360 mile hike exploring ecological diverse regions of Northern Californa & Southern Oregon
The Bigfoot Trail is an adventure filled 375ish mile trail through a wild & rarely visited corner California & Southern Oregon. The BFT travels through an incredibly ecologically diverse region, highlighted by the 32 different species of conifer found along the way. The BFT visits 6 wilderness areas, a national park, and travels through 6 major watersheds all with Wild and Scenic designation (Eel River, Upper Sacramento River, Trinity River, Salmon River, Klamath River, & the Smith). Though the route is remote, there are resupply options every 50-120 miles.
Michael Kauffmann created and hiked this route in 2009, has recently revised the guidebook & map set, and set up the Bigfoot Trail Alliance. This new trail is off to a great start, seeing a handful of section and thru-hikers each season as it begins to capture our hiking community’s imagination.
Sage’s Adventure on the BFT:
In July of 2014, I hiked the Bigfoot Trail north bound from the Ides Cove Trailhead in the Yolla Bolly Mountains through to Crescent City. I added in a 20 mile alternate to the Oregon Caves, and followed a couple of road walk alternates that have since been re-routed to newly made trail. I resupplied in Hayfork, and again in Weaverville (mostly for the fun of going in to a “big” town), sent boxes to the Mountain Meadow Resort, Seiad Valley, & Oregon Caves. The route took 20 days for me to complete, with a few big push days, a couple near-0 days, a handful of slow bushwhacky days, and plenty of time for swimming and tree identifying.
I grew up in Mendocino County and the Yolla Bolly Mountains (where the BFT begins) were a key part of my childhood landscape. In 2011 I created the Japhy Ryder Route, which connects with the BFT near the Ides Cove terminus, and was excited to see if the BFT would work as a Japhy Ryder Route extension or alternate start. The scavenger hunt to find trees along the route was very appealing to me as well. I figured I would gain a new perspective on my childhood home and learn a handful of new trees while traversing the BFT. My hypothesis proved to be correct. The journey was my ideal summer vacation.
32 species of conifer and a biocentric guidebook & map set helped bring the natural world to the forefront of this stunning trail. Rather than wondering how many miles I would cover in a given day, I would wonder how many new trees I would get to meet as I hiked. It is very rare for me to carry a book on a trail, but I was glad to have Michael Kauffmann’s Trees of the Pacific Slope along for the walk.
Over the course of my 20 days on the BFT, I found 29 of the 32 conifer species. Most of the trees were new to me (I’d seen trees like the Shasta Fir before, but I had never known it), and I was able to see trees I knew well (like Douglas Fir) in new ways.
Learning the difference between the Port Orford, Alaskan Yellow, Western Red, & Incense Cedar was one of the many nature geek challenges I chose to accept along the trail. I spent time shaking the hand of each tree (except the AK yellow cedar- I couldn’t find it, despite shwacking up some canyons in the region a remnant population was supposed to occur). Upon meeting a cedar I would look at its shape, feel it’s bark, examine the back side of it’s frond like needles, looking for butterfly shapes, skinny x’s, or spiky scales. On the last day of my hike I came across my first Western Red Cedar of the hike & couldn’t help yelling out with joy- but I was not alone- some surprised tourists who were wandering through Redwood National Park’s Stout Grove gave me one of those “what planet did you come from, this isn’t disney land or anything” looks & backed away towards the giant redwoods.
For me, exploring the trees and the rest of the flora and fauna that exist under them brought another level of attachment to this region. Though I hiked alone, it was hard to feel lonely with so much to notice and learn along this route. I hope future hikers find a similar magic and sense of connection.
The route itself is a mix of maintained trail, very overgrown trail, undefined trail, a smidge of true off trail, and enjoyable road walks. If trail work keeps happening, it seems the BFT could become a pretty well maintained trail within a few years. Recent heavy fires in the region have hindered trail maintenance projects, and have damaged sections of existing trail. For now, the route provides a solid navigational challenge, and has a truly remote and wild feel.
Here are descriptions of several of the navigation blunder zones along the BFT, from south to north. The trail does change every year, so this is by no means a complete list- be prepared to become misplaced anywhere.
1) Devil’s Fryingpan/ The Knob region to Robinson Creek. An old burn and lack of frequent traffic and trail maintenance has left this stretch of old trail obliterated, faded, and buried under stacks of pick-up-stick like burned trees. The trail dips in and out of many canyons and was very faint. I found myself using my 1:24,000 scale maps to navigate, and was happy to have detailed maps in this area. Water in this stretch was hard to come by for me in July 2014, and that added to the stress of walking here. At the ridge just south of Robinson Creek, the trail had been recently worked on, and was suddenly easy to navigate.
