Salmon Mountain is the highpoint of California’s storied Humboldt County, a land of towering redwoods, renowned cannabis, & controversial claims of bigfoot sightings. Humboldt County is a collection of rolling hills (or small mountains, depending on one’s point of view), abundant vegetation and wildlife, & sparse human settlement (the only notable pocket of population is Eureka/Arcata on the coast, approximately 3 hours away by car). The Salmon Mountains (in which Salmon Mountain not all too surprisingly lies), themselves a subrange of the Klamath Mountains, have an aura of remoteness and serenity lacking in California’s other mountain provinces.
Perhaps Salmon Mountain’s greatest commodities are its wildness and remoteness. To attain this in California, it is a given that most people will have some driving to do. The nearest settlement to Salmon Mountain is lovely Orleans, California (no, I don’t believe they celebrate Mardi Gras there), on State Route 96, also known as the Bigfoot Scenic Highway.
Even if you reside in California, chances are that you have never heard of this community. To reach this dorf, suggested directions are as follows:
From the coast: Take the 101 to its junction with State Route 299, on the north end of university town Arcata. You should be able to distinguish Arcata by its easily-identifiable residents, many of which will have dreadlocks, smell of marijuana smoke, and be loitering on sidewalks playing bongo drums (perhaps while rehearsing strenuous yoga poses). From here, follow winding and scenic (Scenic Highway) 299 east approximately 38 miles to the enclave of Willow Creek.
From San Francisco Bay Area/Sacramento/Redding: Take the 5 north to Redding. Take the 299 exit, and take this approximately 100 miles to tiny Willow Creek. If you have time, check out the 3,000 year-old Chinese temple in Shasta (that’s right, Shasta, not Mt. Shasta (city), off of I-5), & historic Weaverville. This drive is quite enjoyable (if you like curvy roads), with beautiful views of the Trinity Alps, and doing it during the daytime (to be able to enjoy the views) is highly recommended.
From Willow Creek: Once Willow Creek has been attained, take State Route 96, otherwise known as the Bigfoot Scenic Highway, 38 miles north to Orleans. This road is twisty (read: fun, yet time-consuming), scenic (beautiful views can be had of the surrounding forested hills & Klamath River en route), and will take you through Yurok & Hupa (American) Indian reservations.
North of Redding (north-central California, south-central Oregon): Take Interstate 5 to its intersection with State Route 96, approximately 10 miles north of Yreka. Take this about 108 miles to Orleans.
Once in Orleans, go north across the Klamath River on the north end of town. Immediately on the other side of the river, take a right onto Red Cap Road and set your odometer. Keep following this road as it passes through a residential area, then winds deeper into the mountains, steadily gaining elevation.
Simply stay on Red Cap Road (which somehow magically turns into forest road "SF 10N01"), passing several intersections along the way. After 19.1 miles, an obvious crest will be reached, with some prominent signs on the left-hand side of the road. This is the trailhead.
No wilderness permits are required. If you plan on having a campfire or using a stove, however, get a campfire permit. You can obtain this at the ranger station in Orleans, which lies at the north end of town (shortly before the bridge); take a left onto Ishi Pichi Road, which is across from the gas station, and diagonal from the post office.
When To Climb
Despite its relatively low overall elevation, Salmon Mountain’s (& Mountains’) proximity to the ocean ensures enough precipitation during the winter to keep patches of the heavy, white frozen stuff on the mountain until after June, even during low snow years (this area was glaciated during the last ice age). Avalanche potential would be low during the winter, as basically the whole mountain is below treeline, but evidence of an avalanche does exist towards the top of the mountain, going across the trail. If going before early- to mid-June, an ice-axe & crampons would simplify your life. Supposedly the Red Cap Road (aka “10N01”) is open year-round (as told to me by a ranger), but if you have any winter ambitions, I would double check before driving off.
So, in a nutshell…
· If you want to leave the snowshoes, skis, ice-axe & crampons at home (i.e. summer hiking conditions), mid- to late- June until late October.
· Winter conditions: Maybe, but check with the ranger station before making any plans (and take that information with a grain of salt as well).
· Spring conditions (i.e. snowshoes/skis, ice-axe and crampons): Depends on the precipitation of the previous winter- check conditions before heading out, but could be fun!
Salmon Mountain is located in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, the largest tract of wilderness in California outside of the Sierra Nevada (500,000 acres!!). It also lies within the Six Rivers National Forest (which means you can camp where you want outside of the developed campsites, for free). These things translate to a large variety of camping opportunities.
The Aikens Creek campground, directly off of highway 96 (approximately 8 miles before Orleans), is a particularly attractive site, with the creek running through a nice valley.
A semi-established camp exists right off of the trail at Baylor Camp, approximately 1.3 miles from the trailhead. This seems like it would be a nice camp, amidst the trees, with some crude seats and fire ring.
Also: Orleans Ranger District established (read: fee) campground information
For a general weather forecast for the area, check the weather forecast for Orleans.
As the summit of Salmon Mountain is over 6,500 ft above the town of Orleans, give the Orleans ranger station a call at (530) 627-3291 for a (possibly) more detailed description (make sure to ask them if anyone’s been up there to report their claims).
The Salmon Mountains, part of the Klamath Mountains and Trinity Alps, are underlain by greenstone and schist. The central highlands of the Trinity Alps are composed of light granite, while the eastern peaks are reddish, due to their high iron content. During the last ice age, glaciers dotted the region, evidence of which is still visible today. Red Cap Lake at the base of Salmon Mountain lies in a small glacial cirque.
Flora & Fauna
With its relatively low elevations and mild climate, the area has an abundance of life, which is quite evident.
Critters you might see include small lizards, deer, and even black bear. California condors are frequently seen swooping through the sky. Protected steelhead trout still exist in the Klamath and Salmon rivers far below the summit, albeit in drastically fewer numbers than before- overfishing, development, dams, drought, and sedimentation have all taken their toll on the fish population.
Though in Humboldt County, you’ll have to leave Salmon Mountain and head for the coast to see redwoods; conditions aren’t conducive enough for the giants here. There are, however, many impressive Douglas firs, true firs, and cedars to be seen along the way. Area plants include manzanita, Ribes Sanguineum (or red-flowering currant for all the laymen out there), pennyroyal, sulfur flower, scarlet gilia, and many other wildflowers, among others.
The views from the summit of Salmon Mountain are impressive indeed. A heavily forested mountain panorama surrounds one as far as the eye can see, as the peak is in the middle of the Klamath Mountains. Looking north and south one sees the Salmon Mountains, including Orleans Mountain and Whiteys Peak (both to the north). East- and southward lie the impressive, serrated and frequently snow-covered Trinity Alps. Far in the distance, mighty Mt. Shasta makes its presence known, with Mt. Eddy (marking the eastern edge of the Klamath Mountains) immediately to its left.
What's in a name?
Salmon Mountain is named so perhaps because of the enormous number of fish of the same name that used to fill many of the larger rivers that the peak overlooks, making their seasonal trek to the ocean, to return before dying. As an unfortunate result of overfishing, development, dams, drought, and sedimentation , the amount of fish remaining in the drainages has dwindled to the point where it is illegal to hunt them, in order to promote their population increase.
California County Summits, by Gary Suttle
Wilderness Press, Berkeley
Good general information page on the surrounding area.
Orleans Ranger District
P.O. Box 410, Orleans, CA 95556, (530) 627-3291
Orleans Ranger District homepage