Surprise Valley, CA

Surprise Valley, CA Information

All Photos by Debra Cockrell

You'll find us nestled between the Warner Mountain Range in northeastern California and the Hayes Range in Nevada. Approximately 70 miles long and averaging ten miles wide, Surprise Valley is graced with exquisite natural beauty, fertile agricultural land, pristine air, diverse wildlife, and is home to four rural, welcoming and historic towns: Cedarville, Eagleville, Fort Bidwell and Lake City.

Our small communities retain that authentic "Old West" flavor introduced by the hardy and hopeful pioneers who settled this area in the mid-nineteenth century. Cattle ranching and alfalfa hay production fuel our local economy. Cattle drives still take place across open terrain and along valley byways – so be sure and have your camera handy at all times when you come to visit.

Today, we enjoy playing host to visitors drawn by our annual Squirrel Round-Up BBQ, a variety of barbecues, dances, horseshoe tournaments, the Super Bull Rodeo, tribal Pow Wows, the Modoc District Fair, parades, art shows, sports tournaments, outdoor recreational opportunities, and so much more.

You'll find a good selection of accommodations in the area, from homey ranch lodging with corrals for your horses to economical motels, historic inns, RV parks, campgrounds, and a well-appointed resort featuring private hot springs-fed spas behind each room.

With a variety of fine dining choices, quaint shops, and outdoor adventures limited only by your capabilities and imagination, Surprise Valley is a popular destination for those looking for anything from a relaxed and pampered weekend to the most rustic vacation experience off the beaten path.

Surprise Valley includes four communities lying with in the rich lands of mostly agriculture.

Cedarville founded in 1864, originally called Deep Creek. Cedarville was a camping place for the wagon trains. Cedarville now, being the largest of the four communities hosting the majority of Businesses which include: Restaurants, Motels / Ranch Lodging, Grocery Store, Parts / Hardware Store, Fueling Stations, BLM and Forest Service Offices, Laundromat, RV Park, County Fair Grounds, Unique Main Street Shopping and Hospital.

To the North is Lake City, about 10 miles from Cedarville, which was founded in 1864. It was the first organized community in the area. The historic Flour Mill built in 1867 still stands today. The β€œ49er” emigrant trail passed near Lake City and wagon tracks remain in some places.

While traveling to the North of Lake City lies the community of Fort Bidwell, founded at the military post in 1865. At one time Ft. Bidwell was a booming place, the Church built in 1885 still holds regular services. Ft. Bidwell General Store still stands and made out of stone from Bidwell Canyon, the Hotel and Restaurant on main street opened in the early 1900’s it is still in operation today. At the Very north end of main street is the stone schoolhouse. To the north of Ft. Bidwell gold was discovered on 1905 and the short lived mining town of High Grade remanence still remain.

Approximately 17 miles South of Cedarville is the community of Eagleville. Once an important stage stop on the route from Reno. It is the home of the community hall, once a general store and a park picnic area. It is now the home of the long time popular Eagleville BBQ hosting as many as 600-800 long time families and friend of the area every last weekend of July.

Just 3 miles South and West of Eagleville is the easily access able dirt road over the South Warner Mountains which leads to Blue Lake for boating and fishing, and on to the community of Likely where you can catch highway 395 which will take you South to Reno or North to Alturas.

Surprise Valley
More About Surprise Valley, California

It's easy to understand why the area's first Native American settlers referred to this area by the phrase "The Smiles of God". With 70 percent of Modoc County remaining publicly owned, much of the forest, mountain and high desert areas haven't changed a great deal since the Paiute, Pit River ("Achumawi"), and Modoc tribes were its only inhabitants.

Today, visitors will find no scarcity of recreational opportunities such as camping, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, hunting, wind sailing on dry lake beds, and a variety of other outdoor pursuits awaiting them in any of our four distinct seasons.

Spring brings wildflowers and soaring eagles. It is a time when children gear up new 4-H projects as they look ahead to June's Junior Livestock Show, and squirrel hunters descend on local ranches where they perform a useful service while having great fun.

During our relatively mild summers, residents and visitors alike move to the faster rhythms of busy ranch and community life, partake of plentiful recreational activities, and anticipate one of the year's highlights - hosting the Modoc District Fair in August.

The cooler days of autumn usher in vibrant color changes in native foliage, school busses resume their far-flung routes, and hopeful hunters find a warm welcome, affordable lodging, and hearty fare in local restaurants.

When the last hay has been baled and wild geese in flight fill the skies with their lonely calls, winter's peace blankets the valley and it takes on the special beauty of this quiet season.

May We Suggest?

Once the snow has melted and back-country roads are safe to navigate, first-time visitors with a sense of adventure are urged to pick up a brochure at the BLM office in Cedarville, pack up a picnic lunch, and head off to experience the rugged beauty of the Great Basin. Just east of the valley, take the self-guided 93-mile Surprise Valley-Barrel Springs Byway. During your drive, you just might run into a herd of wild mustangs, elk or antelope.

