Willow Creek to Yreka
State of Jefferson Scenic Byway
Bigfoot Scenic Byway
150 Miles - LENGTH
Very good, well-maintained, major highway - PAVEMENT
Smooth, tight, endless - CURVES
Interstate 5 Yreka to Willow Creek Highway 299 - CONNECTS
Yreka, Happy Camp, Orleans, Weitchpec, Hoopa - GAS
Quick Ride: 150 Miles of pure joy, remote, long, scenic, must ride California Motorcycle Road surrounded by even more fantastic roads.
Some years ago, I attempted to explain to an East Coast rider what a mile-long sweeper was. He couldn’t quite process it. It’s a turn that lasts over a mile I informed. It seemed simple enough. And then flips back the other way and curves the other direction for another mile. You’re at lean the whole time he asked. Yes. He couldn’t process it. I said it. He heard it. But he still couldn’t process it.
Could a road like that really exist? Endless curves that stretch for miles, even hours. If that’s your idea of motorcycle fun, then Northern California should be your destination. That sort of thing is just normal around here.
One word to describe Highway 96. Long. 150 Miles long. With endless twisties. We love this road and I have planned entire motorcycle tours centered around this one road. It’s one of the more unique motorcycle roads in Northern California, suitable for all types of motorcyclists and loved by all bikers. This is a major highway connecting the interior of the NorCal Wilderness with Interstate 5, however it’s not a trucking route and those two things together make for a super-fun motorcycle destination.
For much of Highway 96, the pavement is excellent, good sight lines and mountain scenery in every direction as the road follows the Trinity & Klamath Rivers for the duration. Did we mention very little traffic? It’s simply a very remote place. You know those apocalyptic movies Hollywood likes to make where the characters all run off into the wilderness to escape whatever impending doom your movie is about? This is where they are going. Towns are small and brief, this is where people come to retire, or escape. There’s zero industry, no major side roads to speak of and everyone is traveling Point A to Point B. There are campers to deal with, but often there is ample space to pass slower moving vehicles when needed. Construction varies through the years, but can result in one-way signal lights. Fires can also blanket the canyon with smoke or even close the road outright. Check the CalTrans Highway Conditions website first if it is a concern.
One hint about this road: it includes several small country stores along the way, tiny markets that service a spread-out mountain community. They are a great place to pull in, pop out the kickstand and take in a drink or snack then interact with some locals or another motorcycle traveler who's bound to pull in behind you when they see the bike.
Our ride starts in Willow Creek, a small town of 1700. The turn-off is found in the middle of Highway 299, and located 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 100 miles from Redding. Be sure to gas up before leaving town. There are several gas opportunities available for smaller tanks, but simple logic says don’t wander off into the wilderness on a half tank. Pashnit Tour groups always have lunch at the Bigfoot Restaurant on the east end of town. Don’t miss a picture of the huge mural across the road from the Bigfoot Restaurant on the side of the Ace Hardware.
The opposite (west) end of town holds the Bigfoot Museum which also shouldn’t be missed offering up Bigfoot lore and legend. The Bigfoot Museum has a giant chainsawed statue of Bigfoot out front so it’s hard to miss. There’s a Mexican restaurant right next door which is also good.
The Bigfoot museum has many displays of the town’s logging past including some early chainsaws before we figured out how to make that nifty Stihl you’ve got and a separate room just for Bigfoot memorabilia. The Bigfoot board game, now there’s a fun thing I needed as a kid.
Bigfoot mural on the Ace Hardware in Willow Creek
No shortage of Bigfoot casts of foot impressions left in soft mud. The only thing the museum is missing is a Bigfoot skeleton since we all know bones from large humanoid animals disintegrate into the wind as soon as the creature dies.
Highway 96 is well-marked in the middle of town and starts off past a few homes then over Willow Creek (the actual creek) on a steady descent to Hoopa. North of the creek overpass is Brannon Mountain Road. Willow Creek quickly fades in the mirrors and Highway 96 introduces a broad two-lane and very good quality pavement.
