River trips offer peaceful floats and some thrills
Any float down the crystal-clear waters of the Smith River is prized by paddlers worldwide.
The prime time of the Smith's whitewater season has passed, but mellow floats past old-growth redwoods on the main stem are a summer treat that can't be beat.
"You can't call it summer without a float down the river," said Fort Dick boater Connor Caldwell, while drifting downstream on the second day of summer.
Still, the Smith does have a wild side.
In the last week of May, river guides from Northwest Rafting Company
had a break from taking clients down the Rogue River and took advantage
of sufficient flows on the Smith to run Oregon Hole Gorge and South Fork
Gorge - two of the most advanced runs in the Smith River watershed.
A few good rains could still possibly push the river up high enough
for rafting and kayaking the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Smith
(especially when using inflatable kayaks), but during dry summers the
river sees more traffic below the forks in Hiouchi.
Starting a river ride at the Hiouchi forks or the Jedediah Smith
Redwoods State Park Campground provides the added bonus of passing
through towering redwoods. The mouth of Mill Creek marks Stout Grove,
which makes a great spot for a lunch break.
Boaters still encounter a few small, class I rapids even on the
easy-going main stem, but they are easily navigated.
For more information on main stem boating, call Redwood National and
State Parks at 707-465-7306.
If it's whitewater you're after, the South Fork and stretches of the
Middle Fork are often high enough to run with inflatable kayaks in the
"Bottom scratcher" is a popular summer run for hardshells or
inflatables going from Gasquet to the takeout above the Oregon Hole
Gorge on the Middle Fork of the Smith. California Creeks recommends a
minimum flow of 200 cubic feet per second. The Middle Fork's flow is
roughly 53 percent of the flow at the Jed Smith Gauge, which can be
found online by googling "Jed Smith River gauge" and clicking on the top
The takeout is a sandy trail on the rafter's right. It's a good idea
to go with experienced paddlers and scope out the take-out first so you
know what to look for. Maybe leave some sort of flagging, because if
you miss the take-out, you will go down the Oregon Hole Gorge, which can
be deadly during low flows.
"It's not summer unless someone gets rescued by the Coast Guard from
the Oregon Hole Gorge," said longtime Gasquet boater Rachel McCain.
For the South Fork, California Creeks (cacreeks.com) recommends a
minimum flow of 250 cfs for inflatable kayaks. The South Fork's flow is
roughly 47 percent of the flow at the Jed Smith River gauge.
McCain said the South Fork is less suitable for summer rides than the
Middle Fork, due to low flows and big rapids like "Pillow" and
"Surprise Falls." Call ahead for advice and when in doubt, scout.
Portaging boats around big rapids is often the safest bet.
Regardless of what stretch you plan to paddle, be sure to wear a
lifejacket, helmet, and carry a throw-rope in case of emergencies.
For more information on boating in the Smith River National
Recreation Area, call Six Rivers National Forest Gasquet Ranger District
Some of the best summer whitewater opportunities in the Pacific
Northwest can be found close by on stretches of the Rogue River in
Permits are required for the sections designated as "wild" that offer
class III and class IV rapids, and although many permits are reserved
far in advance, there is close to a 50 percent cancellation rate,
according the Bureau of Land Management.
Google "BLM Rogue River" and click the top link for a very
informative site on boating opportunities. Check the "float space
openings" for openings, and check back frequently for new openings.
The sections designated as "recreation" spots offer class I and II
rapids without the need for permits.
For advice and information, call the BLM's "River Permits and
Information" hotline at 541-479-3735.
Several commercial rafting companies offer half-day, full-day and
multi-day trips on the Rogue. Rental and shuttle services are also
easily found online.
Dreamflows.com offers up-to-date information on flows and links to
rafting information sites.
Running rivers requires extensive research and preparation. Do your
homework to guarantee safe boating.
Reach Adam Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rafting information sites:
River flows site:
andbull; Google Jed Smith River gauge and click the top link with a .gov