In the Wintun Indian language, "Yo-la" means "snow covered", and "Bo-li" means "high peak." The second part of this Wilderness' name refers to the headwaters of the Middle Fork Eel River, which originates in this remote and rugged land. This area was first protected in 1931 when it was classified as a primitive area. Further protection was given when this area became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, created by the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Wilderness Act of 1984 added another 2,000 acres to the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, for a total of about 151,626 acres.
The Wilderness is roughly oval in shape, being about 19 miles long in the north-south direction and 24 miles wide in the east-west direction. The majority of the Wilderness lies in two districts of the Mendocino National Forest (Covelo and Grindstone Ranger Districts). The far northern portion of the Wilderness is in the Yolla Bolly Ranger District of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. To the far west, a part of the Wilderness is in the Mad River Ranger District of the Six Rivers National Forest, and the Bureau of Land Management has a small portion of the Wilderness (also on the western edge).
The lowest point of the Wilderness is along Cottonwood Creek (2,600' elevation). This is just four and a half miles from the highest point, Mount Linn, at an elevation of 8,092 feet. Several other peaks push their way above 7,000 feet and provide fine views (weather and smoke permitting) of Mount Lassen, Mount Shasta, the Trinity Alps, the Kings Range and sometimes the Pacific Ocean.