Smith, South Fork, California, US
Steven Memorial Bridge to confluence with Middle Fork
||III-V (for normal flows)
Good Luck!Photo of Grant Werschkull by Thomas O'Keefe taken 03/05/15 @ 1370 cfs
This Wild and Scenic South Fork Smith River is generally divided into three sections. Multiple
access points along the way allow boaters to paddle just one of the sections or combine different
sections. It's a good river for groups of varied skill. Everyone can join in on the middle
class III section which is plenty of fun and incredibly scenic, and then the more skilled
paddlers in the group can do one of the gorges.
1) Upper Gorge, Class V, 5.2 miles
2) South Fork Smith, Class III, 11.7 miles (shorter options possible)
The standard run on the South Fork Smith is a good class III run from Steven Bridge down to
Boulder Creek is one of the notable drops near the top of the run where a large midstream boulder
divides the flow.
Sand Camp Access is a possible intermediate access point that is a good option particularly when
flows are lower or if you are continuing on down through the gorge and just looking for a shorter
After Sand Camp, two newer bridges, that were built to route the road away from the
landslide-prone slope on river left, cross the river. A fun class III+ rapid is in the section
between the two bridges.
As you pass Coon Creek, you will come to Coon Creek Rapid, a straightforward class III with a
boulder towards the end of the drop on river right that is easy to navigate around. Broken Paddle
comes up next and although it is a named rapid, it is characteristic of several of the unnamed
class III rapids along this section.
The highlight of this section comes near the end at Surprise, a fun class IV at an obvious
horizon line with good scouting from river right. A hole forms on the river right so the
preferred line is generally down the left where you may need to negotiate a rock outcrop towards
the bottom of the drop. This rapid is a good test for those planning to continue on downstream
through the gorge and if that is not your intent, it's always easy to portage this drop on
You will soon arrive at Craig's Beach, the take-out for class III paddlers and the start of
the class IV/V fun for those continuing on down the gorge.
3) South Fork Gorge, Class IV/V, 1.6 miles
The South Fork Gorge is a classic class IV/V run of approximately 2 miles in length with
half a dozen great rapids. The river runs right along the road and although you can't really
see down into the gorge while driving the shuttle, you can get out and spend some time looking at
it from above. From Craig's Beach the run begins with the Slalom Course, a fun stretch
through a long sequence of boulder garden rapids with multiple routes to choose from and plenty
of spots to eddy out.
The entrance to the gorge is marked by a fun double drop down the right side. Soon after this
drop you will want to grab an eddy to scout Good Luck!, one of the bigger drops in the gorge. You
can get a good overhead view of the rapid from river right. The preferred line can vary with flow
but generally involves avoiding a hole on the right and a large midstream rock towards the bottom
of the drop.
After a short recovery stretch another horizon line awaits. An easy scout is available on river
left for The Boof.
Two final drops await. On the first, the main flow heads down the left with a tricky line but a
fun slot is available between a couple boulders to river right. The next drop is a steep flume
that slams into the gorge wall on river left. The trick is to stay upright and avoid a situation
where you are trying to roll up against the wall. If you make it past this point, you also need
to be aware of the wall on river right just below that can also present problems for
out-of-control boaters particularly at higher flows.
The remainder of the gorge is a short float out to the bridge. Take-out on river right just below
the bridge and hike up the trail to the Smith River Forks Access area.
A mile and a half upstream of Hiouchi, turn south onto South Fork Smith Road. You will first
cross the Middle Fork bridge and at 0.2 miles down the road you will reach the Smith River Forks
Access before crossing the South Fork Bridge. Park at this access site for the 668' take-out
trail that comes up on downstream river right of the South Fork Bridge. The trail is to the left
of the toilets and signed for Second Bridge Beach (a road heads down to the gravel bar on the
Middle Fork serving as a take-out for that run).
To reach the put-in, head back out to the road and continue upstream across the South Fork Bridge
(at mile 0.4) and turn left after crossing the bridge to stay on South Fork Smith Road. At 2.0
miles down South Fork Road, you will come to Craig's Beach Access. This serves as a put-in if
you just want to run the gorge or a take-out for those who are not up for it. At 7.2 miles you
will reach the Sand Camp Access. This makes for a nice warm-up and a good day-trip with plenty of
fun whitewater before you reach the Gorge. The upper put-in is at Steven Memorial Bridge at mile
12.6 which can also serve as a take-out for the Upper Gorge.
To reach the put-in for the Upper Gorge. Continue on to the turn for FR 15N01 which is 13.5 miles
from Highway 199. Follow this road up 3.5 miles and then turn left on FR 15N39 which winds its
way 2 miles down towards the river and the South-Kelsey Trailhead (picnic tables, vault toilet,
and parking for 10 cars). It's about a mile hike down the trail to the river.
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Last Updated: 2015-03-22 15:43:20