Smith River National Recreation Area

Hiking, Horseback Riding & Mountain Biking

In the Smith River NRA, winter temperatures drop into the 40s and 50s, with an occasional snow storm. The rainy season normally runs from October through April with an average annual rainfall of 92.55 inches. Summers are dry with highs in the 80-100 degree range. Keep an eye on the weather. Be alert for developing storms, high winds, rain or snow and freezing temperatures. Contact the NRA Headquarters at the Gasquet Ranger Station for a day-to-day report on weather conditions.


The Smith River Recreation Area includes the 14 mile South Kelsey Trail - a National Recreation Trail.

1. Doe Flat Trail: This trail follows an old mining road along Doe Creek to an old mine site at the end of the road, then continues to a trail to Trout Camp which is located at the intersection of Doe Flat Trail and the Clear Creek Trail. Wilderness hunting and fishing areas are accessible from this trail. Travel time from NRA Headquarters is 1.5 hours. Parking, three campsites and a vault toilet are at the trailhead.

2. Island Lake Trail: This trail begins on the west side of the South Fork of the Smith River. Island Lake provides the experienced hiker excellent trout fishing opportunities. The last stretch of road, Forest Service Road 16N28, is very rough and during the rainy season this road is impassable. Travel time is 1.5 hours.

3. South Kelsey Trail: The Kelsey Trail was built in the 1850s by Chinese workers. It was a mule train trail that started in Crescent City and ended at the Army post in Fort Jones. The old trail was nearly 200 miles long. The South Kelsey Trail begins near Horse Creek and follows the Wild and Scenic South Fork for seven miles, with river access and trout fishing. The next six miles of trail ascends Baldy Peak (elevation 5,775 feet) with views of the Pacific Ocean, the Siskiyou and Marble Mountains, and Mount Shasta. The trail continues another 3.1 miles to Harrington Lake and enters the Klamath National Forest.

4. Summit Valley Trail: The first mile of hiking is an old jeep road. This trail travels through mountain meadows that are filled with wildflowers in the spring. Summit Valley is three acres and the site of the old lookout can be reached by taking a short side trail. The remainder of the trail descends to South Kelsey trail at Elkhorn Bar. You can also pick up this trail from South Kelsey Trailhead. Park a vehicle at each end and make this a one way hike. Travel time to Summit Valley trailhead is 1.5 hours.

5. Gunbarrel Trail: The trail starts on a ridge and travels downslope to the South Fork of the Smith River, where it meets the South Kelsey Trail. Travel time from NRA Headquarters to trailhead is two hours.

6. High Dome Trail: Winding through shady Douglas fir and Knobcone pine forests, this trail opens onto a natural grass meadow with views of the surrounding peaks. High Dome Mountain (elevation 3821 feet) was once a fire lookout site and still has some ruins of the rock platform lookout. Two-wheel drive with high clearance or 4-wheel drive vehicles are recommended to reach the trailhead. Travel time from NRA Headquarters to trailhead is one or two hours depending on the route you take.

7. McClendon Ford Trail: This trail is an easy hike to the South Fork. The trail leads you through a giant Douglas fir forest and travels briefly into a healthy stand of 20-year-old timber plantation. Crossing Horse Creek, you end up on a bouldered beach of the pristine waters of the south fork of the Smith River. Travel time to trailhead is one hour.

8. Myrtle Creek Trail: Pick up the Myrtle Creek Self-Guided Brochure at the NRA Headquarters which explains the mining, geologic and cultural history of this trail. The largest gold nugget found in Myrtle Creek (1890) weighed 47 ounces and was the size and shape of an axe. The brochure points out a good sample of native plants along the way. Travel time from Gasquet to the trailhead is 15 minutes. Park on the river side of Highway 199 and cross the road to get to the trailhead.

9. Stoney Creek Trail: This is a shady trail that follows the North Fork of the Smith River and ends at the confluence of Stoney Creek and the North Fork of the Smith. The trail provides access to excellent fishing holes, native plants, and views of the river. Parking at the trailhead is very limited. Travel time is 10 minutes.

10. Buck Lake Trail: Old growth Douglas/white/red-fir and vine maple with red fall colors are some of the many native plants you will see on this trail to a high elevation lake. Enjoy excellent fishing in the solitude of the Siskiyou Wilderness. Drive to Doe Flat Trailhead which is 1.5 hours from the NRA Headquarters, follow Doe Flat Trail for one mile to pick up Buck Lake Trail.

11. Craig's Creek Trail: This trail follows an old pack trail used by miners in the late 1800s. You will pass through dramatic changes in plant communities including old growth redwood, Douglas fir, knobcone pine and younger stands of alder, tanoak, live oak and chinquapin. The trail ends at the confluence of Craig's Creek and the South Fork of the Smith River. There is a 15 minute drive from the NRA Headquarters to the trailhead.

12. Elk Camp Ridge Trail: This trail follows the ridge affording views of high mountain peaks and the Smith River Canyon. Originally a pack train trail between Crescent City and the gold mines in the Illinois River Valley in Oregon. Vegetation along this trail is stunted because of the high mineral content of the underlying serpentine rocks. Follow the Gasquet Toll Road from the NRA Headquarters and arrive at the trailhead in 30 minutes.

13. French Hill Trail: This shady trail travels under old growth Douglas firs and sugar pines. Sugar pines produce the largest cone in this area. This is a historic pack trail built to transport supplies to build the historic Camp Six fire lookout. Park at the NRA Headquarters and the trailhead is directly across from the visitor area on Highway 199.

14. Young's Valley Trail: This hiking trail follows a road that is now closed to all wheeled vehicles. Camp in the meadow at the end of this trail. Other trails accessible from this trail are the Clear Creek Trail, Raspberry Lake Trail, east fork of the Illinois Trail, and the Twin Valley Trail—all located in the Siskiyou Wilderness. Wilderness lakes are excellent for trout fishing. The trailhead is two hours from the NRA Headquarters. The last three miles of road are very rough.

15. Boundary Trail: Elk Hole (1.5 miles) and Flat Iron Lake (6.5 miles) provide water and views of surrounding mountains. Trailhead is at the end of the Gasquet/Orleans Road, a two hour drive on paved road from the NRA Headquarters.

16. Devils Punchbowl Trail: Follow the Doe Flat Trail for 3 miles to reach the trailhead. A steep trail with many switchbacks. The 2 glacier lakes and surrounding mountains make this trail the most popular among experienced hikers. Rough terrain prohibits camping. Travel time is 2.5 hours to trailhead.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Oct 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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