California’s Smith River Gorges California’s Smith River system is a mecca for whitewater paddlers. It is the only undammed river system in California and has hundreds of miles of creeks and rivers varying from Class I to Class V+. Some sections of whitewater have easy roadside access, others flow through remote wilderness, and some require several miles of hiking.
Most people who paddle the Smith visit the remote and strikingly beautiful North Fork of the Smith. It is not to be missed. If you’re looking for easy to access whitewater you should also visit Oregon Hole Gorge and the South Fork Gorge. Both are about 2 miles long, have easy shuttles, and are packed with whitewater.
Oregon Hole Gorge
The put-in for this gorge is right along Highway 199 near Hiouchi. There are a few warm-up rapids before the narrow gorge with 5 big back to back Class IV or V rapids. The difficulty of rapids are highly depends on water levels. It’s a good idea to scout the gorge from Highway 199 on your way to put-in.
The last rapid, Oregon Hole, cannot be scouted from the road. At some flows the only line is through the famous “Oregon Hole” which can easily flip a raft of beat down a kayak.
South Fork Gorge
The South Fork Gorge is just 5 minutes away and considered to be slightly more difficult than the Oregon Hole Gorge.. Unlike Oregon Hole Gorge, the rapids can’t be scouted from the road on the drive up. You start with a 5 minute hike down a trail to Craig’s Beach.
There is a short warm up before 5 distinct back to back rapids on the Gorge. The second rapid “Good Luck!,”is the most difficult.
The last rapid is aptly named Final Rapid. Below here is a beautiful flat-water section before the take-out at Second Bridge. It’s a bit of a hike up to the bridge so you if you’re rafting you many want to continue a few miles to and easier take-out at Jed Smith Redwoods State Park. With easy shuttles and short runs this is a great place to paddle each gorge several times in a day.
Author Zach is the owner of Northwest Rafting Company (link: https://www.nwrafting.com) and has led groups throughout the U.S. as well as Siberia, Bhutan, Nepal, Honduras, and Chile.