Smith, N. Fork - Low Divide Road (near OR-CA border) to Gasquet (confluence with Middle Fork)

Smith, N. Fork, California, US


Low Divide Road (near OR-CA border) to Gasquet (confluence with Middle Fork)

Usual Difficulty III-V (for normal flows)
Length 13 Miles

North Fork Smith rapid

North Fork Smith rapid
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/21/18 @ 4550 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
No. Smith At Gasquet
dream-162 600 - 4000 cfs III-V -21h18m 2900 cfs (running)
usgs-11532500 2000 - 7000 cfs III-V 00h56m 11100 cfs (too high)

River Description

The water on this run is always crystal clear and it's known as one of the most scenic runs on the West Coast. Good flows are available in the winter rainy season, October to April, when an average of 92 inches of rain falls. Summers are dry, so the rivers get too low for boating.

In addition to the clear water, the several waterfalls pour into the river in beautiful cascades with pitcher plants and azaelas (a trip in spring will find them in bloom) lining the banks. There are a couple good lunch spots and if you really wanted to take it all in, an overnight self-support trip is also a possibility. Bottom line is this is a spectacular river trip on a Wild and Scenic River.

Most of the rapids can be boat scouted and at moderate flows this is a great class IV pool-drop run. The one exception is Scout Rapid where it is helpful to hop out on the right and take a look at the sequence of moves you need to make. As flows increase, the pools disappear and the river becomes one continuous ride of big whitewater. Keep in mind that the run is very remote and you are a long way from any roads. A hike out would be epic so hold onto your gear and don't put on when the water is too high for your skill level.

Since this is a long run a comfortable river cruiser is generally the boat of choice, but experienced boaters can also have a lot of fun in a play boat. While overcast rainy days can be the norm on this run, the river can be absolutely spectacular on a sunny day. Bring a pair of sunglasses as you will be paddling south and the low angle sun on winter or early spring days can be blinding.


Take-out: There are two options for a take-out.

Gasquet Water Treatment Plant: This an informal access at the confluence of the North Fork with the Middle Fork. It is a standard take-out for kayakers running the North Fork. At Highway 199 mile post 14.3 in Gasquet, turn on to Middle Fork Gasquet Road. Follow this road 0.1 mile and turn right onto Gasquet Flat Road and follow it 0.1 mile to the bridge across the Middle Fork. If you park tight, you can get a few cars parked along the shoulder (please don't block driveways). To scout your take-out at the confluence, you will need to walk downstream river right of the bridge through the green gate, past the water treatment plant, and down to the confluence. It is a short hike with kayaks but not as practical for rafts.

Margie’s (Sims Camp, Shady Bend): This is a formal USFS access site located at Highway 199 mile post 12.86 at the downstream end of Gasquet (just as you pass the highway sign marking the entrance to Gasquet where the river heads away from the road). The river is accessed by a 370’ trail and the site includes parking for 10 vehicles, vault toilet, and screened clothes-changing area. Gentle trail slope affords easy access for rafts and kayaks. The access point is a small mud/sand beach and the river is a deep pool at this point. Adjacent to and in view of highway.

Put in: where Low Divide Road crosses the river. The shuttle route climbs through the mountains west of the river, then drops back down to the river about 25 miles from the Highway 199 turn off. Driving time is around 1 to 1.5 hours one way. The road is reportedly not plowed in the winter but is kept open by locals with 4 wheel drive.

Shuttle Option: It takes a couple hours to get in to the put-in so most folks coordinate a shuttle driver in Gasquet to take them up to the put-in. Bearfoot Brad, (707) 457-3365,  

Other Information Sources:
Ca Creeks 
Jefferson State Creeking- blog
Oregon Kayaking NF Smith River.
Nate Dogg, blog report
NF Smith at 10' - Vimeo Video
For books, see: Cassady & Calhoun, Holbek & Stanley, Schwind, Penny, Soggy Sneakers
Smith - Wild & Scenic River 
Six Rivers National Forest
Smith River Recreation Area

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-05-15 22:27:25

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
3.0Scout RapidIV+Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Scout Rapid (Class IV+, Mile 3.0)

Scout Rapid

Scout Rapid
Photo of Grant Werschkull by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/21/18 @ 4550 cfs

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
January 3 2011 (2941 days ago)
Nick SindersonDetails
Yesterday 1/2/11 I made my 20th trip down this run and every trip confirms my first
impressions...that this is one of the most uniquely beautiful class 3/4 river runs anywhere and I
count myself lucky to have it in my neck of the woods. There are a few things to know that will
help any trip down this run; 1)Bearfoot Brad, one of the worlds best shuttle drivers (707)457-3365.
for a small fee he will save you hours of driving and fill you with tons of local info. (he also
posts the daily report of conditions on 2)forget about cfs this run is calibrated
from the paddlers gauge at the confluence of the NF & MF. For a first time for the class 3/4 boater
I'd say 9.5 to 10.5 is the ideal level ... Swimmers and gear can be easily rounded up, you'll have
time to look at the scenery and there are still 8 or so class 4's and lots 3' to 4' high wave
trains with the rare 5'-6' high wave to spice things up. Above 12 I hear things start to get big
and fast, missed rolls at that level and above could result in long swims, lost gear and a epic
hike out. 3)lots of surf waves so if your comfortable in class 4 in the playboat... bring it
4)bring sun glasses on sunny days. With a north to south orientation and a low winter sun, the
glare can be blinding

Wild and Scenic 50th logo

In 2018 we celebrate this Wild and Scenic River and work to protect more rivers as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of Wild and Scenic Rivers. Learn More.

Associated Projects

  • Kalmiopsis Rivers (OR/CA)
    American Whitewater is working to protect the wild rivers of Southwestern Oregon and Northern California from the threats of nickel strip mines.