The Smith River Kayaking Expedition is one of the most unique, unpredictable, and difficult trips we run. The Wild and Scenic Smith River is California’s only dam free river system. It is also a uniquely beautiful whitewater playground with three major forks and countless side creeks. We will spend three days exploring its beautiful, lush scenery, intimate inner gorges, endless numbers of waterfalls cascading in from above, crystal clear water, and classic pool-drop whitewater. And, water levels cooperating, we will experience all this in small maneuverable inflatable kayaks.
All the forks of the Smith are spectacular, but the jewel of the system is the North Fork. The North Fork flows out of a near pristine watershed through a rugged land of steep canyons, stark serpentine terrain, and steep, pool-drop whitewater. It is a land that gets rain-forest amounts of precipitation yet has a surreal desert appearance because the soil lacks key nutrients needed for larger trees. Instead of the giant Doug Fir and Redwoods of the other forks the North Fork is full of pygmy trees and the carnivorous California Pitcher Plant. With the lack of logging and topsoil the water is so clear that at times you get the feeling of being suspended in air as you float swiftly over the river bottom.
The lack of dams, the low elevation watershed, and its unique geology and soil means that the boating season on the Smith is short and extremely unpredictable. The water can shoot up to flood level and down to a trickle within days of a rain storm. Most sections of the Smith are known as winter rainy season runs where boaters make the decision to go only a few days before – trying to catch the best flows after a recent rain or snow storm. We have chosen to structure our trips around the slightly more consistent lower flows and warmer weather of late May and early June and explore the Smith in a way that few do.
The standard trip begins at a base camp near Gasquet, CA and Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. We will explore the beautiful South Fork, work on our kayaking skills, and prepare for the second part of the trip. For the second half we head into the North Fork for a two day expedition style trip float. All gear and supplies are packed in our kayaks and the next two days will be the toughest whitewater we run on any of our inflatable kayak trips. We will spend the night deep in the canyon – where very few people have ever camped.
Participants need to be in good physical condition, adventurous, and be able paddle their kayak down the river each day and walk along very rocky shores when needed. The rapids are not huge and can usually be walked around, but they are technical and challenging and there are many of them. And, once we enter the North Fork canyon, we are committed to kayaking. While you do need to be in good physical condition you do not need to have any previous rafting or kayaking experience. The trips start with a dry land session where you learn basic river hydrology, how to read rapids, and basic paddle skills.
The Standard Itinerary:
We meet at the Smith River Base Camp near Gasquet California and Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. Far northern California is an ‘out there’ place so meeting the evening before allows us to settle in and have a less hectic first morning.
Day 2 (first day on water):
South Fork Inflatable Kayaking: The South Fork is incredibly beautiful and is difficult enough that we can assess everyone’s skills and work on anything needed for the next two days.
Late Afternoon Day 2: Get packed and prepared for the North Fork and hang out on the river and at camp.
Night 2: at the Smith River Base Camp
After an early morning we head out to the Wilderness Section of the North Fork Smith. This is an extremely rarely run stretch of river and it is even more rare to run it in the way we will be running it. We will be doing a self-supported inflatable kayaking expedition with all gear and supplies packed in our kayaks. While we will be traveling light it will not be a backpacking style trip. We have spent many hours working with chef’s to create lightweight meals that, like our rafting trips, are still three courses, delicious (grilled halibut, steak, etc.), and feature local and organic produce and products.
The whitewater will be the toughest we run with Inflatable Kayaks!
Night 3: Camping in the Wilderness section of the North Fork Smith – where very few people have ever camped. It is an extremely beautiful place.
Continue down through the Wilderness Section of the North Fork Smith. Day two on the North fork has some of the biggest whitewater. We finish the trip between 3 and 4 pm to give people time to start home.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The flows on the Smith are extremely hard to predict. In fact, the only thing predictable about the Smith is that it is unpredictable. Guests should be prepared for last minute changed in itinerary or even the river we run. This style of trip and the dates we are running it make it more predictable, but it is still an extremely wild river. The above itinerary is the first choice, but the exact itinerary and choice of craft will be flow dependent. There are three forks of the Smith with multiple sections which helps. However, if the flows do not cooperate we will offer our Rogue High Adventure Kayaking trip as a back-up.
Flow based Itinerary options:
– The ‘normal’ itinerary above.
– Rafting Class V Oregon Hole Gorge and South Fork Gorge.
– A mix of the above
– Or switch to the Rogue High Adventure Kayaking trip
We generally run one to two scheduled trips a year. It is a classic Momentum spring trip: remote, very rarely run, and with the kind of challenging logistics that we relish. We truly love showing people this place and nobody does these style trips quite like we do (if they do them at all). It’s a lightweight, high adventure trip that should not scare away those who are not used to spending nights out under the stars. Like our rafting trips you just need to bring your clothes, a toothbrush, and a very big sense of adventure. If you have any questions or are wondering if this is a trip for you give us a call.