Klamath National Forest

Immense Klamath National Forest Beckons Outdoorsy Types


Klamath National Forest – Photo by Jim Albert

If you’re looking for total peace and solitude — or the ultimate manly men’s getaway — nothing beats Northern California’s Klamath National Forest. Here’s a quick snapshot:

Where is the Klamath National Forest?

The Klamath National Forest covers nearly 1.7 million acres in extreme northern California and southern Oregon. It’s divided into two sections separated by the Shasta Valley and the Interstate 5 corridor. The western terrain is steep and rugged while the eastern terrain is gentler, with evidence of volcanic activity. Elevations range from 450 to 8,900 feet above sea level.

What’s in the Klamath National Forest?

The Klamath National Forest includes all or some of five Wilderness Areas, all of which boast hidden lakes and gorgeous mountain vistas: Marble Mountain, Russian, Trinity Alps, Red Buttes, and the Siskiyou.

The forest also includes four National Recreation Trails: the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the Boundary National Recreation Trail, the Kelsey National Recreation Trail, and the Clear Creek National Recreation Trail.

Also in the Klamath National Forest, more than 200 miles of the Klamath, Scott, and Salmon rivers and their tribnutaries have been designated under the nation’s Wild and Scenic River System as having outstanding cultural, geologic, scenic, wildlife, or fishing values.

What’s so special about the Klamath National Forest?

Due to its position in transition climates between the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, the Coast Range, and the Great Basin, the Klamath National Forest has plant life found nowhere else in California. In the Marble Mountain and Russian Wilderness Areas, there are 17 conifer species within one square mile. That’s more conifer species in one small area than anywhere else on Earth!

In addition, the forest is home to one plant that lives nowhere else in the world: the Siskiyou Mariposa lily.

What kind of wildlife lives in the Klamath National Forest?

More than 400 animal species call the Klamath National Forest home. These include wild horses, elk, salmon, steelhead trout, black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, river otters, mink, deer, osprey, bald eagles, badgers, pronghorn antelope, and reptiles and amphibians.

Top 11 Things to Do in the Klamath National Forest

Get a Map (you’re going to nee one!)
You remember what a map is, don’t you? That thing you once used to find your way around before you had a GPS? That you stuffed in your glove box and could never fold correctly? No matter what form of outdoor recreation you’re planning, the low-tech map always trumps a high-tech gadget for getting your bearings in the Klamath National Forest. For that reason we’re listing it as the FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT Thing to Do. You can pick up a map at any of the district offices, the Forest Supervisor’s Office, or Klamath National Forest headquarters, 1711 S. Main St., Yreka.

Admire the Scenery from your Car
The Klamath National Forest has three routes with views that’ll blow your hair back. Bigfoot Scenic Byway follows the Klamath River on Highway 96 from Happy Camp to Orleans. The State of Jefferson Scenic Byway also follows Highway 96 from Pioneer Bridge to Happy Camp, and then over Grayback Road to O’Brien, Ore., at U.S. Highway 199. Another cool drive includes a portion of the Modoc Volcanic Scenic Byway that runs through parts of the Goosenest Ranger District of the Klamath National Forest.

Search for Bigfoot
The elusive legendary primate that reportedly roams the forests has area businesses, roads, and events named after him, statues erected in his honor, even oversized “footprints” stamped into local sidewalks. And there have been countless reported Bigfoot sightings in the Klamath National Forest. If you happen to catch a glimpse of ol’ Sasquatch in the wild, make sure you have a backup camera battery at the ready. It’s funny how many batteries die just before the big shot!

Take to the Water
Kayaking and canoeing are popular in the Klamath National Forest, and there are a number of pristine lakes and picturesque rivers to explore. Non-motorized boating is permitted on Juanita Lake, Kangaroo Lake, Orr Lake, and on wilderness lakes. Boating on the Klamath, Scott, and Salmon rivers is mostly non-motorized because of shallow depths. The Klamath River Resort Inn offers guided kayak and canoeing trips; call (530) 493-2735.

