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South Fork Smith River2021-03-26T09:28:19-07:00

South Fork of the Smith River: Tackle the infamous South Fork Gorge

The South Fork of the Smith River takes you down some fun rapids just south of the California-Oregon border, just before merging with the Middle Fork of the Smith River. The South Fork Gorge section is rated between Class IV and V, depending on the flows. There is good access to the river throughout the whole section, allowing you to choose how difficult of a trip you want to run. The river often runs a clear blue color, and the geology throughout this section is fantastic.

About this guide

This guide outlines the most common run on the South Fork of the Smith River.

All data points were collected using GPS. This location information is provided. These locations were checked against Google Earth for accuracy. Distances are the averages of repeated trips that were GPSed.

Put-ins and take-outs include links to their Google Map locations. Use this to accurately build shuttle directions.

River Info

The South Fork of the Smith River courses through Northern California, winding through Redwood gorges.  There is excellent camping, hiking, and whitewater throughout the whole section. When the flows are middle to low, the water becomes a beautiful crystalline blue.

Safety

The South Fork of the Smith River has river access alongside the majority of the stretch. It is wise to go with someone who has seen the Smith River before at multiple flow levels, as the river changes drastically from one level to the next. Given its location in a Redwood forest, strainers from felled trees can present a significant hazard.

Permits

Permits are not needed to run this stretch of the Smith River.

South Fork Gorge

The South Fork Gorge is a 1.5 mile stretch, where the South Fork of the Smith is constricted into a narrow gorge. The rapids here are tight, and the spacing in between them is short. At high flows, this section can be quite difficult, and is considered to be Class V. There is a take-out above this stretch at Craig’s Creek if you do not want to run this stretch.

Shuttle Info

The South Fork of the Smith River has an easy shuttle. It only takes about an hour and the drive through this section of California is spectacular. We recommend taking out at Jedediah Smith Redwoods since the South Fork Gorge bridge has a difficult take-out.

South Fork of the Smith River
Gauge data provided by the USGS
The flow of the South Fork of the Smith is generally half of the flow of the Smith River at Crescent City. 
Low Flow: below 1,000 CFS 
Medium Flow: ~2,000 CFS 
High Flow: 4,000 CFS  

South Fork of the Smith River River Map & Guide

WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment. Go with someone with recent Smith experience.

Class II Rapid

Class II rapid or river feature.

Class III Rapid

Class III rapid or river feature.

Class IV Rapid

Class IV rapid or river feature.

Put-In / Take-Out

The most commonly used access points.

Point of Interest

These include creeks, and old cabins.

Stevens Memorial Bridge to Jedediah Smith State Park  – Class II, III, IV & V

This section of the Smith River courses through Northern California, beginning with some mellow rapids, and passing through the South Fork Gorge, which boasts some fast, technical rapids at lower flows, and huge features at higher flows. We’ve included the South Fork Gorge in this guide, but you can take out above at Craig’s Creek.

Length

Stevens Memorial Bridge to Jedediah Smith State Park is 16.73 miles.

Difficulty

Intermediate to Expert

Feet per Mile

Stevens Memorial Bridge to Jedediah Smith State Park is ~28 FPM

Shuttle Time

Stevens Memorial Bridge to Jedediah Smith State Park is about an hour round trip. Google Map directions.

Mile 0.0 – Steven’s Memorial Bridge: River Right. This can be a difficult take-out, so some boaters elect to line their boats off of the bridge, making the carry a lot less difficult. Otherwise, you can carry your boats down the trail to the Put-In.

Mile 1.94 – Canthook Creek: River RIght. Canthook Creek enters the Smith River from river right.

Mile 2.55 – Gordon Creek Confluence: River right. Gordon Creek enters the South Fork of the Smith River from the right side

Mile 3.91 – Boulder Creek Confluence: River Left. Boulder Creek enters from river left. Just downstream is Boulder Creek Rapid

Mile 4.08 – Boulder Creek Rapid: Class III. The river makes a gentle left bend, with numerous waves throughout. At the bottom center of this rapid is a boulder garden, with many undercut boulders. You can go left or right of these boulders at most flows.

