Smith River NRA Trails

In the late summer and early fall months I took some time during favorable weather to hike a few more of the trails in the Smith River NRA (National Recreation Area). Here is a collection of snapshots from my most recent hikes including McClendon Ford, Island Lake and Young’s Valley trails. I also had the pleasure of a visit from my Mom, Lavinia, who was game for as much hiking as I could dish out.

McClendon Ford Trail

This was a fun and mellow 1 mile hike that spurs off the trailhead for the South Kelsey Trail. The trail travels downstream along the South Fork Smith River with views of the river almost the entire way and leads to a killer swimming hole and small beach at the end.
Along the way there were some big trees, mostly Douglas Fir, but a few big Port Orford Cedars too.

McClendon Ford trail is about 3 miles round trip and well worth the hour drive from Hiouchi (Hi-what-y? Hi-oo-chi) if you’re looking for a somewhat remote swimming hole on a hot day, or just a short easy hike to a sweet spot on the river.

Island Lake Trail

This trailhead is near the Doe Flat trailhead which leads to the more popular Devil’s punchbowl. Island Lake is like the smaller cousin to the Punchbowl. The lake is about 1/3 the size and more heavily impacted by lakeside campsites. It is still beautiful and remote and you’re more likely to have the place to yourself. And with the lake being smaller and shallower, it’s warmer and better for swimming. The coolest part- there are tons of newts hanging out in the lake just floating around.

The trail itself is a bit of a slog. We took bikes and rolled down the first 3 miles without even pedaling. That part of the trail is an old road. Then we stashed the bikes where the trail meets the South Fork of the Smith and started walking- 3 miles uphill to the lake. The trail goes through a cool burned section of forest near the sub alpine zone. It’s like a ghost forest- a contrast of black and white charred tree skeletons with lush green regrowth of California native blackberry on the ground.

Young’s Valley Trail

The last big hike I took turned out some fabulous fall color, and the air was chilled to prove the season. Young’s Valley Trail starts in the Smith River NRA, but after a couple miles passes into the Siskiyou Wilderness. This trail used to be another old road and it’s still in pretty good shape making it easy to walk at least 2 abreast. It’s a welcome relief to not have to stare at someone’s backside while you’re walking and the lead doesn’t have to yell to be heard.

Walking the trail past Young's Valley


It’s only a couple-three miles into Young’s Valley, passing Craker Meadow along the way with it’s Darlingtonia bog on a rise in the meadow.

It was October when we hiked this trail and it was lit up with vine maple, big leaf maple, alders and scrubby brush all turning colors of yellow orange and red. My Forest Service hiking buddy, Curtis, and I wandered up various forks of other trails that the Young’s Valley Trail leads to- Clear Creek (gorgeous creekside walk into open cedar forest), Raspberry Lake trail (that leads to a launching point for climbing Preston Peak, the highest peak in the Siskiyous), and Poker Flat trail. There were a few choice camping spots scattered around, the best was in Bell Echo Camp. The back drop was a craggy rock face decorated with color cascades of vine maple and tinkling rivulets of water.

On our drive out from the trailhead we stopped to check out the hidden falls you have to climb down a rope to get to on the upper Middle Fork of the Smith River. It made for a choice scenic closure to my hiking adventures in Del Norte County this summer and fall.

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