NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

Exploring Six Rivers National Forest

Six Rivers is a sliver of a forest running north and south of the city of Eureka in the state's north coast. Leave it heading north and you are in Oregon. For folks who prefer to pursue their recreation in remote and unpopulated areas this place has much to offer. While the forest boasts several beautiful lakes, when we think about Six Rivers we think rivers. There are something like 1,500 miles of waterways here, including 35% of the rivers designated as wild and scenic located on federal lands in the state. For anglers who like to fish rivers this place can feel like utopia. Ditto for river rafters, float tubers kayakers and swimmers. OHV folks also have some playgrounds, particularly in the Pilot Creek area.

Nearby State & National Parks

If you are visiting this area be aware that along the coast adjacent to the national forest are some excellent parks that should definitely be explored. We have write-ups and links for all of them. North of Eureka sits Tolowa Dunes State Park, a small day-use place bordering 2 small lakes with 6 environmental campsites, hike-in picnic spots and ocean access. It's a place to spend some time having lunch. Bring the binoculars as bird-watching is an attraction, with populations of bald eagle, peregrine falcon and other species occasionally present. Next up, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park shares the territory with Redwood National Park. They share responsibility for managing the space and some of the national park lands sit within the boundaries of the state park. A highly recommended destination for anyone traveling in this area. Further south sits Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, another worthwhile destination. More southerly yet (but still north of Eureka) comes Patrick's Point State Park, Trinidad State Beach and a local spot, Clam Beach County Park. Offshore sits the Henry A. Merlo State Recreation Area and the California Coastal National Monument; no camping allowed (abalone excepted).

A tip. If you are in Eureka plan on having a meal at the Samoa Cookhouse, unless you practice strict portion control. A former loggers dining room, they feed you like you're actually a logger fueling up for a day in the woods. We'd even suggest fasting before or after the meal if necessary.

National Wild & Scenic Rivers

The cornerstone in these parts is the Smith River, celebrated here as the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA). This consists of 305,000 acres of land surrounding and protecting the Wild & Scenic Smith River. The U.S. Congress has designated 366 miles of the Smith, Eel, Klamath & Trinity rivers as Wild & Scenic. Nearby are the Van Duzen and Mad Rivers. More on these later.

National Scenic Byways

This is a fun place to drive, which to us means slow and beautiful not fast and efficient. Three local roads have been designated as National Scenic Byways. All offer a pleasant (but slow) driving experience with a multitude of recreational opportunities. A 33 mile section of Hwy. 199 is designated the Smith River National Scenic Byway. You can drive along here and watch with awe (especially in the Spring) as the river celebrates its freedom. No dams here, and there is some wonderful camping to be had as well. The Trinity National Scenic Byway runs for about 150 miles along Hwy. 299 from about Redding west toward the coast. Lastly, the Bigfoot National Scenic Byway runs about 82 miles along Hwy. 96 from about Happy Camp to Willow Creek.

Points of Interest

Darlingtonia Trail- Smith River NRA

A short .3 mile trail to viewing platforms where you can see the California pitcher plant thriving in the wild. These interesting carnivorous plants are found in very few places in the wild here in California.

Gorge Overlook

Offers views of the Smith River and a section of the river with Class 5 rapids for elite rafters and kayakers. Located at milepost 8.25 on Hwy. 199.

Blue Mountain/ Red Mountain Lake Complex

Drive to trailheads leading to three remote lakes (also Fish Lake).

Rock Creek Butte Point

Offers views of Mt. Shasta, the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountain, the Pacific Ocean and the Siskiyou Wilderness.

Horse Mountain

Close to Eureka, it offers views of Mt. Shasta and the Pacific Ocean.

Gray Falls

Hike a forested 1/2 mile trail to the falls on the Trinity River. A spur leads to a beach used as a launch point for kayakers and float tubers.

Groves Prairie

A 1.7 mile loop trail that offers access to remote camping under a canopy created by Douglas firs along a small mountain creek. At 3,800 feet it can be a nice respite from hot summer weather.

Ruth Lake

A beautiful alpine lake that has it all: camping, fishing, boating, hiking and watersports to suit anyone. Click our Ruth Lake link for more information and directions.

The Lassics

An unusual and unique geological area.

Pilot Creek

Trails here cater to OHV folks, as well as mountain bikers and equestrians.

Bear Basin Butte Lookout- Smith River NRA

Some of us can't resist visiting lookout towers and this is one. And guess what? You can rent it.


Camping here is typical of that in national forests in the state. Most sites have a picnic table, fire ring of some sort, drinking water and a vault toilet. Some have more or fewer amenities. Only Panther Flat Campground (Smith River NRA) offers showers. Most campsites are first- come, first-served. The few that take reservations do so at (877-444-6777. There are 14 day continuous-stay limitations (30 days per year) and those camping outside an established campground must obtain a campfire permit to start a fire or use a stove.

4-Wheel Drive Roads

There are a plethora of roads designated for use by folks with remote driving capability, ranging from high-clearance roads to trails for dirt bikes. That means more than 1,000 miles of roads and 30 miles of trails. Some of these will be highlighted in our road-trip discussions that follow.

National Recreation Trails

There are more than 400 miles of hiking trails within the forest, three of which have been designated as National Recreation Trails: South Kelsey, Salmon Summit and Horse Ridge. More information will be provided later. The trails are also open to mountain bikers & equestrians. In addition, there are hundreds of miles of old logging and mining roads available for your use.

The Trips

Click on these links for a detailed description of the points of interest along the way, including all public campgrounds.

Smith River National Scenic Byway- Hwy. 199 (Crescent City to the Oregon Border)

Trinity River National Scenic Byway- Hwy 299 (Arcata to Weaverville)

Big Foot Scenic Byway- Hwy. 96 (Willow Creek to Interstate 5 Near Yreka)

-The End-