Crescent City/Del Norte County Visitors Bureau
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The river makes a fine boating destination in the rainy season, offering paddlers a wide variety of runs. As water levels rise, boaters can move upstream or try some of the side creeks. The Smith is the largest undammed river in California, so its flow fluctuates freely. You may run the same section many times and encounter different rapids on each trip. With headwaters in well-managed national forest, the Smith is generally crystal-clear on all its forks, even after heavy rain. Located in a seldom-logged pygmy forest, the North Fork Smith is exceptionally clear; at times you get the feeling of being suspended in air as you float swiftly over its gravel bars.
At times on the North Smith River, the water is so transparent and free of telltale ripples that the boater has the feeling of flying in a kayak a few feet above a dry gravel-bed. This fantastic river flows through beautiful scenery. Rapids alternate between narrow gorges and wide-open boulder fields. The drive to the put-in is long, although the run is well worth the effort.
This river is the most ravaged of the three forks of the Smith. Erosion from road cuts and bridge construction, along with debris form bridges downed in major floods, has greatly altered the natural state of this river. Reinforcing steel from this wreckage poses a hazard. In many places, the banks are plastered with cement to retard further erosion. There are many good rapids on this run, and, if one can tolerate the devastation, it can be quite enjoyable. Practically the whole run can be seen from the road. The biggest rapid on the run is just below the first bridge, about 2.5 miles below Patrick Creek.
The 4-plus miles below the put-in contain several class III rapids and plenty of warm-up material for the gorge below. This half-mile long gorge contains several constricted rapids, ranging from class III+ to IV+, depending on the water level. The Smith River cuts through a final gorge before joining the South Smith and meandering to the Pacific Ocean.
The upper South Smith flows free from the Siskiyou Wilderness and has a reputation of being clean and beautiful. This run is known by locals as the best run in the Smith drainage. Wonderful class IV drops lead to a long class V rapid which is split by an island and has distinct runs on each side. The left side is of a pool and drop nature, while the right side is a boulder garden.
The water in this stream, like the North Smith, is incredibly clear in spring and summer. The rapids are mostly short and of moderate drop, none of them particularly prominent. The last mile of this run is through a class IV gorge with vertical rock walls.
Kayaking and Rafting in Del Norte County