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South Kelsey Trail

Intermediate/Difficult
 3.5 (2)

A beautiful hike alongside the south fork of the Smith River, with a trip to lovely little falls of the creek.


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Map Key

27.2

Miles

43.7

KM

Point to Point

5,822' 1,775 m

High

1,067' 325 m

Low

9,119' 2,779 m

Up

5,650' 1,722 m

Down

10%

Avg Grade (6°)

61%

Max Grade (31°)

Dogs Leashed

Features River/Creek · Views

This first few miles of the western side of the South Kelsey Trail should be accessible year round, but Yellowjacket and the creeks that follow will be too high to cross without wading very deeply in the spring.

Need to Know

The west side trailhead has parking for about dozen cars, vault toilets, a picnic table and information sign. The last two miles of the access road is smooth and unpaved single lane road and paved G-O Road is neglected for debris clearance. The east side trailhead is near a dispersed campsite with a picnic table and has parking for four cars (many more if parking at the campsite) and a sign for information. The access road is long and unpaved for the last few miles, but should be passable to passenger cars. The final spur to parking may not be passable to passenger cars, but there is a very large parking area at the saddle about 1/4 mile before the spur. These roads are not plowed in winter.

Description

If you want a taste of the historic and remote Kelsey Trail any time of year, the first couple miles of the western side of the trail is how you can sample it. The creek(s) and crossings are too deep to pass during spring, but this little taste can give you a nice sample of the trail.

A National Recreation Trail designated in 1979, this trail starts at the west end above the South Fork Smith River. It drops toward, but not to, the river and into Siskiyou Wilderness. It crosses small streams and creek and high ledges to Buck Creek, where there is a shelter. This makes a popular short backpacking trip.

After the bridge at Buck Creek, the trail is generally closer to the river as it continues to climb. Pass the signed intersection with Summit Valley Trail 3E07. In May and June, consider climbing it a mile or two to the hillsides full of blooming azaleas. Otherwise continue to Eightmile Creek, where there is another camp site. There are only a few cables left of an old bridge and this creek is typically not safe to cross until July.

The easiest crossing of Eightmile Creek is just below the swimming hole. The access to this crossing is difficult on the west side. On the east side, there is a trail just above the creek. After crossing, climb up to it to continue. There are some difficult spots in the trail as it climbs and drops along the slopes above the river to the second difficult crossing at Harrington Creek. The waterfall just up the creek is impressive. The original Kelsey Trail came down from Bald Peak and crossed the river here to take a more northern route than the current trail.

After crossing Harrington Creek, it can be difficult to find the trail. Follow the edge of the river until you see it. Once found, it is generally easy to follow up to Bald Peak. Recent burn makes the rest difficult, but not impossible, on the way to Harrington Lake and the junction with Boundary Trail 4E50.

Head up and over Harrington Mountain. The burn continues to make things difficult for a few miles. Past Willis Hole and the junction with West Fork Clear Creek Trail, it drops to its most reliable water on the Klamath side, then climbs to follow ridge lines. The views are incredible. The rocks turn red as the trail wraps around Red Hill, then back to grey as it passes Bear Lakes Trail to the Elbow Spring Trailhead at the east end.

Contacts

Shared By:

Bob Durie with improvements by Valerie Norton

Trail Ratings

  3.5 from 2 votes

#23319

Overall
  3.5 from 2 votes
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#2,421

in California

#23,319

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1,018 Since Mar 29, 2019
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Photos

Top of the trail to Bear Lakes, looking from Bear Peak to Bear Mountain.
Mar 9, 2021 near Happy Camp, CA
The Yellowjacket Creek feeding into the South Fork of the Smith River, in spring.
Mar 29, 2019 near Bertsch…, CA
Trail around Red Hill.
Mar 9, 2021 near Happy Camp, CA
Bear Lakes: the pond (dry), Bear Lake, Lower Bear Lake, smoke from the Slater Fire.
Mar 9, 2021 near Happy Camp, CA

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Check-Ins

Oct 28, 2020
Valerie Norton
Did the entire Klamath NF section to finish it off: https://valhikes.blogspot.com/2020/10/kelsey-range-bear-lake.html
Jun 1, 2020
Valerie Norton
Entire Six Rivers section hiked. Get as far up 8 Mile to try to cross at the bottom of the swimming hole. This was a low rain year, so crossings low. 18mi