Backpack to Island Lake
If you want your own private slice of heaven, and you’re willing to work for it, this is paradise. This Klamath National Forest gem, hidden in the Siskiyou Wilderness, is packed with brook trout and affords have-to-see-it-to-believe-it views of the mountains. Getting there is not for couch spuds; it requires a 12-mile round-trip hike that includes a 3,000-foot climb spanning a mere three miles.

Set up Camp
The Klamath National Forest boasts 50 or so public campgrounds, all on a first-come, first-served basis (except for group camps). All campsites have a table, fire ring or camp stove, and restrooms are available. Not all have drinking water, and there are no hookups or showers. A favorite campground of ours? Kangaroo Lake for swimming, fishing, canoeing, rock climbing, or just walking along the wildflower-studded trails. Good to know: Camping in the Klamath National Forest isn’t limited to developed campgrounds. Feel free to pitch a tent pretty much anywhere, but remember to practice environmental stewardship.

Go Caving
Pluto’s Caves, a favorite among Klamath National Forest explorers, are lava tubes larger than many in the Hawaiian islands. It’s smart to explore with at least one buddy, and even smarter to equip each person with a flashlight, a spare flashlight, and backup batteries. Call Klamath National Forest headquarters at (530) 842-6131 for directions and details.

Drop a Line
In the water, that is! The Klamath National Forest is an angler’s delight — one of the best places in the world to catch salmon and steelhead trout.
Looking for an outfitter and/or fishing guide? We recommend the following:

  • Ron DeNardi Outfitting
    (530) 475-FISH
  • McBroom & Co. Packers and Guides
    (530) 462-4617 (Ask about their elk hunting trips, too!)
  • Wally Johnson, Seiad Valley Guide Services
    (530) 496-3291
  • Spencer’s Guide Service
    (530) 493-2836

Ride Nature’s Rollercoaster
The Klamath National Forest is the perfect setting for all levels of whitewater rafters. To plan your guided multiday trip, call one of these companies:

  • Turtle River Whitewater Rafting Adventures
    (800) 726-3223 or (530) 926-3223
  • Momentum River Expeditions
    (541) 488-2525
  • Klamath River Outfitters
    1-800-RIVER-35 or (530) 469-3349
  • River Dancers
    (800) 926-5002
  • Rogue Klamath River Adventures
    1-800-231-0769 or (541) 779-3708
  • W.E.T.
  • Living Water Recreation
    (800) 944-RAFT

Crash for the Night
Unless you stay in Yreka, lodging in the Klamath National Forest doesn’t offer many options. No five-star Hilton here! Happy Camp, however, does have two places to hang your hat that we’d like to tell you about:

  • Forest Lodge Motel
    It’s clean, simple, super-affordable (the price for four guests is only $75) and has the basics, including microwave, wireless Internet, small refrigerator, cable TV, and a couple of full kitchen units. We love the fact that it’s pet-friendly and within shouting distance of a full-service restaurant and great pizza parlor. And if you ask nicely, the owner will even tell you where the coolest swimming holes are.
    63712 Highway 96, Happy Camp, CA 96039; (530) 493-5296
  • Klamath River Resort Inn
    This historic eight-room riverfront fishing lodge caters to outdoor enthusiasts of all types. Take a rafting trip or a self-guided kayaking or tube rental trip departing directly from the lodge — or enjoy an outoor massage in a natural setting along the river. Amenities include satellite TV, private restrooms, California King beds, kitchenettes, wireless Internet, and barbecues. Pets are welcome at no extra charge! For families or larger groups, two mobile homes are available for rent.
    61700 Highway 96, Box 485, Happy Camp, CA 96039; (530) 493-2735

Attend the Bigfoot Jamboree
The annual Happy Camp-based festival, held every Labor Day weekend in honor of the big furry guy, features a parade, Bigfoot Queen, food, music, dancing, art, a talent show, karaoke, pancake breakfast, and several contests and races. Awesome fun!

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