Potter Valley is a beautiful valley northeast of Ukiah, with riparian and habitat pastoral. As you continue north, East Side Potter Valley Road turns into the Eel River Road, which follows the Eel River east to Lake Pillsbury.
First stop is the old Potter Valley bridge, about 1/4 mile in on the left.The bridge crosses the east fork of the Russian River. American Dipper has nested here. Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, and Yellow-breasted Chat are often seen and heard in the spring. Another spot to check for dippers is near McKee County Park, another 3/4 mile up the road. Park in the lot, then walk north along the river. There is lots of poison oak here, but good views of the river as you proceed.
About 1/2 mile further north near milepost 1.37 is another parking area for McKee County Park with access to the river. Warbling Vireos, House Wrens, Yellow Warblers, and Black-headed Grosbeaks can be found among others.
Next stop is the pond at Burris Lane. Burris Lane is the first road to the right, about 3 1/2 miles in. Turn right and drive about 1 1/2 miles to a pullout overlooking a big farm pond on the right. George promises you’ll see a Golden Eagle soaring overhead within 15 minutes. Burrowing Owls sometimes winter in the surrounding pasture, Lawrence’s Goldfinches appear some years in to feed on the fiddleneck plants on the north side of the road, and Tricolored Blackbirds may be seen in the vineyards to the northeast. In winter Lewis’s Woodpeckers are often conspicuous here.
Back on East Side PV Road, continue another mile and turn right on Pine Avenue. About a mile in is a beautiful spot with big oaks and a creek side pullout. George has found Mountain Bluebirds here a winter or two. At 1.1 mile is another pullout by the “Pine Avenue Association” sign. This is a good vantage point to see open country birds like Western Meadowlark, Western Kingbird, Say’s Phoebe, Western Bluebird, or Prairie Falcon.
Just 3/4 mile further to the north, at 10700 East Side PV Road is a cattail filled pond, home to a springtime nesting colony of Tricolored Blackbirds.
Downtown Potter Valley is 6.6 miles off Highway 20. Turn right at the Lake Pillsbury/Eel River junction at Hopper’s Corner. From this point proceed about 3.9 miles to a “Y”. Bear to the right on “cutoff road” and continue 0.6 mile to the old logging road, currently signed “closed road”, again on your right. The road is rough with big potholes so be careful. Stay to the left and park about 1/4 mile in. This is one of the most easily accessible places in the county for springtime Hermit and Macgillivray’s Warblers. Walk the road, which parallels the south bank of the Eel River and keep your eyes and ears open for Western Tanager, Yellow-breasted Chat, Hairy Woodpecker, Hutton’s, Cassin’s, and Warbling Vireos as well. You never know when a Bald Eagle might fly by. Watch for Wood Ducks and Common Mergansers on the water.
Pioneer Bridge is just to the north. Drive over the bridge and turn left to the parking area. Purple Martins have been seen with the Cliff and Northern Rough-winged Swallows that nest under the bridge. Check the willows and oaks along the river for Wrentit, Lazuli Buntings, warblers, flycatchers, and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
PG&E operates the Trout Creek Campground a little over 2 miles east of the bridge off Eel River Road on the right. There is an active Osprey nest at about 1/2 mile. The campground is a lovely spot for a picnic, with benches, river access, and a mysterious fee schedule. Camping fees are posted, but day use fees are at the discretion of the campground host and can be up to $5 per car. You can also park off the road outside the campground and walk in. Dark-eyed Juncos, vireos, Black-headed Grosbeak are often seen and heard around the campsites. Yellow and Macgillivray’s Warblers may be found in the willows at the river and Spotted Sandpiper on the gravel bars.
After lunch, head west on Eel River Road and turn right back at the Pioneer Bridge. Continue to the “Y” then turn right toward Van Arsdale Dam. Proceed about 3/4 mile then turn right on Van Arsdale Road. About 1/2 mile in you’ll reach the Van Arsdale Fisheries Station parking lot. Park here then walk back up the road to overlook the dam and search for American Dipper. Look for Wood Ducks on the water above the dam and Common Goldeneyes in winter. Bald Eagles are possible year-round.
To get back to the highway, head back Van Arsdale Road. Stay to the right at the “Y” and you’ll be back on the Eel River Road heading south to Potter Valley.
For More Information, Contact:
George Chaniot Chariot