Running parallel to Highway 299 westward, Brannon Mountain Road is paved for the first 13 miles to the top of the ridgeline and resolves into a gravel fire road. A few feet past the turnoff for Brannon Mountain Road on the opposite east side, there is river access to the Trinity River at the Big Rock Day Use Area. There is a boat ramp and ample parking for your vehicle plus an abandoned airstrip.
If you need forest service information, the Lower Trinity Ranger District US Forest Service building is here plus a small medical center. Highway 96 begins to give a hint of what’s to come cut into the hillside within moments of leaving Willow Creek. The road begins to weave a bit left, a bit right, high above the river below. Corners are marked for speed, and the ride descends into Hoopa.
Hoopa is a rural town located entirely on the reservation of the Hupa. The Hupa people migrated from the north into northern California around 1000 AD and settled in the Hoopa Valley. Their land stretched from the South Fork of the Trinity River to Hoopa Valley, to the Klamath River in California.
Hupa people had limited contact with non-native peoples until the 1849 Gold Rush brought an influx of miners onto their lands. In 1864, the United States government signed a treaty that recognized the Hupa tribe's sovereignty to their land. The United States called the reservation the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, where the Hupa now reside, one of very few California tribes not forced from their homeland. The reservation is next to the territory of the Yurok at the connection of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers in northeastern Humboldt County at Weitchpec. The reservation has a land area of 141 square miles and on most maps shows up as a tilted square marking out the boundaries of the reservation with Hoopa as its lower center.
Highway 96 drops into the valley and straightens out along the river. The actual airplane runway is on the opposite side of the river hidden from view behind a border of trees. The K’ima:w Medical Center is up the street from the runway, but it’s only accessible from Tish Tang Rd. Lucky Bear Casino is just over the Trinity River and there’s a small motel here along the river bank, the Tsewenaldin Inn (pronounced: Say-wen-aldin). Adjacent to the small motel is the Hoopa Valley Museum which is interesting due to most of its exhibits are on loan from the locals who need them back on occasion for many unique rituals and ceremonies still in practice today by the Hoopa people. Afterwards, th items are returned back to the Hoopa Valley Museum.
The Hoopa Valley High School is on the west side of the road (note the reduction in speed limit during school hours) and at just the right time of day, you’ll see kids running around the track which borders along Highway 96. There is also a gas station on the far north end of the valley at the town center which is so small, it’s made up of a little more than 10 buildings and that’s it. We’ve been told for many years to take it easy on the speed through the reservation boundaries to not attract the attention of the tribal police officers that patrol the broad flat valley. The good news is none of our Pashnit Tour riders have ever had an issue with any of the local gendarmes who are based in the town center.
Centerville Road to former Naval Facility Centerville Beach
A quick hint is make sure to be in front of traffic as you leave the Hoopa Valley. Just as you leave this small community is a quick 11-mile section of the tightest curves for the duration of the entire 150-mile ride. It’s all mile-long sweepers after this. But for this super-fun tight section to Weitchpec pictured above, there’s no room to pass.
You’ll be stuck behind that cement truck again chewing on your bottom lip. This section is great fun and sits high above the river which narrows into a steep canyon. Throwing out a tight left, a right, then another, then another, then another. Plus the turns are signed at just 20 mph. Super great fun while Highway 96 changes tempos at Weitchpec where these fun twisties end.
Eleven miles out of Hoopa, you’ll reach Weitchpec Pearson’s Grocery where the Yurok Reservation begins bordering both sides of the Klamath as it flows towards the Pacific Ocean.
The river valley is wide and the mountain hillsides endlessly green. Highway 96 meets the Klamath River at Weitchpec and now continues the journey eastward along the Klamath River for the rest of Highway 96. There are two gas pumps here along with a small community store at the junction.
But not so fast speed racer, for years we’ve made this sharp turn at the bridge and never took notice of the road that continues west on the north side of the Klamath River. Highway 169 is a dead-end road traveling 20 paved miles to Johnsons, a tiny community in the Yurok Reservation.
