NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

The Smith River National Scenic Byway- Hwy. 199 East From Crescent City to the Oregon Border
             

The Smith River
The Smith River

This takes you thru some extremely pretty country and allows you to access the Smith River at many points as you make your way northeast toward the Oregon border. The Smith River is one of the few major rivers in California that has not been dammed at any point and carries the Wild & Scenic designation as a result. It starts in Crescent City, where the Redwood National & State Park Headquarters is housed. That's a good place to get maps, ask questions and give Smoky the Bear a hug. You'll recall that the National Park Service and California Dept. of Parks & Recreation share responsibility for managing some of the terrain in these parts. From Crescent City you'll head east and very quickly find yourself entering the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Click the link for our write-up on the park. Smith, of course, was one of those legendary mountain men who made their mark in these parts. Apparently he looked a lot like Robert Redford in his youth.

Hwy. 199 traverses the northern stretch of the park. As you drive thru the park you will pass some redwood groves and ultimately end up at the park visitor center, a remarkably modest place for such majestic country. Shortly thereafter you will encounter the hamlet of Hiouchi and that's where the forest fun begins. You'll have Smith River access here, including a boat ramp where you can launch your drift boat and go fishing. And it's also decision time; you can make a detour, hang a right on Hwy. 427 and track the South Fork of the Smith River to Big Flat Campground, fishing along the way. It also leads to the South Kelsey National Recreation Trail. More on that below.

Big Flat Campground

Location: From the hamlet of Hiouchi on Hwy. 199 continue east to South Fork Road. Turn right. After you pass the second bridge (Stevens Bridge) you will come to a "Y" in the road. Bear left on South Fork Road and drive 14 miles to County Road 405- Big Flat Road. Turn left and drive 1/4 mile to the campground entrance at Forest Road FR 15N59.

Attraction: Fishing, rafting or kayaking the South Fork of the Smith River.. This is a place where you can fish for steelhead from the bank. Parking is limited to occasional pull-offs so it's best approached during the week.  It also leads to the South Kelsey National Recreation Trail.

Campsite Description: 25 sites for tents or RV's to 22 feet. No hookups. Picnic tables, fire grills, food lockers and vault toilets. No drinking water or garbage pick-up. Some facilities with wheelchair access.

Season: May- mid-September.

Reservations: None accepted.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access Yes
Fees $8   Fishing Yes
Hook-ups No   Boating Kayak, raft
Drinking Water No   Lake on Site No
Showers No   Elev Unk
Toilets Vault   Supplies Hiouchi

Information: Smith River Recreation Area, Six Rivers National Forest. (707) 457-3131.

Day Hikes in Area: South Kelsey National Recreation Trail. Walk for a day, or walk for a week. The trailhead has a picnic table, vault toilet and parking for 10 cars. To get there, get back to South Fork Rd. and the "Y" in the road noted earlier. Bear right at the "Y" onto FR 15- G-O Road. It is a paved road 1 mile past Steven Bridge. Drive 3.5 miles on FR 5 and turn left on FS 15N39. Drive 2 miles on this gravel road to the trailhead. See below for more info.

Backpacking Hikes in Area: South Kelsey Trail. To hike the entire trail you would hike 17 miles in the Smith River NRA and another 12 miles in the Klamath NRA. The elevation gain would be from 1,200-5,775 feet. It is rated moderate/ difficult. For 7 miles it tracks the Smith River, offering fishing & swimming opportunities. A good resource is at www.smithriverwatershed.com.

Off-Road Opportunities in Area:

So you've caught your steelhead, kayaked some rapids and you're back on Hwy. 199, heading east. Five miles away as the crow flies is the hamlet of Gasquet, site of the headquarters of the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA). On the way you've passed several river access points where you can drop your kayak, raft or a line. In Gasquet you stock up on maps and check your water supply. Give Smoky another hug. And you plan ahead a little bit. A few miles further on sits Panther Flat Campground; it has showers. How long has it been. Maybe it's time to freshen up. If you don't do it here you're not doing it at all on this road without cheating and getting a room. The camping life is fraught with choices.

Attn: Rafters and kayakers. A diversion. The Gasquet area, particularly from there west and south, offers opportunities for river running. Most runs in the area involve Class III rapids (intermediate). A good resource is the website www.cacreeks.com.

Okay. You've decided (or your sleeping bag partner decided) to stop at Panther Flat.

Panther Flat Campground

Location: Easy. From Gasquet drive east 2.3 miles on Hwy. 199 and watch for a large sign on the left. It's on the Smith River.

Attraction: Let us count the ways. Access to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Parks, few miles back west. The parks are  great places but camping is limited. Salmon fishing in the fall. Steelhead fishing in the winter. Stony Creek Trail (see below). A pretty spot in it's own right. This is the "premium" forest service campground in this area. The Siskiyou Wilderness is also nearby. There is river access here, which is why this place exists.

