In 2009, just after the school bell rang for the last time and my 30 seventh grade students ran out the door for summer, I jumped in my car and headed to Covelo to start the first official thru-hike of the Bigfoot Trail. Over the next 20 days and 360 miles I walked, mostly alone, on my way to Crescent City.
I first cooked up the idea of this route in 2007 with my friend, mentor, and preeminent botanist John O. Saywer. We envisioned it as a way to connect existing trails, roads, wilderness, and botanical wonders across the Klamath Mountains. This project — once a pipe-dream and now a reality — combines hiking and natural history by defining a thru-hike in one of the most species-rich temperate coniferous forests on Earth. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of many others, this route has the opportunity to become a National Recreation Trail and further promote the uniqueness of this remote region to both locals and others around the world.
U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman recently unveiled draft legislation to protect Northwest California’s spectacular wild places and rivers and has been hosting a series of public meetings across Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino and Trinity counties to get feedback on the draft legislation which proposes enhanced restoration efforts, wilderness preservation and recreational opportunities — which is where the Bigfoot Trail fits in.
The trail highlights the immense ecological diversity of Northwest California’s ancient forests and other unique landscapes by connecting existing trails and remote forest service roads. It passes through the towns of Hayfork, Junction City, Seiad Valley, and Crescent City and gets close to Etna and Hiouchi. Trekkers from all over the world have hiked either parts or all of the trail since 2009. At least 40 thru-hikers have completed the route, including a couple from Sweden this year. These folks not only bring monetary rewards to local communities, but also leave with a love for our region.
There is even a non-profit now overseeing the establishment of the route. The Bigfoot Trail Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is working to support the establishment of the 360 mile route through the Klamath Mountains. The BFTA fosters a community committed to constructing, maintaining, promoting, and protecting — in perpetuity — the Bigfoot Trail.
The route not only celebrates the unique natural history of our region, but also the cultural history. In Del Norte County, for example, the Bigfoot Trail overlaps with the Kelsey National Recreation Trail as it descends to Crescent City. This route was used in the 1850’s as a way to bring gold from the inland areas of the Klamath Mountains to the Crescent City harbor. In addition, the route overlaps with the Pacific Crest Trail in the northern Marble Mountains.
Huffman’s proposal will be a boon for the overall health of our region through restoration, preservation, and the recreational opportunities it promotes. As many other communities across the West are finding, recreation can be the new gold, timber, and fisheries. I believe this to be true for the Klamath Mountains. Please voice your support now for the trail and the discussion draft by visiting www.huffman.house.gov.
Bigfoot Trail Stats:
• 168 miles of trail are in designated Wilderness.
• Trail miles along Wild & Scenic rivers:
• South Fork Trinity 16 miles
• Salmon 15 miles
• Smith 18 miles
• 12 miles in Jed Smith and Redwood NP.
• Miles on each of the National Forests:
• Mendocino NF: 15 Miles
• Shasta-Trinity NF: 115 Miles
• Klamath NF: 152 Miles
• Rogue-Siskiyou NF: 14 Miles
• Six Rivers NF: 40 Miles
• Total elevation gain and loss:100,000 feet
Michael Edward Kauffman is an educator, author and president of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance.