Town Profile: Upper Lake

May 17, 2022

As soon as you turn off Highway 20 and pass under the arch reading ‘Upper Lake”, you head back in time. The historic town is filled with stories—back then, when it rained, Main Street flooded and people headed down to the store in canoes to do their shopping. Fortunately, today you don’t need to bring a rowboat to enjoy the town; it’s completely car-friendly.

However, if a boat or kayak is your thing, be sure to stop at Blue Lakes, located just outside of town. This chain of lakes is unique. It’s the kind of place to step outside of reality, slow down, and enjoy the moment. The lakes glimmer like emeralds between the steep slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains—getting on the water feels like a vacation in itself. Only non-motorized or electric boats are allowed, so it’s quiet. And if you want to explore, you can rent a kayak, paddleboat, or larger pontoon boat from The Lodge at Blue Lakes, then spend the rest of the day relaxing.

No trip to Upper Lake is complete without a trip down Main Street. This town is home to an annual Wild West Days celebration each June, when Main Street fills with horses, cowboys, and locals all enjoying the day. That Western feel continues at the Tallman Hotel, a historical site filled with stories. You can still see the original guest register with signatures of people who checked in over 150 years ago. Today, it’s been fully restored and is more beautiful than ever. While you stay there, be sure to grab a bite to eat at The Blue Wing Saloon, located just a few steps away. The Blue Wing serves quality California cuisine and is a perfect place to kick back and relax. The Blue Wing also has live music three nights a week and an annual Blues Festival, so check their schedule and plan your trip accordingly.

While you’re in town, be sure to do some shopping. One place you have to stop is at Vintage Antiques. With 10,000 square feet of unique items, rarities, and the unusual, it’s a perfect place to wander. Plus, on the first Saturday of each month, Country Barn Auctions next door holds their First Saturday Sale, and the parking lot fills with antiques and sundry items, all waiting to be discovered. After finding that one-of-a-kind item, stop at Double D’s Coffee for a cup of Joe, then grab a bite to eat at Mi Chelas Mexican Restaurant or across the highway at Running Creek Casino.

Upper Lake is also an outdoor paradise—in fact, it refers to itself as “The Gateway to the Mendocino National Forest”. So if you want to get into the wilderness, there’s no better place to start. As you head out of town and up Elk Mountain, you’ll enter over 900,000 acres filled with motorcycle, hiking, and mountain biking trails, as well as some of the state’s best hunting. Plus, it’s got plenty of spots to camp. And, if you drive a little bit further, you can spend a week at Lake Pillsbury, resting at the feet of the nearly 7,000 foot Hull Mountain.