Campsite Description: 38 sites for tents or RV's to 40 feet. No hookups. Picnic tables, fire grills, drinking water and restrooms with flush toilets and coin-operated showers. There's even a visitor center and a horseshoe pit. If you get skunked on the river you can tell your friends back home that you came here to pitch horseshoes, not fish.

Season: Year-round.

Reservations: Accepted at www.recreation.gov. (877) 444-6777.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access Yes
Fees $15-30   Fishing Yes
Hook-ups No   Boating Drift nearby
Drinking Water Yes   Lake on Site No
Showers Yes   Elev Unk
Toilets Flush   Supplies Gasquet

Information: Smith River Recreation Area, Six Rivers National Forest. (707) 457-3131.

Day Hikes in Area: Stony Creek Trail. 1/2 mile along the North Fork of the Smith River. The trailhead is in Gasquet on Stony Creek Road. Darlingtonia Trail. A short .3 mile trail offering wheelchair access to a natural bog where the relatively rare California pitcher plant thrives. The trailhead is just east of the campground.

Backpacking Hikes in Area: Siskiyou Wilderness nearby. See the write-up on Big Flat Campground for info. about the South Kelsey National Recreation Trail.

Off-Road Opportunities in Area:

Moving right along, there are two more campgrounds along this stretch of the river, both offering river access. 

Grassy Flat Campground

Location: Just east of Panther Flat, about 4.5 miles from Gasquet.

Attraction: Probably the least attractive of the 3 campgrounds within this short stretch of road but it's here if you need it. It's also less expensive.

Campsite Description: 15 sites for tents or RV's to 30 feet. No hookups. Picnic tables, fire grills, drinking water and vault toilets. Some facilities wheelchair-accessible.

Season: June- September.

Reservations: Accepted at www.recreation.gov. (877) 444-6777.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access Yes
Fees $10   Fishing Yes
Hook-ups No   Boating drift nearby
Drinking Water Yes   Lake on Site No
Showers No   Elev Unk
Toilets Vault   Supplies Gasquet

Information: Smith River Recreation Area, Six Rivers National Forest. (707) 457-3131.

Day Hikes in Area: See Panther Flat.

Backpacking Hikes in Area: Siskiyou Wilderness.

Off-Road Opportunities in Area:

Patrick Creek Campground

Location: About 3 miles further east on Hwy. 199 than Grassy Flat Campground.

Attraction: A classic 1930's era California Conservation Corp. campsite at the confluence of Patrick Creek and the Smith River. Like the other nearby sites, access to the Smith River is a big plus, plus access to the nearby Siskiyou Wilderness. The day hike to Buck Lake is a popular one. Check the maps you picked up earlier.

Campsite Description: 13 sites for tents or RV's to 35 feet. No hookups. Picnic tables, fire grills, drinking water and flush toilets. Some facilities offer wheelchair access, including a fishing spot.

Season: May- September

Reservations: Accepted at www.recreation.gov (877) 444-6777.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access Yes
Fees $14   Fishing Yes
Hook-ups No   Boating No
Drinking Water Yes   Lake on Site No
Showers No   Elev Unk
Toilets Flush   Supplies Gasquet

Information: Smith River Recreation Area, Six Rivers National Forest. (707) 457-3131.

Day Hikes in Area: Buck Lake

Backpacking Hikes in Area: Siskiyou Wilderness

Off-Road Opportunities in Area:

There's one more point of interest in this area, after which you will begin to climb to the northeast toward the Oregon border on the way to Grants Pass.

Bear Basin Butte Lookout Tower/Pierson Cabin Rental

Location: From Hwy. 199 just east of Patrick Creek Campground turn right on forest road FR 16 to the lookout. GPS: Lat: 41.809051. Long: -123.742189.

Attraction: A unique camping experience with 360 degree views of the Siskiyou Wilderness to the east and Pacific Ocean to the west.

Campsite Description: The tower & cabin are rented together with room for up to 12 people. Fees are $75 per night for up to 8 people and $5 for each additional person. Reservations may be made for 1-4 nights. The lookout tower has a futon. The cabin has a basic kitchen, serving table and 3 double beds. Outside there are picnic tables, a vault toilet and a fire ring. There is no water or electric power. Bring everything you need and take it back with you. The gravel access road necessitates a high-clearance vehicle. If fires are spotted in the vicinity- run away fast. If they are gaining on you, run faster. Screaming is an option.

Season: The normal season is July 1- September 30 but it may be available later.

Reservations:  Required at www.recreation.gov (877) 444-6777.

Public/private Public   Wheelchair Access No
Fees $75   Fishing No
Hook-ups No   Boating No
Drinking Water No   Lake on Site No
Showers No   Elev 5,300 feet
Toilets Vault   Supplies No

Information: Six Rivers National Forest. (707) 442-1721.

Day Hikes in Area: Siskiyou Wilderness.

Backpacking Hikes in Area: Siskiyou Wilderness.

Off-Road Opportunities in Area:

So there you have it. There are two more scenic drives of some importance in the area so check those out as well. Click the links below. They are:

-The End-