Smith River NRA Backroads Guide - California Scenic Drives
Tour 1: Forest Highway 15
This tour is a paved route beginning seven miles west of the Gasquet Ranger Station at the junction ot Highway 199 and South Fork Road, County Route 427. From here follow the sign to South Fork road. Turn left after crossing over two bridges. You'll travel for 15 miles paralleling the beautiful South Fork Smith River. You can take a scenic drive on a rustic dirt road through old-growth redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Turn right after crossing the two bridges. The first paved road to the right leads to Stout Grove and a beautiful half-mile hiking trail.
After travelling 15 miles, you'll make a right turn onto Forest Highway 15 and may then travel another 18 miles with beautiful vistas before the road ends.
Tour 2: Ship Mountain
The Ship Mountain tour is the longest backroad discovery tour. This route may be traveled in two directions.
From the junction of South Fork Road and Highway 199, about seven miles west of the town of Gasquet, cross two bridges and turn left. Stay on South Fork Road for 16.3 miles where county road maintenance ends. Travel another 11 miles staying on the main road. Turn left onto a side road and travel another 0.5 miles to a second gate and park here (if tbe first gate was not locked). The short walk up the remainder of the road holds breathtaking views. Return by continuing your same direction of travel on the main road for 17.3 miles to Highway 199 and Little Jones Creek Road.
Starting at Little Jones Creek Road and Highway 199 (about 10 miles east of Gasquet) turn onto Little Jones Creek Road and travel for about 10 miles to a three-way intersection. Go straight through the intersection and continue another 7.3 miles to a spur road on the right. Travel 0.5 miles to a parking spot before a second gate and park here. Return back to the main road and follow your same direction of travel, staying on the main road for 27.9 miles. Turn right after the bridge at "T" intersection and follow this road to Highway 199.
Tour 3: Camp Six Lookout
Gasquet was founded by Frenchman Horace Gasquet with his 1857 establishment of a mercantile settlement to supply local gold miners. Turn onto French Hill Road (County Route 411), named for the for the majority of French miners who began producing gold on French Hill in 1850. Sporadic gold production continued there as late as 1947.
Directions to beginning:
Highway 199 & French Hill Road is 2.2 miles west of the Gasquet Ranger Station and across from the Wagon Wheel. Travel on French Hill Road for 1.1 miles to Stop #1.
STOP #1: Future Forest
A clear-cut is one method of harvesting trees that involves the removal of all trees larger than an inch or two in diameter. In a five acre 1984 clear-cut, about 350 conifers were cut producing 250,000 board feet of lumber, or enough wood to build about 25 homes. The area was replanted with 2, 850 conifer seedlings.
Tree harvesting used to be allowed in this area. When the 305,000-acre Smith River NRA was created in 1991, it was divided into management areas, each with its own emphasis.
The emphasis in the area you are in is now on wildlife and recreation, not timber.
Directions from #1 to #2:
Travel 2.3 miles to Tyson Mine Road, turn right and travel about .2 miles. Drive to a dirt road that goes straight and park Find a small path on your left that is about 100 feet from the straight road and follow it about 300 feet to the California Pitcher Plants, stop #2.
STOP #2: Meet a Carnivore Close Up
This carnivore has no blood, no teeth, and no claws. It is the California Pitcher Plant, also called Darlingtonia californica by botanists. It lures insects with a fragrant nectar, guiding them to its head, where the insects may try to fly out. Instead, they hit a false window and are digested by plant juices.The California Pitcher Plant is on the forest's list of Sensitive Plants and Special Interest Plants. This list helps botanists track plants that could become threatened or endangered if their numbers decline.
By picking just a single flower, you are taking away a chance for that plant to reproduce and create new plants, so we ask that you don't pick the flowers. You'll also be helping to protect these unique plants—and your shoes—by staying out of the wet areas.
Directions from #2 to #3:
Turn around and return to French Hill Road. Turn right, continuing upward on French Hill Road and travel 2.2 miles to a stand of redwoods on the right
STOP 3: Coastal Redwoods . . . Here?
Yes! You are at one of the most eastern and highest points where coastal redwoods naturally grow. This area is called an ecotone, a transitional zone between two main forest types: moisture-dependent coastal redwoods and more drought-resistant conifers. The blending of the coastal and inland influences increases the diversity of plant types. Here you can see these inland redwoods growing alongside many other types of trees including Douglas-fir, tanoak, alder, knobcone pine and sugar pine (all of these tree species are within view of this site). Next time you visit the redwoods on the coast, notice that few other tree species grow nearby.
Directions from #3 to #4:
Continue travelling upward for 3.2 miles to a pulloff on your left
STOP #4: Where Did Highway 199 Go?
Highway 199 traverses through the valley bottom below. Construction was completed on Highway 199 in the late 1920s. Before Highway 199 was built, Horace Gasquet had the 23-mile Gasquet Toll Road constructed in the 1880s—you can still see it across the canyon.
Directions from #4 to #5:
Continue on French Hill Road for about 1.4 miles; a road goes to the left, but continue straight Travel another .9 miles to a road marked 17N71. Park here and walk .2 miles or drive your vehicle up .2 miles on this road to the lookout.
STOP #5: Camp Six Lookout
This fire lookout was built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers around 1935, and has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
The very top of the lookout may not be open when you visit, either for your protection or that of the lookout's. However, you can still see a great view by carefully climbing the first set of stairs, at which point you will be at an elevation of 3,725 feet (over 3,200 feet higher than the village of Gasquet).
This site is a designated electronic site, hence the radio and TV channel station antennas. Payment to the Federal Treasury for the use of this site is managed under a Forest Service Special Use Permit.
Looking directly below you is what some call the pygmy forest. These old-growth lodgepole pine trees are close to 200 years-old but are only around 30 feet tall because of the poor soil and harsh weather conditions.