Technically, Highway 169 should extend all the way to the ocean following the Klamath River, but no road was ever completed along the river. The doppelganger of Highway 169 extends from Highway 101 only a few miles inland along the river and then dead ends at Klamath Glen. Too bad for the motorcyclist, the lack of a completed road in turn makes this region along the Klamath River one of the most isolated and remote regions of the state. Johnsons is also the most northwesterly point in California reachable by a paved road if you like to cross those things off. Northeast corner of CA is a ranch near Fort Bidwell. Geographic center of CA is in North Fork. You asked.
The true gem though is located just a few miles outside of Weitchpec. Bald Hills Rd is found just 4 miles up the river at Martins Ferry. A post office operated at Martins Ferry from 1861 to 1862 and from 1865 to 1891. There was a military fort at the place in the 1860s. The name honors John F. Martin, its first postmaster, who also operated a ferry across the river.
Bald Hills Rd is paved for 13 miles to the top of the French Camp Ridge and flows through a series of nine switchbacks before popping out of the forest near 3157 ft Coyote Peak. Bald Hills Rd leads up the ridgeline and at the summit, you find the newly built Yurock Veterans Cemetery and reminds a lot of the Northern California Veterans Cemetery on Gas Point Rd near Igo. The middle section of Bald Hills Rd is 3-miles of gravel ranch road connecting back to pavement then down to Highway 101 and to the Pacific Ocean.
Bald Hills Road
The gravel lasts for three miles if you want to brave it on your street bike and connect over to the ocean. It does connect all the way to Hwy 101 and the remaining 16 miles of Bald Hills Rd is paved on the ocean side as it skirts the very edge of Redwood National Forest. While the three miles of gravel is wash board and bumpy, I made it through on my TL1000R just fine and there are three brand new miles of baby bottom smooth pavement on the top of the ridgeline that made the whole trek worth it. An absolute delight! This section is famous during wildflower season for brilliant green treeless meadows of lupine flowers overlooking the adjacent ridge. Total length on Bald Hills Rd is 32 miles on over to Hwy 101 popping out just north of Orick (no gas) and Davidson Road (gravel) to Fern Canyon where they filmed parts of The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
The 15 miles northeast to Orleans is a pleasurable affair weaving high above the river through one curve after the other, pavement is still just perfect, the road wide and well-marked. As you pull into Orleans and the speeds slow for the town, you’ll pass by National Forest 15 which is paved for 21 miles becoming FR 15N01. Put that on my To-Do List. These paved fire roads don’t go anywhere and there’s no pot of gold at the end of the pavement. However, they are still irresistible and we’ll ride them someday.
Rolling past Klamath RV Riverside Park hand on hip, there’s not much in Orleans, named by miners as Orleans Bar. Orleans is about 20 miles southeast of the site of the famous Patterson–Gimlin film of a purported Bigfoot. You know that 1960’s grainy clip of Bigfoot walking along that creek. Just up the road.
There is a Patriot gas station here with an above ground tank, but no guarantee the pumps will be open when you pass through. Directly across the highway from the Patriot station is Ishi-Pishi Rd, a paved narrow country road on the north side of the river that connects to Somes Bar.
And the very best thing you could ever do is pull over at a roadside lemonade stand run by 10-yr-olds. Last one we saw was in Orleans. Two little girls selling cups of lemonade.
Another time in Orleans, we passed by Corrine's Artisan Bakery across from the post office, which was actually two ladies in the shade selling baked goods under a large tree on a small table beside the road. If there is something more Americana than that, I'm not sure what it would be.
See something like that along this ride, you must stop, and patronize. Head out of Orleans across a rather unique looking suspension bridge across the Klamath River with a curious arch to it simply known as the Ishi Pishi Bridge.
On the east side of the Ishi Pishi Bridge is Red Cap Rd which leads to the Coates Vineyard. Seems unusual to find a winery this far north of Napa, but Coates Vineyard was started in 1991 and output has steadily grown to 3,000 cases per year. Want to pick up a bottle of wine for later in the day, this is the place.
Seven miles outside of Orleans, you’ll ride over the Salmon River and come upon Salmon River Rd at Somes Bar, better known in riding circles as The Forks of Salmon. It is one of the most remote, most amazing back roads in Northern California. There are numerous campgrounds along the Salmon River so be on the lookout for trucks pulling campers, but a considerable length of the westerly half is single lane. There’s a rather imposing yellow sign here at the Hwy 96 junction imploring you that your GPS is wrong and this is not the road you are looking for.
A few miles inland from Highway 96 is a short stretch on the Forks of Salmon we affectionately call The Bolivian Death Road, named because it's barely one-lane wide, and a straight drop off into the river below resembling a rather famous stretch of road in South America. Zero guard rails and a long way down. Curious? Just do a Google image search for Bolivian Death Road, all sorts of fun pics. Want more? Do a YouTube search and you can watch the video. Forks of Salmon is great fun. Eyes front and don't look down!
The south leg of the fork connects at Cecilville (gas-maybe) to another stretch of road we call ‘The Racetrack’. When you finally ride The Racetrack into Callahan on the opposite side of the range, the racetrack inference will become clearer. The north leg of the fork known as Sawyers Bar Rd bumps over the 5950 ft Etna Mountain summit in the Marble Mountain Wilderness into Etna right to the door of Bob’s Ranch House Restaurant, another one of our Pashnit Tour group’s favorite lunch stops. There is gas in Etna (north leg) but no gas in Callahan (south leg).
Forks of Salmon (either fork) is a can’t miss in NorCal but very remote and make sure you have gas before riding off into the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Forks of Salmon is the only paved road through the Trinity Alps. Last time I had to siphon gas was Forks of Salmon when one of our tour riders didn’t fill up and ‘thought’ he could make it. We've since learned our lesson. Gas tastes horrible. MSR Fuel canisters are much easier, as is insisting everyone top off before leaving town.
Salmon River Outpost: Somes Bar Store
A few feet away round the bend from the entrance to the Forks of Salmon is the Salmon River Outpost, a small country store. The aforementioned Ishi-Pishi Rd in Orleans pops out here and rejoins Highway 96. It’s then you realize you could have taken this short 7-mile paved road as a quick detour off the main highway. Once you ride Highway 96 a couple times, you start looking at side roads to make things a bit more interesting and Ishi-Pishi Rd will do that. It’s the only parallel side road for the duration of the ride that's paved. Plus, it just sounds cool. Behind the Somes Bar Country Store is Ishi-Pishi Falls which really isn’t a waterfall at all, but rather a rocky portion of the Klamath River to create a mild set of Class VI rapids when the river is flowing. It’s here the Klamath wraps around a rather imposing mountain of rock that I fail to find the name of but makes for an interesting landmark that’s also the spiritual center of the Karuk world.
After Somes Bar, you’ll begin an enjoyable 38-mile meandering trek to Happy Camp. The road is smooth two-lane highway high above the Klamath river that goes and goes with no end in sight. It feels that way because the Klamath River is the second longest waterway in the state (after the 447-mile Sacramento River which drains the Central Valley) and stretches for 257 miles draining 16,000 square miles of watershed.
It’s unusual because the Klamath River begins in the high desert and flows toward the mountains rather than away from it with origins in south central Oregon. It's affectionately called an 'Upside Down River'.
The other thing you may notice is the lack of dams along this rugged canyon, the lower Klamath is one of the last free-flowing rivers in California.
There are dams on the upper portion of the river but recent litigious efforts to have them removed spanning decades have resulted in legal agreements that will remove three dams starting in 2020.
The lack of dams on the NorCal portion of the Klamath River in turn provides an excellent destination for white water rapid seekers and you’ll see no shortage of rafting boats in the river below in the heat of summer. There are numerous pullouts along the river to take in the view, several of them have paths down to the river where vehicles can unload rafting boats or even camp along the river. Coon Creek River Access is 20 miles north of Somes Bar with a large pullout and paved river access with a boat ramp. River rafters may collect here and then float the 20 miles down to Somes Bar and beyond.
As you ride up the river canyon, you may be wondering about the view at the top of the adjacent ridge lines (I certainly do) that border the river canyon. At the Independence Rest Area, there is the Thornton Memorial Bridge over the river. This is FR 15N17, Ti Bar Rd, which is a paved fire road for 12 miles into the Karuk Reservation (káruk means upstream) although there’s a terrific viewpoint just 5 miles up FR 15N17 via several switchbacks to reach the top of the range for a quick out-and-back spider road.
