Experience the Smith
Fun Things To Do in the Smith River Area
Have you ever wanted to be just like the beat poets Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder and spend some time high above a forest spotting fires? Here’s your chance. The U.S. Forest Service rents out its Bear Butte Basin Fire Lookout (5303 feet in altitude) by the day and the week, first-come, first-served. Reservations are taken on January 1st for that year. Click here to go to the campsite reservation website. Click here to read more about Bear Basin Butte.
Got an itch to see a carnivorous plant? There’s a California native called Darlingtonia Californicus and in the summertime you can see it in full flower. One good place to go is the Smith River NRA’s Darlingtonia Trail: it begins right off Highway 199 at milepost 17.9, between Panther Flat Campground and Grassy Flat Campground. Look for the Botanical Trail signs on the highway and take the short paved road to the parking area. Click here to go to our trails guide.
Visit a fabulous redwood grove. Leaving Crescent City on Howland Hill Road, a gravel road into Jedediah Smith State Park. After ten scenic miles you come to the superlative Stout Redwood Grove. Click here for a map and trail description of Stout Grove. A short hike down to the Smith River through the grove takes you to a summer bridge over the river and the Jed Smith State Park Campground on State Highway 199.
Unparalleled swimming. Tucked away near the town of Gasquet, California is one of the most remarkable string of swimming holes anywhere on the Smith. Other Forks offer deep gorges, white sand beaches and easy access but for the true adventurer there is nothing quite like the North Fork Smith. From the Stony Creek Trailhead take the short but steep hike which passes carnivorous plants and other botanical wonders, before dropping into an exposed landscape that looks more like a desert landscape than the forested neighborhood where you began. In summer, continue on the trail to cross Stony Creek to access the warmer waters of the North Fork Smith River. There are no sandy beaches here, but you won’t want to spend much time on land when you get a glimpse of the picture-perfect pools. Find a flat rock to warm up on or jump right into the deep pools from aggregate rock walls. Are there people occupying the first pool? No problem, cruise upstream and find the next pool just as beautiful as the first, but with a small grotto covered in Darlingtonia or move on to the third pool where large aggregate rock towers sit in the center of the river. If lounging around isn’t for you, bring a tube and float downstream to the confluence with the Middle Fork. Find directions in our trail guide.
A boater’s paradise. From family-friendly summer floats on the main stem Smith, to class V gorges for whitewater experts only, the Smith is a boater’s playpen. Click here to check out a 2016 Spring trip on the North Fork Smith, world-renowned for its red- and tan-rock canyons, California pitcher plants, and fun class IV rapids, this is one of the best one-day wilderness boating trips in the country. To take a guided trip with one of our local professional outfitters, contact Redwood Rides Adventure Outfitters.
Take a step back in time – Battery Point Lighthouse, built in 1855, offers the chance to see an operational lighthouse, meet the caretakers and visit a museum to learn about the structure’s maritime history. Part of the allure of this photogenic lighthouse is that it is only accessible during low tide and calm seas. Check the Del Norte Historical Society website for hours of operation and Tide Forecast for tide times.
If you can’t make it to the lighthouse at least visit the Del Norte County Museum at 6th and H Street (577 H Street) and see their exhibit about the lighthouse. The Museum is open to the public May through September from 10 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Saturday. October through April the Museum is open Mondays and Satrudays from 10 AM to 4 PM. Special tours and showings can be arranged in the off-season. Visit their website here.
Catch a lunker. The Smith River is quite possibly the best place for salmon, trout and steelhead fishing in the whole State of California. We can reveal that much without revealing any secret spots. We urge you to wet a line in the Smith and try your luck. Click here to visit a website that will give you the lowdown and even the runoff for our favorite fishing hole.
See an Ophiolite up close and personal. Her full name is Josephine Ophiolite and she said to be “best exposed” along the Smith River. Seriously, if you are interested in geology or have read John McPhee’s marvelous book Assembling California (1993, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) you are aware of such things as peridotites, radiolarian chart, and the Steinmann Trinity. Here’s your chance to see, close at hand, the whole ophiolitic column. Get the details at the University of Oregon and then go see it yourself.
Swim with the fishes. The clear waters and deep pools of the Smith River offer visitors a chance to put on a mask and snorkel to swim with the native salmon and trout. Even in mid-summer the water is cool so you’ll appreciate a wetsuit with a hood and it’s always smart to dive with a buddy. Learn to identify the numerous coastal cutthroat trout but keep your eyes peeled for the massive missiles known as summer steelhead or spring chinook. Often they’ll be hiding deep in the pool under a ledge or between boulders; you’ll have to dive down to see them. Don’t forget to look up in the fast water at the very head of the pool, behind the “bubble curtain,” where many fish will hide in the summer months. On the South Fork of the Smith, a good place to look for fish is near the mouth of Craig’s Creek. An easy path from the road will take you to the pool. Click here for details on the annual Smith River Alliance Fish Survey and learn how you can participate.
Visit an area with unabashed diversity in conifers — 14 species of conifers within one square mile! The World Wildlife Fund says that the diversity of the conifers in the forest in the area of the Smith River is the highest in North America north of Mexico. Within the Bear Basin Butte Botanical Area (8,764 acres) you can see this full range on a short day trip. Or if you are so inclined you could make it a longer trip and stay at the fire lookout for overnight or longer (see #1 above). Before you head out pick up a copy of Conifers of California by Ronald M. Lanner (1999 Cachuma Press) and study up so you can identify all 14. Better yet, hike part of the Bigfoot Trail which offers up 32 varieties of conifer species. The trail begins in Crescent City and travels 360 miles to end in the Yolla Bolly – Middle Eel Wilderness. Learn more about the route here.
To enjoy a botanically diverse coastal hike, check out Little Bald Hills Trail. It begins in stunning old growth redwood forest, gradually transitioning to diverse evergreen forest. Serpentine rocks of the Josephine Ophiolite dominate at higher elevations. Read more in our Trail Guide here.