Copyright 2015 by Mario Vaden
The Smith River rises east from the Pacific Ocean through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and to the Smith River National Recreation Area. The journey along the Smith River begins a few miles from Crescent City by traveling east on Highway 199.
If its summer or early autumn and your children have swimwear, give them a break from the redwoods. Take them to the river. If you are lodging in Crescent City, its only 10 to 15 minutes drive. If you camp at Jedediah Smith redwood park, the river passes the campground and the walk is brief.
The Smith River offers swimming, fishing, kayaking, sun bathing and photography. If you ask around Hiouchi, the park's visitor center or your motel, you shouldn't have any problem finding fishing guides or information about kayaking. You may want to call weeks or months in advance for some of this though. Otherwise swimming is available almost every day in the summer when the water flow is more gentle.
If there are any "noodies" I haven't seen any yet, so most of the easy to reach spots are pretty much family friendly. That wouldn't bother me, but thought its worth mentioning.
I think this river's naturally sculpted canyon is comparable to Eagle Creek near the Columbia River Gorge for character, and one of the cleanest rivers in the country. Up north in Oregon, Eagle Creek's canyon is deeper with better large waterfalls and I would rate that one 8.5/10 if say the Grand Canyon or Yosemite are 10/10s. Given that as a personal point of reference, let's call the Smith River an 8/10. It a gorgeous river area. The image below is a swimming hole and gravel bar just north of Hiouchi.
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When you visit the coast redwoods, the Smith River is worth the trip for at least 20 or 40 miles east and back again. One remarkable stretch begins at Patrick Creek Lodge, about 28 miles east of Crescent City. The forested slopes almost resemble an Oriental garden but without dwarfing. Especially where the oaks and madrone are.
The Patrick Creek Lodge should be easy to find online. They are open most of the year.
If you are coming from Portland, its likely you will be coming through Cave Junction to get here. For travelers from the south up 101 like past Eureka, unless you are destined for Crater Lake or somewhere else like Portland, the trip past Cave Junction is not all that grand.
Unless you want to see the Oregon Caves. That's pretty nice. In that case, you can enjoy the drive up the Smith River and turn south the moment you enter Cave Junction. Then a short drive to the caves. Its pretty up there too.
Along the Smith River, near mile marker 18 is a spot worth stopping at. Its a botanical wayside with Darlingtonia californica, or Cobra Lily. A Darlingtonia bog. The spot is clearly marked with a sign along Highway 101 indicating a Botanical wayside.
That botanical area is about 10 miles east of Jedediah Smith redwoods campground and Hiouchi. On the short interpretive trail to the Darlingtonia, you can also photograph the very fragrant Western Azalea in the Spring, like April to May.
The color of the Smith River water comes from from a mineral found in the local rock.