South Fork of the Smith

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California, USA

South Fork of the Smith River

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.

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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.

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.