Smith River Middle Fork


Stretch: Idlewyld to above Patrick Creek, Patrick Creek to Gasquet
Difficulty: Class IV, optional class V gorge above Patrick Creek
Distance: 14 miles (5.5 plus 8.5), 1 day
Flows: kayaks 500 - 2500 cfs at take-out, IK minimum 300
Gauge: about 18% of Jedediah Smith gauge (JED)
Gradient: 65 fpm first segment, 57 fpm second segment average
Put-in: Across highway from Idlewyld maintenance station, 850'
Take-out: Along highway 199 near Gasquet Store, 290'
Shuttle: 15 miles (20 minutes) one-way
Maps: Six Rivers NF, AAA Northern California, Topo
Season: winter and spring, during and after rain
Agency: USFS, private, guided Whitewater Rafting
Notes: © 1998 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

This is really two class III-IV runs separated by a class V gorge. Both halves, including the optional gorge, can be run in a single day. If you elect not to run the gorge, park a vehicle at the upriver access trail, and cartop your boats .5 mile to the Patrick Creek bridge.

Idlewyld to Patrick Creek (5.5 miles)

Except for log hazards, the middle fork below Idlewyld is class III+ except at high flows. Most of the run is in an ultra scenic gorge generally isolated from the road. Flow at put-in is about 10% of the Jed Smith flow. This run is not listed in Soggy Sneakers, Holbek/Stanley, or Cassady/Calhoun guidebooks.

This first narrow moss-covered gorge contains some good class III+ rapids, then tapers off to class II before a major gorge with several class IV+ or V- rapids in quick succession. For those interested in doing a class III+ run, there is a wide trail up from the river shortly before the gorge. Although the average gradient is 65 fpm, that includes the flat section, so this creek is steeper than 65 fpm at the beginning and end.

Put in across the highway from the Idlewyld maintenance station. A steep trail descends to the river, which moves swiftly past the put-in bank. Watch out for logs throughout the run; in 1996 there was one requiring a portage just below put-in. After the rigors of put-in and portaging, you are rewarded with many tight, technical rapids.

The Siskyou fork comes in on the left at mile 3. Shortly afterwards, the gradient flattens out and the river becomes mostly class II over gravel and boulder bars. The take-out for the class III+ run is an old road on the right bank, leading diagonally downstream to the river.

If you elect to continue into the Patrick Creek gorge ahead, stop and scout from the road on the right bank. The first rapid is a class IV chute with multiple holes. The second contains narrow slots among big rocks as the river bends right. The third is a steep drop in the depths of the gorge. The second and third rapids are class IV+ or V-; the fourth rapid is easier.

Take out near the Patrick Creek highway bridge, or continue on to the next run, boating down to Gasquet as described below.

Patrick Creek to Gasquet (8.5 miles)

Below Patrick Creek, most rapids are swift class III, but one is solid class IV. The entire run is along highway 199. This stretch is inadvisable at high flows because of brush along the banks. Flow below Patrick Creek is about 18% of the flow at Jed Smith state park. This run is not listed in Soggy Sneakers or Cassady/Calhoun guidebooks.

Many long, intricate class III rapids and one class IV (Bridge Rapid) make this the most enjoyable run on the Smith, rapidwise. Lars Holbek called this the “most ravaged of the three forks” by road construction, but vegetation has recovered since then, and although the highway is often visible, most of the time you are negotiating rapids, not looking up at the scenery.

Put in under the highway 199 bridge over Patrick Creek, or continue on from the run above. If it is raining, you can stay dry under the bridge while somebody runs shuttle. Take out near the Gasquet store and laundromat, about 8 miles west on highway 199.

Boulder bar rapids start almost immediately. Rock and hole dodging is necessary throughout the run. About 2.5 miles down, you pass underneath a highway 199 bridge, which marks class IV Bridge Rapid. Scout from the left bank. The entrance drops are straightforward, but the lower part is infested with diagonal holes, and the run-out is fast.

Enjoyable slaloming continues for many miles, then the river slows down as it reaches the hamlet of Gasquet. You could take out at a road bridge, but access is poor. The river gets quite narrow between trees just before the north fork confluence, where flow more than doubles. Big wave riding for another mile to take-out.

Creeks in the Smith Drainage

If you were intrigued by the tight creek action of the upper middle fork, you might be interested in these other runs in the Smith drainage. Except for Mill Creek, most are class IV-V with portages. See the Smith River for Rafters and Kayakers for great pictures and writeups.

North Fork, Horse Creek to Wimer Road put-in, 9.6 miles, class IV. This run is reachable from the Winchuck River valley up Oregon 896, then 23 miles on dirt roads, plus 1 mile of hiking. The gradient averages 83 fpm until Baldface Creek, then 51 fpm.

Baldface Creek, Frantz Meadow to Wimer Road put-in, 12 miles, class V. This run is reachable on 4WD dirt roads past the regular North Fork put-in, plus 1.5 miles of hiking. Sectional gradients are 120, 115, 120, 95, 150, 125, 120, 115, then 51 fpm (on the Smith).

Diamond Creek, end of dirt road to Gasquet, 15.3 miles, class IV. This run is reachable on 4WD dirt roads past the regular North Fork put-in. Sectional gradients before the North Fork confluence are 100, 80, 125, and 105 fpm.

Middle Fork, from Knopki Creek Bridge, class IV, gradient 66 fpm. The middle fork is runnable above Idlewyld. Less than a mile uphill, a dirt road leaves highway 199, crosses Griffith Creek, and winds to a bridge over the middle fork Smith about a mile upstream from Idlewyld.

Patrick Creek, bridge at Forks to mouth of Creek, 3.2 miles, class IV. Follow the gravel road along Patrick Creek about four miles to where the west fork and east fork meet. Take out at the highway 199 bridge. Sectional gradients are 150, 125, 120, and 104 fpm.

Hardscrabble Creek, end of road to highway 199, 4.9 miles, class V with portages. This run is reachable by turning south off the Wimer Road shuttle route, which crosses this creek higher up. Sectional gradients are 150, 210, 170, 190, and 165 fpm.

South Fork, Island Lake Trail to South Kelsey Trail, 15.9 miles, class V with portages. This run is reachable by turning south off highway 199 onto Jawbone Road, then proceeding on dirt roads past Hurdygurdy Butte, plus 1.5 miles of hiking. Sectional gradients are 180, 200, 185, 185, 140, 175, 132, 105, 215, 175, 125, 90, 75, 65, 55, 65, 60.

South Fork, South Kelsey Trail to normal put-in bridge, 6.5 miles, class V. This run is easily reachable via a 2 mile dirt road that goes east from the Gasquet-Orleans road about 3 miles south from its final bridge across the Smith, plus a .5 hike to the river. Sectional gradients are 60, 79, 175 (upper South Fork Gorge), then 33 fpm to take-out.

Hurdygurdy Creek, upper forks to mouth of creek, 9.5 miles, class V with portages. This run is reachable by means of a dirt road going up the creek valley from the South Fork near Big Flat, past Gordon Mtn, plus 1.5 miles of hiking. Sectional gradients are 95, 155, 205 (Devil's Gap), 150, 130, 130, 95, 120, 80, 70.

Goose Creek, Rocky Saddle to Saddle Road, 9.9 miles, class V with portages. This run is reachable on dirt roads leading south from Gasquet-Orleans Road, then west from Red Mountain Road, then north, plus a .5 mile hike to put-in. Sectional gradients are 200, 210, 210, 175, 65, 80, 125, 80, 175 (Arn's Falls), and 95.

Goose Creek, Saddle Road to South Fork put-in bridge, 5.6 miles, class V. This run is reachable on a dirt road that turns west from Gasquet-Orleans 2.4 miles from its final bridge across the Smith. Sectional gradients are 50, 110, 80, 115, and 105.

Mill Creek is a scenic class II run (watch for logs) that reaches the main Smith near Stout Grove. It is accessible from Crescent City via Elk Valley and Howland Hill roads.

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