Rafting the Lower Klamath River
The Lower Klamath flows freely from the Iron Gate Dam all the way to the ocean and is entirely runnable except for the Class VI rapid Ishi Pishi Falls. The most commonly rafted section begins in the town of Happy Camp and ends at Green Riffle just above Ishi Pishi Falls. The Lower Klamath is a dependable beginner run for overnight trips that is followed fairly closely by California State Highway 96. The Highway is hardly noticeable which provides the comfort of civilization with the feeling of wilderness.
There are many river access points above Happy Camp and along the length of this run, so a rafting trip down the Klamath River could take anywhere from one to six days. The section of river from Happy Camp to Green Riffle makes a wonderful three day Class III run with great rapids and some good side hikes.
Most trips on the Klamath should start with a hearty breakfast at one of the local cafes in Happy Camp. There are some especially interesting characters in town and you'll be especially lucky if you run into the local tow truck driver (and chainsaw repairman) Wayne. The Happy Camp put-in is always a social place to hang out with a cup of joe in one hand and a raft pump in the other.
On the river past Happy Camp you'll float past Elk Creek on the left and soon enjoy some quality Class II and III rapids starting with Rattlesnake. This is a big Class III rapid that is typically scouted on the left. Below Rattlesnake are the Class III rapids Devil's Toenail, Mixmaster, Funnel, and Trench Rapids.
Below these fun rapids are about ten miles of straightforward Class II and III drops with many creeks entering the river. One of the most beautiful is Clear Creek which enters the Klamath from river right. In the spring, Clear Creek makes a great Class III raft run through a beautiful gorge. The land below here is sacred to the Karok Indians and should not be used for scouting or hiking.
Four miles past Clear Creek is a bridge across the river and below it is Independence Creek which enters on the left. Below the bridge, the road is high above the river and there are some great campsites.
The highlight of a Klamath trip usually comes on the second day with the Class IV- rapid Dragon's Tooth. This is a constricted rapid with large boulders (one of them is the famous tooth) and several options. There are many ways to wrap or flip a boat if you aren't up for the challenge so take this one seriously. Most boaters will scout the rapid from the right side of the river.
A couple miles past Dragon's Tooth, Ukonom Creek enters the mighty Klamath on the left side. There is a trail that leads up the creek to a beautiful waterfall (Ukonom Falls) and swimming spot that should be a mandatory stop for every trip.
Below here are several beautiful miles of river with fun rapids including the Class II+ Blue Swillup Rapid. River access and campsites become more common as the canyon opens up. Most of the rapids are of the Class II flavor formed by gravel bars.
The last possible take-out before the Class VI drop Ishi Pishi Falls is at Green Riffle river access. Ishi Pishi Falls is a long and complex rapid that has been successfully run at lower flows. Portaging would be an arduous endeavor so most trips end at Green Riffle or begin just below Ishi Pishi Falls.
If you're interested in pictures and the perspective of an inflatable kayaker, check out cacreeks's Lower Klamath below Happy Camp description.
To the hamlet of Happy Camp (put-in): Getting yourself to the Klamath is fairly straightforward. If you're coming from California hop on Interstate 5 and head north to Yreka. About eight miles north of Yreka hang a left (west) on Highway 96. Getting on Highway 96 can sometimes be confusing, so fill up your gas tank in Yreka and ask where Highway 96 is just to be safe. You'll follow Highway 96 along the Klamath for an hour or so before you reach the hamlet of Happy Camp. The normal put-in is just past town on the left. There is an alternate put-in at Curley Jack campground that can be reached by crossing a bridge across the Klamath in town and looking to your right.
Pay attention to gas since there is no gas available at Happy Camp unless you purchase it with a credit card at an automated pump. The closest service station is at Seiad Valley to the east and Orleans to the west. There is no gas at Somes Bar.
To a take-out on the Klamath: Basically get yourself back on Highway 96 and head down the river (west). There are many places that you can choose to take-out which will vary the length of your trip. Green Riffle is the last one before the gnarly Class VI rapid Ishi Pishi Falls.
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Disclaimer: River descriptions and classifications may change due to natural events that may create new hazards or flows. C-W-R advises that any paddler that uses this site be additionally informed by seeking out local news and updates for changes on this river.
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