Happy Camp is another 17 miles away but along the way you’ll have Independence River Access, Ferry River Access, Wingate Bar Access and Chambers Flat River Access. The rafting is a welcome respite from the heat which can be considerable in the summer months. Air sitting in these canyons with no where to go heats up while you gaze longingly at the rafters below in the river who look so cool and relaxed. Throw on the Cool Vest dear rider, not much you can do about the summer heat. And our rule is we do not complain about the weather. And in summer, prepare for heat.
At Dillion Creek, fifteen miles east from Somes Bar, a bend in the river offers a nice tree-shaded national forest campground along the rapids of Dillion Creek flowing into the nearby Klamath River and through an adjacent swimming hole. For $10, you can gain an immersive experience and escape the summer heat in the swimming hole. Dillon Creek Campground has 21 campsites for tents and small RVs and trailers. Campsites are "carved into the mountain slopes", providing shelter, shade, and privacy. Many sites can be reserved while others are first-come, first-served.
As you approach the halfway mark along Highway 96 on the journey to Yreka, you begin to settle into a riding rhythm. Highway 96 is so long, it requires periodic stops to take in the sights and absorb the mountain scenery.
Sometimes the road swaps sides across the river, then back again. One long sweeper at a time, it’s here the prophecy of mile long sweepers comes to light, and you’ll realize that, By God, he was right, they really do have curves so long, they stretch off into the distance. Sight lines are broad and open, you can see any opposing traffic often a long distance away to the limit of your eyesight allowing you to plan ahead what vehicles you plan on passing.
You may even find a small collection of homes at a bend in the river, three or four, and the question is always the same, what do people do out here this far from civilization which always leads to the next question- how do I get a home next to theirs?
There is a decreasing radius corner about 9 miles west of Happy Camp, it’s only worth mentioning because Highway 96 has a way of sucking you in to a steady motion of left right curves that stretch for miles and we’ve cautioned riders not to get lulled into that comfort zone. The smooth curves last seemingly forever, yet Highway 96 still has some surprises up the sleeve when it hooks left into a decreasing radius apex.
That’s river riding and one strict rule we emphasize in the morning Safety Brief is “There are no surprises in riding.”
If you are surprised by anything along this ride, ever, tight corner, hooks left, hooks right, decreasing radius, you are going too fast for your ability or the capabilities of your motorcycle. Alone in your thoughts, awash in the peace and calm that riding offers, dwell on that sentence as you ride this. There are no surprises in riding. And if you apply that rule to setting a comfortable pace, it will make for a much safer ride.
Happy Camp at the mid-point is likely the largest community along this ride at a mere 1200 residents. When your largest town for nearly 200 miles is a mere 1000 people, you know you are in a remote part of California.
The Karuk Tribe is headquartered in Happy Camp in the heart of the 1.7-million acre Klamath National Forest and you can’t help but wonder about the curious name.
Happy Camp was so named by miners in the early days of prosperity. It has frequently been noted on lists of unusual place names. H.C. Chester, who interviewed Jack Titus in 1882 or 83, states that Titus named the camp because his partner James Camp, upon arriving there, exclaimed "This is the happiest day in my life." Redick McKee mentions the camp on Nov 8, 1851, as 'Mr Roache's Happy Camp' at the place known as Murderer's Bar.
Long before it became an incorporated town, this swath of scattered California Gold Rush camps along the river was known as Murderer’s Bar due to infighting over gold claims and cultural clashes between miners and the Karuk. The town saw its heyday during the logging boom of the 1970s and 80s, when the population hovered around 2,500 and supported four saw mills that produced nearly 50 million board-feet of timber per year.
There is a small card lock gas station here at Davis Street and across the road is an 18 ft tall metal sculpture of Bigfoot back dropped against another large mural on an old-timey gas station that houses an art studio that’s worth visiting if it's open. It’s a perfect photo spot or backdrop for group photos. Happy Camp is so small, we’ve worried we wouldn’t get lunch, but there is a small restaurant on the corner of Highway 96 and 2nd street. There is a small motel here and a bank. The town is split in half by the two creeks; Indian and Elk Creeks form an island of old town and new(er) town to the east.
