental climate, with hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. However, due to its diverse geography and elevation range, there are significant microclimates within the county.

In the lower elevations of the Modoc Plateau, summers are hot and dry, with average high temperatures in the 80s°F to 90s°F range. Winters are cold and relatively dry, with average lows in the 20s°F to 30s°F range. Snowfall is common in the winter months, particularly in the higher elevations, but precipitation is generally low throughout the year.

In the higher elevations of the Warner Mountains, the climate is cooler and more temperate due to increased elevation. Summers are mild, with average high temperatures in the 70s°F to 80s°F range, while winters are cold and snowy, with average lows dropping below freezing. The higher elevations receive more precipitation, including heavy snowfall during the winter months, making the area popular for skiing and winter recreation.


Modoc County is home to several rivers and streams, many of which originate in the mountains and provide vital water resources for the region. These rivers play a crucial role in the county’s ecosystem and support diverse habitats for fish, wildlife, and plant species. Some of the notable rivers in Modoc County include:

  1. Pit River: The Pit River is one of the main rivers in Modoc County, flowing southward from the Warner Mountains before eventually joining the Sacramento River. It is renowned for its scenic beauty and provides opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.
  2. Modoc National Forest Streams: Numerous streams and creeks flow through the Modoc National Forest, which covers a significant portion of Modoc County. These streams, including the South Fork Pit River and the Lost River, provide habitat for trout and other fish species, as well as opportunities for outdoor recreation.
  3. Goose Lake: While technically a lake, Goose Lake also serves as a terminal basin for several streams and creeks in Modoc County. Located in the northeastern part of the county, Goose Lake is a popular destination for fishing, boating, and birdwatching, particularly during the spring and fall migrations.


In addition to its rivers, Modoc County is home to several natural and man-made lakes, offering opportunities for fishing, boating, and outdoor recreation. Some of the notable lakes in the county include:

  1. Clear Lake Reservoir: Clear Lake Reservoir is a man-made reservoir located in the southern part of Modoc County, near the town of Likely. It offers fishing, boating, and camping opportunities, as well as scenic views of the surrounding mountains and forests.
  2. South Warner Wilderness Lakes: The South Warner Wilderness, located in the Warner Mountains, is home to several pristine alpine lakes, including Patterson Lake and Blue Lake. These lakes are accessible via hiking trails and offer opportunities for fishing, swimming, and backpacking in a remote and scenic wilderness setting.
  3. Medicine Lake: While primarily located in neighboring Siskiyou County, Medicine Lake extends into the northern part of Modoc County. This ancient caldera lake is surrounded by lava flows and volcanic cones and offers opportunities for fishing, boating, and camping in a unique geological landscape.

Natural Features:

Modoc County boasts a variety of natural features, including volcanic peaks, lava beds, and high desert plains, that showcase the region’s geological diversity and scenic beauty. Some of the notable natural features in the county include:

  1. Lava Beds National Monument: Lava Beds National Monument, located in the northeastern part of Modoc County, is home to one of the largest concentrations of lava tube caves in North America. Visitors can explore these caves on self-guided tours, marveling at the unique rock formations and geological features created by volcanic activity.
  2. Devil’s Garden: Devil’s Garden is a unique geological formation located near the town of Alturas in Modoc County. It features a series of bizarre rock formations, including spires, arches, and hoodoos, sculpted by erosion and weathering over millions of years.
  3. Eagle Peak: Eagle Peak is the highest point in Modoc County, reaching an elevation of over 9,800 feet. Located in the Warner Mountains, Eagle Peak offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and is a popular destination for hiking and wilderness exploration.


In conclusion, Modoc County, California, is a region of unparalleled natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities. From its rugged mountains and high desert plains to its pristine rivers and alpine lakes, the county offers a diverse range of landscapes and ecosystems to explore and enjoy. Whether you’re hiking through lava tube caves, fishing in a mountain lake, or marveling at the unique rock formations of Devil’s Garden, Modoc County has something for everyone to experience and appreciate.

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