Serpentine Canyon on the North Fork of the Smith River | Photo by Nate Wilson

Serpentine Canyon on the North Fork of the Smith River | Photo by Nate Wilson

The North Fork of the Smith is the best overall run in the Smith Drainage and the reason that most paddlers come to this cold and rainy country. It is usually done on the second day of a paddling trip as the shuttle takes some time to set up and it's a good idea to get an early start on this long wilderness run. Beautiful waterfalls and great rapids make this an outstanding trip and it is well worth the logistics.

It is also noteworthy since it has wonderful displays of the carnivorous California Pitcher Plant which captures flies and spiders by attracting them with nectar and ultraviolet guides. Once an insect is in the "pitcher" a combination of slippery wax and pointed hairs guide them to the stem where they are entombed and digested. You may see the pitcher plants along the road to put in or along the banks of the river. I always stop just below the confluence with Diamond Creek to check out the plants growing in the waterfall on river left.

Logistics

Here is some specific flow information about boating the North Fork from shuttle driver Brad Camden. Brad checks the height on the steel pipe each morning and updates it on Dreamflows.

8.0 to 10.5 feet is good for most class IV kayakers
10.5 to 11.6 feet is good for solid class IV kayakers
9.6 to 11.6 feet is good for rafts

Kayakers can leave a car at the water treatment plant in Gasquet near the confluence of the North and Middle Forks. This will save a mile and a half of Class II paddling Margie's River Access. The confluence is not a raft friendly take out, so rafters leave a car at Margie's River Access where the river meets Highway 199 just West of Gasquet.

To reach put-in, get to Hiouchi (which is a great place to get breakfast, gas, and "chillers") drive towards Crescent City about two miles to North Bank Road. Take a right onto North Bank Road and go about five miles until you see Low Divide Road on your right. The person sitting shotgun should keep their eyes peeled for the Low Divide sign as it is easy to pass. Follow Low Divide Road for ten miles until you come to a fork in the road where you should turn right onto Wimer Road (not marked). Follow Wimer Road for 12.5 miles and you will find yourself at the North Fork.

Please use the designated river access where you will find a bathroom and a great place to launch your rafts, kayaks, duckies, or inner tubes. You cannot camp at the put in, but there is a nice developed campground with restrooms, fire pits, and picnic tables across the river from the Major Moore's put-in. The fee for this campground is $8.00.

Most paddlers will hire a local shuttle driver to save time and gas. You can contact "Bearfoot" Brad, who has been driving shuttles in the area for over 20 years, by phone at (707) 457-3365 or email at bradcamden@earthlink.net. If you contact him a night or two early, he can guarantee you a driver and the whole process is much less stressful. Brad and his wife Jamie can usually find 5 to 6 drivers with a little or no notice. You can also stop by his house in Gasquet next to She-She's Restaurant at 10,000 Highway 199. When brad is not home, he usually leaves a list of drivers on the window by his door. The shuttle drivers usually charge around forty bucks an I'll usually leave them fifty.

Brad may also know when the quicker route via Gasquet Mountain Road is open. It's a bad idea to chance taking Gasquet Mountain road when there might be snow especially when you are pulling a raft trailer. Brad drives it enough to know when to go.

The River

The river starts off with some fun class III rapids as you enter the North Fork canyon. After a few miles you will pass the beautiful Diamond Creek on river left which will almost double your CFS. This may or may not make you happy. About a mile below Diamond Creek you will come to Face-to-Face which is the first class IV rapid. The Redwall Gorge follows soon after and treats you to the class IV rapids Scout and Ledge.

Once through the Redwall Gorge the canyon opens up and Still Creek makes an excellent place to eat lunch and enjoy the scenery. There are still many fun rapids and play spots below here and one rapid of note is the long class IV rapid Serpentine Slide four or five miles below Still Creek. At higher water, Serpentine Slide is a mile long rapid of powerful, big waves. Soon after Serpentine Slide is an amazing grotto where you can paddle through and behind a waterfall; this is usually the highlight of a trip down the North Fork.

From the grotto it's a beautiful float with several fun unnamed rapids to the confluence with the Middle Fork. If it's raining and you're in a wetsuit you'll probably be focused on staying warm for this last third of the run. If you can pull out a thermos of coffee or hot cocoa at this point you will most likely make a 100% profit in beer that night.

You will take out at the confluence with the Middle Fork of the Smith or continue 1.5 miles down to Margie's River Access, where the river first meets Highway 199.