When the last big timber mill (behind the cardlock station) closed in the mid-1990’s that once employed workers around the clock, the town shrunk accordingly. What’s left is a small town tailored toward anglers, hikers and rafters. There is one small motel in town to base from. Happy Camp also proclaims itself as the Steelhead Capital of the World. If you find yourself in town during Labor Day, check out the Bigfoot Jamboree Parade where the whole town turns out for a three-day celebration dating back to 1966 when it first started.
Festivities start on Friday night with a dinner and Bigfoot's Pie Bake-Off for dessert. The fun continues with a dance featuring a live DJ. Saturday is filled with various events from Kids Day to a Bigfoot's Babies Contest to Bigfoot's King and Queen Coronation. The party continues on Saturday night with a live band. On Sunday morning, the main streets of Happy Camp are lined with residents and visitors, all gathering for the big parade. Theme-decorated floats, fire engines, performers and Bigfoot himself show up for a parade the way you remember them when you were a kid. Make sure you get some candy as they pass on by.
Davis Road at the Bigfoot statue is also known as Happy Camp Rd and thus far, the only other intersecting paved road besides the Forks of Salmon that goes anywhere along the 150-mile stretch of road. (We’ll get to Scott River Rd in just a moment.) This road is also the only paved road that connects over the Oregon border to Highway 199 on the Oregon side west of Interstate 5 other than along the ocean. Remote means no paved roads, just mountainous wilderness.
Happy Camp Rd (closed in winter) is paved for the duration over to Highway 199 in Oregon and a fun twisty mountain affair stretching the 37 miles to O’Brien, Oregon. It makes an excellent connector in your journey if you are weaving your way northward and want to stay off the main highways. A bit narrow in the middle, but a perfect motorcycle road.
My AAA sectional map labels Highway 96 as the State of Jefferson National Scenic Highway, the northern portion at least. The name originates back to 1941 when residents proposed creating a new state evenly split between southern and northern California, however, the proposed state extends as far south as El Dorado County which is due east of Sacramento.
In October 1941, the Mayor of Port Orford, Oregon, Gilbert Gable, said that the Oregon counties of Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath should join with the California counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Modoc to form a new state, later named Jefferson, after Thomas Jefferson.
He was motivated by the belief that these heavily rural areas were underrepresented in state government, which tended to cater to more populous areas.
On November 27, 1941, a group of young men gained national media attention when, brandishing hunting rifles for dramatic effect, they stopped traffic on U.S. Route 99 south of Yreka, the county seat of Siskiyou County, and handed out copies of a Proclamation of Independence, stating that the State of Jefferson was in "patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon" and would continue to "secede every Thursday until further notice."
The timing of their declaration could not have been worse for their proposed movement as days later the United States entered WWII and the idea was shelved. You still see signs for the State of Jefferson even today along this highway and as far south as El Dorado County (east of Sacramento) as numerous attempts have attempted to gather fruition to little avail. The idea centering around unconstitutional imbalance of representation refuses to die, and as recently as 2017, legislation was introduced to push the issue of succession much like West Virginia succeeded from Virginia. You may note there is no state of East Virginia. Info is available at www.soj51.org.
Enough politics, back to the ride, which ends soon as we make the remaining miles out of Happy Camp to Interstate 5 or Yreka. The ride is a fast-joyous affair as the river narrows and gets smaller as the distance traverses east.
East from Happy Camp, Highway 96 climbs a bit, then drops down back next to the river. Four miles outside of Happy Camp is a sweeping hairpin that leads to FR 19N1. Happy Camp Dump Rd is a paved back road that leads up to the Slater Mountain Lookout. A fire lookout overlooking Happy Camp in the valley below. It's not paved all the way and a dirt fire road for the last stretch to the fire lookout. It's also accessible from Luther Gulch along Indian Creek Rd, but this is not paved either.
The small campground at Fort Goff has shady picnic tables overlooking the river. This is a nice place to eat the sandwich you bought in Happy Camp.
