Fed by melting snows in the North Yolla Bolly Mountains, the South Fork Trinity River flows for more than 81 miles northward to its confluence with the main stem of the Trinity in northwest California. The lower 55 miles of the South Fork were designated a California Wild & Scenic River in 1972 in recognition of its outstanding anadromous fishery. This segment was subsequently added to the federal system in 1981. But the upper 26 miles of the river, as well as the East Fork of the South Fork (a major tributary), remain unprotected all the way to the Yolla Bolly Wilderness.
The South Fork was once one of northwest California's premier steelhead and spring run chinook salmon streams. But extensive road building and logging on the public lands in the South Fork watershed have taken its toll on water quality, fish habitat, and the fishery. Some years, only a handful of steelhead and salmon make their way up the South Fork to spawn.
Depsite the years of road building and logging that have nibbled away at the watershed, the South Fork remains the Trinity's least developed tributary. One outdoor writer considers the South Fork to be "remote and obscure," but its very remoteness and obscurity makes it one of the most wild river canyons in California. The portions of the watershed along the river that remain undeveloped are suitable for wilderness designation, including the Underwood, South Fork, and Chinquapin roadless areas. In addition, the upper portions of the watershed encompass potential additions to the Yolly Bolly Wilderness.
The lower South Fork is perhaps best known for its class V whitewater, a challenging experience for expert kayakers and rafters during spring run-off. The more risk-averse can sill find plenty of adventure while hiking the South Fork National Recreation Trail upstream of Highway 36 and the small mountain hamlet of Forest Glen. A few miles along this gentle river-side trail, with its many views of the river's scenic rapids and pools, quickly leads you into your own private universe, with very little chance of meeting another human being, or even seeing a high-flying plane. Maples along the river and Indian rhubarb in the river provide a colorful Autumn display, contrasting sharply with the dark green of the large Douglas firs and other conifers clothing the canyon walls.
In addition to its anadromous fishery, the South Fork canyon is also well known for its ancient forests, which provide important habitat for the endangered Northern spotted owl, wolverine, and other wildlife species dependent on pristine forests. The Rough Gulch drainage along the river supports some of the largest specimens of golden chinquapin (a large tree-like shrub) in the world. The eastern slopes of South Fork Mountain (reputedly the longest mountain in California) also supports unique habitat for several rare plants. The entire drainage is rich is Native American culture and early pioneer history.
How To Get There
From Interstate 5 and the town of Red Bluff, drive approximately 75 miles west on Hwy 36 to the community of Forest Glen on the South Fork. Or from Hwy 101, drive approximately 67 miles east on Hwy 36 to Forest Glen. Approximately 1 mile east of Forest Glen, turn south on the short road to the Hellgate campground and the trailhead for the 15 mile-long South Fork National Recreation Trail. Note: There are no commercial services at Forest Glen.
Recreation And Visitor Information
For more maps and additional recreation information, contact the Forest Service's Hayfork Ranger Station at P.O. Box 159, Hayfork, CA 96041, phone: (530) 628-5227.