Here is a great camping place for the whole family and an easy amble into the woods. You will be surprised by the abundance of camping spots, which are scattered near the river as well as the clarity of the emerald water. When we arrived in mid-April at this year-round trailhead and campspot, no one was camping here. The Forest Service personnel say, however, these campgrounds are busy during Memorial Day weekend and through the summer months.
You start the trail by crossing a bouncy suspension bridge onto an old wagon road, which is wide and mostly level with great views of the river below. With the exception of a few cabins and an unfortunate clear-cut within a private inholding about 2 miles in, the woods thicken above with towering Douglas fir and other coniferous trees. My favorite part of this trail are the numerous side streams cascading toward the river amid lush gardens of ferns and fragrant flowers, such as Trillium. There are three major crossings over the larger side streams until you reach an old CCC era steel bridge. We camped about 3 miles from the trailhead, just 10 minutes past this bridge, where the trail truly departs from civilization onto a single foot path.
The Forest Service sign reads, "the trail follows the river for 7.2 miles to Smokey Creek. At points above the river canyon, there are distant views of the river with numerous changes of beautiful scenery. Although now used for hiking and fishing access, the first half of the trail was once a wagon road constructed at the beginning of this century. Its purpose was to provide access to a water-powered sawmill. Lumber was hauled over the trail from the mill, which no longer exists."The trail distances are as follows:
Directions: From Red Bluff, CA, take desolate highway 36 past Platina to Forest Glen, which is approximately 78 miles from Red Bluff. Upon descending on the tiny hamlet of Forest Glen, you will notice the lack of a sign ripped from its posts, but a Forest Service insignia is still standing. This is your target, called "Hellgate" campgrounds. Coming from Highway 101, you will pass Forest Glen campgrounds, which is another Forest Service campgrounds on the other side of town. At Hell Gate campground continue on the dirt road following the river until you come to a parking lot about 1 mile from the highway.
Best Part: views of
the river, lush side streams, year-round camping
Hayfork District, U.S. Forest Service
P.O. Box 159
Hayfork, CA 96041
Two (2) official campgrounds (Forest Glen & Hellgate) on a first-come first-serve basis (no reservations). Fee charged.
Wilderness Permit: none
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