Tour 4: Old Gasquet Toll Road
Horace Gasquet's dream of a toll road linking Crescent City, CA to Waldo, OR became reality in 1887. The following are some of the tolls charged to use the road:
1887 Toll Charges
A footman $0.25
Man & horse $1.00
Pack animals $0.25
Loose horses & cattle $0.12 1/2
Hogs & sheep $0.06
One-horse vehicle $2.75
Directions to start:
This tour may be taken in one of two directions. If starting in the town of Gasquet and travelling toward Patrick Creek (visit stops: 1, 2, . . . ), turn right onto Middle Fork Gasquet Road, near the Gasquet Post Office. Travel for about 0. 1 miles to a fork and veer to the right Travel on this road for about 0.5 miles to a road sign marked "Old Gasquet Toll Road" and turn right and travel about 1.7 miles to Stop #1.
If travelling from Patrick Creek toward Gasquet (visit stops: 8, 7, . . . ), begin at Highway 199 and Patrick Creek Road (about 7.5 miles east of the Smith River NRA Headquarters). Turn onto Patrick Creek Road and travel for about 0.4 miles where three small drives pull oft to the left. Take the middle drive and park near a large boulder. Follow the trall on an old road past the boulder to the creek about 300 feet from the parking area to Stop #1.
STOP #1: French Hill & Signal Peak
Looking west, the closest mountain is French Hill. The name came from the large number of French workers at the mine there in the 1800s. To the right of French Hill and on the other side of is Signal Peak with a distinct looking rock slide. Early settlers looked for a signal given from the top of the peak, signaling that supplies had arrived by ship in Crescent City.
Directions from #1 to #2:
Travel 2.3 miles.
STOP #2: Eighteen-Mile Creek
This Creek is called Eighteen-mile Creek because it was located about 18 miles from Waldo, Oregon on the Old GasquetToll Road.
There are four types of cedar trees that grow within the Smith River NRA: Port-Orford cedar, incense-cedar, western redcedar, and Alaska cedar. The Port-Orford cedar and the incense cedar are both at this location. Looking upcreek while standing on the bridge, a small incense cedar is to the left and a small Port-Orford cedar is to the right.
Directions from #2 to #3:
Travel 1.0 miles
STOP #3: Danger Point View of Scenic Byway
You're at Danger Point, so named for the hazards that stage coaches faced when passing each other here. Now you can see the Smith River Scenic Byway, Highway 199, below. The National Scenic Byway System identifies especially scenic travel routes along national forest roads across the country.
Directions from #3 to #4:
Travel 3. 1 miles
STOP #4: Melderson Grave & Siskiyou Mountains
In 1900 George Melderson mysteriously died at the Elk Horn Mine, in operation near the present Patrick's Creek Lodge on Highway 199. Why his friend Wm. J. Billy (Kelly) carried Melderson's body from the mine uphill and through the brush and buried him at this site on the Old Gasquet Toll Road is unknown. You can see the beautiful Siskiyou Mountains behind the grave site and throughout your backroad tour.
Directions from #4 to #5:
Travel 0.5 miles
STOP #5: High Dome
The rounded mountain to the east with a large naturally occurring meadow near the top is called High Dome. The meadow provides excellent habitat for a variety of wildlife, including deer and bear.
High Dome was home to a fire lookout during World War I. Now it offers a pleasant 1.6 mile round trip hike to the meadow. The trailhead is on Road # 315 (the road across from Stop #7).
Directions from #5 to #6:
Travel 3. 1 miles.
STOP #6: Patrick Creek Lodge . . . Here?
The present Patrick Creek Lodge on Highway 199 had its beginnings here. In the late 1800s a stage station was built here to provide fresh horses to stage coach drivers and allow travelers a place to stretch during their journey on the Toll Road. The Patrick Creek Lodge was rebuilt on its present location in 1926 on the then-new Highway 199. That lodge is still in operation under a Special Use Permit with the Forest Service. After the lodge moved locations, this area was mined. The three ponds here today were used as settling ponds for mining in the early and mid 1900s.
Directions from #6 to #7:
Continue on the Old Gasquet Toll Road over the bridge for 2.7 miles (this is Patrick Creek Road now) to an open area on the right within view of a landslide.
STOP #7: Geology In Action
The Smith River NRA has some very steep slopes, highly fractured bedrock, and large amounts of rainfall. Together, these conditions produce high rates of what geologists call "mass wasting" in which gravity simply pulls soil and rock debris down the slopes. This happens naturally as streams progressively deepen their canyons over thousands of years. Mass wasting can also be accelerated by human disturbances such as clear-cutting or building roads.
The slide at this stop first developed during the great storm and flood of 1964, as did many other large landslides in the Smith River canyon. It slid again in the winter of 1989, nearly blocking the stream, and has continued to deliver sediment to Patrick Creek ever since. This process appears to be mostly natural, but may be affected by encroachment of the County road on the stream channel.
Directions from #7 to #8:
Travel 0.4 miles. There are three drives that turnoff on the right. Take the middle drive and park near a large boulder. Walk down the old road past the boulder about 300 feet to the creek.
STOP #8: Where is the Weir?
A weir is used to divert or deflect water to create pools for fish. These pools are an important habitat type fish require. Other habitat types include runs and riffles. Habitat and fish population are monitored on many creeks in the Smith River NRA. The weir you see before you was built by the Six Rivers National Forest. Follow-up monitoring of Patrick Creek shows that the construction of the weirs improved the fish population. Don't be surprised if you see a fish today especially if you are visiting in October or November or even into the early spring months. (Remember salmon fishing is NOT permitted here).
Directions back to Highway 199:
Continue on Patrick Creek Road for about 0.5 miles.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication