Black Butte River and Cold Creek
The Black Butte River flows for more than 20 miles from its source in the northern Coast Range to its confluence with the Middle Eel River. The river and its tributary, Cold Creek, provide some of the best spawning habitat for the Middle Eel’s declining chinook salmon and winter steelhead. The streams also support healthy populations of wild rainbow trout. Indeed, the trout found in Cold Creek possess a distinct color pattern resembling the rare red-banded trout.
The old growth forests growing along the Black Butte River and Cold Creek provide excellent habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl and the sensitive goshawk and pine martin. Dramatic rock outcrops dominate portions of both streams. The upper portion of the Black Butte River flows through a volcanic rock formation, creating a unique series of pools and falls. Much of the river canyon is prone to landslides and slumps and is quite sensitive to new road construction.
A Native American tribe known as the Huitintno’m Yuki lived along the Black Butte River during the winter and migrated upstream in the spring in pursuit of salmon and other game. Their estimated 4,000-year tenure in the wild river canyon came to an abrupt end when European colonists slaughtered the entire tribe in the 1800’s. The concentration of cultural values and significant archeological resources left by the tribe is exceptional in the northern Coast Range region. These values are threatened by disturbance and theft associated with increased motorized access.
Fortunately, vehicular access to the Black Butte River and Cold Creek is limited to a few remote and rugged jeep trails. An opportunity for hikers is the Cold Creek trail, which drops down to the creek from the Plaskett Recreation Area. Most of the river flows through publicly owned National Forest lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Mendocino National Forest.
In 2006, 23 miles of the Black Butte River and five miles of Cold Creek were added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System.
How To Get There
Take Potter Valley Road north from Highway 20, and follow signs to Pillsbury Reservoir. Drive around the north side of the reservoir, then take M1 (Hull Mtn. Road) east. After this road crosses Squaw Valley Creek, stay straight as the road becomes M6, which climbs and then descends into the upper main Eel at Horse Creek. Keep going northward as the road climbs into Low Gap. Although 311 goes straight ahead from Low Gap, it is blocked by a landslide. Turn left, continue uphill, then turn sharp right and follow signs to The Basin, rather than continuing east on M6. Descend to road 311, turn left, and continue downhill to the ford of Estelll Creek.