There are now occasional collections of homes along the river as you near Yreka. The map marks them at towns, Hamburg, Steelhead, Horse Creek, but that's a bit optimistic. The pavement degrades a bit from "excellent" to "very good." There are a few tar snakes, though they never become a great concern. The road is a bit narrower, and doesn't encourage quite the same kind of high speed shenanigans.
At Seiad Valley, the road moves over to the left bank again and there's some up-and-down through the trees into Hamburg.
After 30 fast miles, Highway 96 finally meets up with Scott River Rd, a Pashnit Tours favorite. We’ve led many tours down this road which narrows to just one lane high above (don't look down, no guard rail, long way down) the Scott River for a short distance before flowing 31 miles into the rural Scott Valley to Fort Jones (gas).
Six miles east of Steelhead and Scott River Rd, it’s worth mentioning that there is an alternative ride for the dual-sport riders in the crowd. Just east of Horse Creek Community Church is the paved Walker Rd to the Klamath Elementary School on the south side of the river. The road is before Highway 96 passes over the Klamath River via a steel girder bridge, and six miles east of Steelhead. The pavement ends a few miles later, but the road continues on the south side of the river for 26 miles past two bridges (back to Highway 96) all the way to Hwy 263 at the Klamath National Forest sign. The one-lane steel girder bridge with the wooden deck (pictured below) has been replaced with a modern steel number. Klamath River Rd is a one-lane gravel road for the duration. But worth mentioning as it connects all the way along the 26-mile jaunt on the south side of the river.
If you stay on Highway 96, there’s no T-intersection, no prize at the end, no gas station either. Highway 96 simply flows unceremoniously right onto the interstate and heads north to the Oregon border merging with the freeway. (Yes, there is an on-ramp south). There is no gas at the eastern terminus of Highway 96 where it meets the interstate.
Total distance to Interstate 5 from Happy Camp is 64 miles, Highway 96 just doesn’t quit, it goes and goes and lasts for better part of half your day with 150 miles of non-stop twisties, Yreka is just up the hill at Highway 263.
This final Highway 263 stretch to Yreka is quite fun if not relaxing knowing your destination is just a few miles ahead. The Highway 263 leg rises steeply out of the river valley and gains 500 ft rapidly in elevation to reach Yreka after a sweeping arced bridge over a deep chasm across the Shasta River. As you reach the top, a stunning view of Mt Shasta in the distance presents itself. This 14,179 ft stratovolcano rises two miles vertical to those heights off the flat valley floor and dominates views for this entire region of Northern California. The peak is visible as far as 140 miles away to the south in the Central Valley on a clear day. Mt Shasta is impressive from any direction and the peak is snow-capped from permanent glaciers year-round.
If your destination is Yreka for gas, eats, or lodging, the town is small but has all of that including a Wal-Mart on the south end of town. Yreka is a gold rush town of almost 10,000 and the largest town in the region.
According to Mark Twain, the curious name Yreka, originated through an accident. There was a bakeshop with a canvas sign which had not yet been put up but had been painted and stretched to dry in such a way that the word BAKERY, all but the B, showed through and was reversed. A stranger read it wrong end first, YREKA, and supposed that that was the name of the camp. The campers were satisfied with it and adopted it.
Most fun we ever had in Yreka? Memorial Day weekend, we walked a few blocks to the Siskiyou Motor Speedway at the county fairgrounds to watch the 1/8 track races. A cold beer, a hot dog and entertainment as American as apple pie and baseball. Passing through town when the races are on, it’s a can’t miss activity.
Highway 96 begins at the Klamath National Forest
A road of this length is a journey, a trek, and will take half the day when you add in stops. Is it a Can’t Miss? You bet, you have to ride a road like this through the heart of Northern California. Just south is the Marble Mountain Wilderness and Trinity Alps, a rider destination with ‘Alps’ in the title? Sign me up! Highway 96 circumvents around a vast wilderness containing those ranges, and split only by the Forks of Salmon, otherwise, no other side roads, no towns, few people, a very remote place to ride. The very best place to survive The Apocalypse.