2) Upper North Fork of Smokey Creek to Bramlet Road. This area has many motorcycle tracks that made staying on “the trail” a bit more challenging. I used Kauffmann’s descriptions and detailed maps with the highlighted route to stay on track. This area seemed to have high potential for illegal Marijuana grows.
3) Coming down Fish Lake Trail was confusing at times. Finding the trail from the pass near Deadman Ridge/ the head of Coffee Creek was confusing, as the trail heads off to the NW in an unexpected direction. As the brush gets thicker in the valley it was hard to stick with the path, but it was worth searching for it rather than shwacking through the brush. There are a couple of old trail junctions that I mistook for the trail I was supposed to be following, and I believe the existing trail has been re-routed from the one shown on USGS maps.
4) Russian Creek had some overgrown areas. The trail is faint, but mostly discoverable.This area burned in 2014, and could be a bit more challenging now.
5) Ridge SE of Lonesome Lake to Azalea Lake. Faint trail through old burn is hard to follow, and sometimes completely vanishes. Use patience, awareness, and your map to reconnect with the trail. After you pass through the burn, the path travels through some stunning cedar groves- your reward for the bushwhack.
6) Twin Valley Meadow. There is a trail junction in the meadow west of the creek crossing. The BFT goes NW, not south, and an old sign can be found at the meadow edge.
7) The West Fork of Clear Creek. Finding the trail was not as bad as I thought it would be, but it is faint.
8) Harrington Mountain to Baldy Peak. I decided to skip Harrington Lake in here, which was a poor choice for water management. The cross country was fun & not too shwacky. I was able to find the path easily near the drainage from Stevens Mountain, but the trail was intermittent all the way to the Smith River. The descent from Baldy was one of the most hellaciously overgrown trails I have ever walked, including a couple miles of head high dense shrubbery. The miracle of this section is that the trail still exists under the shrubs, and is followable if you pay close attention.
Water can be an issue in a handful of places along the BFT. The southern part of the trail can be very dry, especially with the recent drought and low snow packs. Springs like North Yolla Bolly Spring seem reliable, where smaller blue line creeks like Robinson Creek and upper Smokey Creek are much less predictable. Water in the Trinty Alps and Marble Mountains was reliable and well spaced. Traveling north from Seiad Valley into the Klamaths and Siskiyous the springs were occasionally dry, but the blue line creeks and lakes did not disappoint. The headwaters of the upper West Fork of Clear Creek had a delicious spring that was not on my map. Willis Hole had boggy water, but in retrospect I should have filled up there.
Swimming holes are abundant on the BFT. The trail follows the course of a handful of major rivers, and the swimming proved to be some of the best I have ever encountered. From waterfall pools to jumping rocks, there was a stunning and refreshing place to jump in the water every day or two (and sometimes many times daily). My favorite swimming moment happened on the Salmon River, where I saw a huge fish hanging out in the clear blue water just before I jumped in.
BFT Weather: Be ready for anything.
The trail takes frequent trips to the high country, and dips into deep, low canyons constantly. The weather can be all over the place. Winter snow pack should be considered if you are thinking of hitting the BFT in early spring, but the snow should be mostly gone by May in average years. Major fires have started each year in late July/ early August during this recent stretch of drought, and the region is very fire prone. Temperatures in the valleys can climb in to the 100’s frequently in summer, but in the high country temperatures seemed to be more tolerable, lingering around the 70’s and 80’s. Thunder Storms are typical in summer months, and storm systems from the pacific can slam in any time of year.
During my July 2014 hike I endured two heat waves, but was pleasantly surprised by the cooler temperatures in the alpine regions, and the general lack of humidity. Two storms hit me during the hike. The first was a classic thunder storm complete with hail and big boomers, the second was a torrential day and a half downpour. I was happy to have my rain gear!
Cell Reception: There is very limited cell reception throughout the BFT. There are glimpses of service near the towns, and occasionally I could find a few bars on higher mountain peaks, but I went days without being able to place a call. I have Verizon, but I hear US Cellular is the provider of choice for the region.
Visit the Bigfoot Trail Alliance Facebook page to get more info.
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Men’s Journal | 50 Best Hikes
Local Coast Outpost | Squatchy Supertrail Planning Going Pretty Good