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Deep in the heart of northern California’s redwood forest, the winding ribbon of aquamarine Smith River is paralleled by Highway 199. Beginning just north of the tiny coastal town of Crescent City, 199 breaks away from HWY 101 and turns east. Following this route will take you through remnants of truly giant coastal redwoods and offer a roller coaster ride alongside the Smith River and into the Siskiyou Mountains where one of the most diverse coniferous forests of North America grows. At 2,100 feet, the highway passes through Collier Tunnel under the Hazel View Summit, leads into the Illinois valley of southern Oregon and reaches all the way to Grant’s Pass.
Four miles east of 101, at the Hiouchi Bridge, travelers get their first tantalizing gaze at deep pools and riffles in the Smith River. Just beyond the bridge, State Park and Forest Service river accesses allow – depending on the season – anglers, swimmers, kayakers, and sunbathers to fulfill their favorite pastimes in the river while hikers, mountain bikers and naturalists take to the hills. Don’t blink as you continue up the road, you might miss the Hiouchi Hamlet – the only place to stock up on treats and hot coffee before heading on down the road.
Less than a mile past Hiouchi, the famously scenic spot where the middle and south fork join a summertime sandy beach is the perfect place for picnics and cliff jumping. Wintertime high water flows engulf beaches and shift activity to the launch ramp on the Middle Fork where drift boat fishermen start their quest to break the record of largest steelhead caught. Kayakers use the ramp as a take out after the class IV+ whitewater run through the Middle Fork’s Oregon Hole Gorge.
You can’t go wrong at any of the pullouts; from Hiouchi to Gasquet and beyond, the river corridor is never lacking in scenic wonders or adorable pocket beaches with emerald pools. It’s a destination in itself and a gateway to exploring farther into the Smith River watershed, Siskiyou Mountains and all the way into the Rogue River Valley. Northern California and southern Oregon adventurers have been enjoying this secret byway for decades. It’s a bit out of the way, but isn’t that the point?
For more information: Call the Six Rivers National Forest visitor center in Gasquet at 707-457-3131 or visit California State Parks online.