Eons ago, this area of the Great Basin was covered by ancient Lake Surprise, leaving it particularly rich in geologic history. Research teams from a variety of universities have gathered to study its mysteries in recent years.

Rock hounds, photographers, amateur geologists and sightseers will all delight in the area's impressive rock formations and may discover obsidian deposits, opals, fossils, or preserved signs of the valley's early settlers as they explore the vast stretches of uninhabited country nearby. Steaming hot springs and other signs of active geothermal activity dot the valley as well.

If you visit us on a winter weekend, check to see if the Cedar Pass Ski Hill, with its T-bar rope tow and groomed slopes, is open.


Surprise Valley lies in the northeastern corner of California, adjacent to both Nevada and Oregon. The valley is bounded on the west by the Warner Mountains, and when the three shallow alkaline lakes, the Upper, Middle and Lower Lakes contain water, they reflect Nevada's Hays Range to the east.

The valley stretches approximately 70 miles from north to south and averages 10 miles wide. Its four towns, from north to south, are Fort Bidwell, Lake City, Cedarville, and Eagleville. The valley lies entirely within Modoc County which took its name in 1874 from the most prominent Native American tribe living in the area at the time.

You may reach the valley by traveling from US Highway 395 via 299E over Cedar Pass, while Fandango Pass Road connects US 395 with County Road 1 about 5 miles south of Fort Bidwell. Visitors traveling from Reno might choose to enter the valley's south end via Nevada Highway 447.


Surprise Valley is located within the high desert region known as the Great Basin. We enjoy a four-season climate with dry, warm summers and cold, wet winters. High/low temperatures average 40/16 in January and 88/45 in July. Annual precipitation: 12-16 inches, valleys, 35 inches, mountains. Valley elevation averages 4,700 feet.


The total population of Modoc County is 9,499 (2000 Census) with 5580 registered voters. Most county residents live in outlying areas and in small, unincorporated communities. Cedarville has a population of approximately 800 residents with Surprise Valley as a whole having approximately 1,500 residents.


The local growing season is 100 to 130 days. Most vegetables and many fruit trees thrive in the valley. The most popular commercial crops include alfalfa and grass hay, various grains, onions, garlic and potatoes. Cattle, sheep and horses are raised here commercially as well.


Ground: Highway 299 traverses Cedar Pass (elevation 6,305 feet) into the heart of Surprise Valley. It bisects Modoc County Road 1 in Cedarville then continues 8 miles east to the Nevada state border. Modoc County Road 1 runs the length of the 70+-mile long valley, from Ft. Bidwell in the north, through Eagleville at the southern end, terminating at the Nevada border where it becomes Nevada State Route 447. In the valley, the speed limit on MC Road 1 is 55 MPH.


  • Alturas - 23 miles
  • Klamath Falls, OR- 123 miles
  • Lakeview, OR - 74 miles
  • Reno, NV - 188 miles
  • Redding - approx 170 miles.
  • Susanville - approx 124 miles
  • San Francisco - about 400 miles via Redding and approximately 420 miles via Reno


Cedarville Airport (279-2111)
This county airport has a 4400 foot lighted runway, and overnight parking.
There is a 3500 foot gravel airstrip North of Fort Bidwell.

Other airports serving the Modoc County area include: Alturas Municipal Airport, Reno Tahoe International Airport, Kingsley International Airport (Klamath Falls, OR). Major west coast terminals include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle-Tacoma International Airports.

Community Facilities

Cedarville Branch Library (530)279-2614.
Cedarville Park, site of the historic Cressler and Bonner Trading Post
Eagleville Community Hall
Fort Bidwell Civic Club and Community Hall
Modoc District Fairgrounds, RV Park, and Four Seasons Banquet & Meeting Facility
Surprise Valley Community Health Care District
Surprise Valley Senior Center

Medical and Veterinary Services

Surprise Valley Health Care District: 279-6111
(Hospital, Skilled Nursing Facility, Medical Clinic)
Ashley Cockrell, DVM : 640-5101
Modoc Veterinary Clinic: 233-4156
Surprise Valley Veterinary Clinic: 279-2141
Warner Mountain Indian Health Project: 279-6194

Government Offices

Bureau of Land Management, Surprise Field Office: 279-6101
Fish and Wildlife Department: 233-3572
Fort Bidwell Volunteer Fire Department
Modoc County Road Department: 233-6403
Modoc County Sheriff: 233-4416
US Forest Service, Warner Mountain Ranger District: 279-6116

Community Organizations

Beta Sigma Phi Sorority: 279-6382
Boy Scout Troop 48: 279-6376
Cedarville Country Jam: 279-2375
Eagleville Community Hall: 279-2203
Fort Bidwell Civic Club: 279-2443
Fort Bidwell Indian Community Council: 279-6310
Surprise Valley 4-H: 233-6400
Surprise Valley Quilters Club: 279-2182
Surprise Valley Acoustic Jam Sessions: 279-2375
Surprise Valley Chamber of Commerce: 936-7822
Surprise Valley High School FFA Chapter: 279-6141

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