Mile 5.12 – Rock Creek Confluence: River Left. Rock Creek enters the South Fork of the Smith from river left.

Mile 5.42 – Deer Creek Confluence: River Right. Deer Creek enters from the right.

Mile 5.57 – Sand Camp River Access: River Left. Alternate Put-In downstream of Stevens Memorial Bridge. There’s a 500-foot trail from this primitive campsite to the river.

Mile 6.46 – First Bridge: This is the first of 3 bridges you will encounter on this trip if you go all the way to Jedediah Smith State Park.

Mile 6.89 – Second Bridge: This is the second bridge you will see in this section. The final bridge is just below the South Fork Gorge.

Mile 8.79 – Coon Creek Confluence: River Right. Coon Creek enters the Smith River from the right side. Just downstream is Coon Creek Rapid.

Mile 8.84 – Coon Creek Rapid: Class III+. Just downstream of Coon Creek is a shallow rapid, with a large boulder at the bottom that you’ll want to avoid.

Mile 11.28 – Surprise Rapid: Class IV. Scout on the right. This is a short, steep drop with a lot of current pushing into a rock in the center of the channel. Work right to stay away from this rock. At higher flows, this rock can become a hole, which you’ll still want to avoid.

Mile 11.69 – Craigs Creek Confluence: River Right. Craigs Creek enters the Smith River from the right side.

Mile 12 – Craigs Creek Put-In/Take-Out: River Left. This is the Put-In for the South Fork Gorge. You can Take-out here if you do not want to run the South Fork Gorge.

Mile 12.49 – Gorge Rapid 1: Class III. At normal flows, there is a hole at the bottom.

Mile 12.53 – Gorge Rapid 2: Class IV. At most flows, you have to go right, and avoid a hole on the bottom right. At higher flows, you can go left of these features.

Mile 12.64 – Gorge Rapid 3: Class III. Wrap rock with a lot of current pushing towards it. You can go left or right of this rock, but it can be tricky to avoid this rock.

Mile 12.69 – Gorge Rapid 4: Class IV. Very common to swim people here. Watch out below. Rock on the right forms a large hole, rock on the bottom left forms another large hole. The easiest scout is from river right.

Mile 12.75 – Gorge Rapid 5: Class IV. Scout from river left. At low flows, go right to left. At high flows, go down the center. Medium flow, you can cheat on the left. Some boaters may refer to this rapid as “The Boof”, but this is often only an option for kayakers.

Mile 12.97 – Undercut Wall Rapid: Portage Recommended at Low flows (on river right). At lower flows, there is a lot of current pushing into a wall on the left side of the river, which can suck a tube. Set safety on the bottom at river right, Final Drop is just below, and you do not want swimmers to go through Final Drop.

Mile 13.01 – Final Drop Rapid: Class IV. Scout from river right. At most flows, go right of center. At high flows, there is a huge hole, and some boaters will go left.

Mile 13.59 – South Fork Road Bridge: River Right. This Take-out is just below the second bridge you will run into. The parking lot is quite far, so we recommend going to Jed Smith State Park

Mile 13.82 – Middle/South Fork Smith River Confluence: There Middle Fork and the South Fork of the Smith meet just downstream of the South Fork Road Bridge. You may encounter boaters here who have just completed the Oregon Hole stretch of the Smith River.

Mile 14.33 – Sheep Pen Creek Confluence: River Left. The Sheep Pen Creek enters the Smith River from the left

Mile 15.88 – Mill Creek Confluence: River Left. Mill Creek enters the Smith River from the left side.

Mile 16.93 – Jedediah Smith State Park Take-Out: River Right. Take-out on river right. You’ll see a large bar on the right side, with access for vehicles. You can drive a vehicle all way up to river’s edge, making the take-out significantly easier.

Note that many boaters also choose to run the nearby Middle Fork of the Smith River. Check out our guide for Oregon Hole Gorge on the Middle Fork, here.

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