Willits (formerly, Little Lake and Willitsville) is a city in Mendocino County, California, United States. Willits is located 20 miles (32 km) north-northwest of Ukiah, at an elevation of 1391 feet (424 m). The population was 4,888 at the 2010 census, down from 5,073 at the 2000 census. Willits is at the center of Mendocino County and at the beginning of the county’s extensive redwood forests as approached by Highway 101 from the south. An arch donated to the city by Reno, Nevada in 1995 stands in the center of town and displays Willits’ slogans “Heart of Mendocino County” and “Gateway to the Redwoods.” The Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California is headquartered in Willits.
Located at the center of Mendocino County in the Little Lake Valley, 20 miles (32 km) north of Ukiah on U.S. Route 101 (otherwise known as the Redwood Highway). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.8 square miles (7.3 km2), 99.83% of it land.
The mountains to the west cause Willits to have a cool winter and hot summer climate. Average January temperatures range from 18.7 °F (?7.4 °C) to 54.9 °F (12.7 °C). Average July temperatures range from 47.3 °F (8.5 °C) to 85.3 °F (29.6 °C). There are an average of 34.5 days with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher, and an average of 80.3 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. The record maximum temperature was 118 °F (48 °C) on June 30, 2005, and the record minimum temperature was 3 °F (?16 °C) on December 9, 1972.
Annual precipitation averages 51.00 inches (1,295 mm). The wettest year on record was 1983 with 91.58 inches (2,326 mm) and the driest year on record was 1985 with 30.31 inches (770 mm). The maximum precipitation in one month was 31.41 inches (798 mm) in December 1964. The maximum precipitation in 24 hours was 8.80 inches (224 mm) on December 22, 1964. There are an average of 94 days with measurable precipitation.
There are occasional snow falls in Willits each year, with an average of 3.7 inches (94 mm) of snow annually. The most snow in one month was 20.0 inches (510 mm) in December 1964.
Hiram Willits arrived from Indiana in 1857 to settle in the Little Lake Valley. Kirk Brier founded the settlement on Willits’ land. Willits was originally called Willitsville. Later, when the post office opened in 1861 it was called Little Lake. The name changed to Willits in 1874. Willits incorporated in 1888.
The city is the eastern terminus of the California Western Railroad (otherwise known as the “Skunk Train”), running through the Coast Redwood forests to coastal Fort Bragg. The old redwood Willits Depot was built in 1915 by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific. It is registered as a National Historic Place.
Every July, Willits hosts the Frontier Days & Rodeo, the oldest continuous rodeo and Independence Day celebration in California. It is also home to the Roots of Motive Power Locomotive Museum and the Mendocino County Museum.
The Willits area is the final home of the racehorse Seabiscuit. Ridgewood Ranch, where Seabiscuit trained, recuperated, lived out his retirement and was buried, is located a few miles south of the city.