Klamath National Forest

Looking for a heavenly getaway this summer with plenty of fresh air that isn’t too hot or crowded? Most people think of scorching desert landscapes of tumbleweed and cactus when they hear the words ‘California wilderness’. In reality, Klamath National Forest, the northernmost forest of the state located on the California-Oregon border, doesn’t exceed 78 degrees on average, even in the hottest month of July!

This forest is an ancient redwood wonderscape containing nearly 50% of the state’s old-growth redwoods. As if the forest itself weren’t enough of an attraction, other beautiful scenes surround it, such as Medford Falls and Klamath Falls only a half-hour drive away.

Redwood trees - a popular sight in Klamath National Forest
Klamath National Forest is home to ancient, towering redwood trees. – Image by Simi Luft from Pixabay

About Klamath National Forest

Oregon holds about 1.5% of the 1,700,000 acre forest in Jackson County, the rest is located in Siskiyou County, CA. Aside from the industrial uses that all national forests contribute, such as timber and gold (yes, gold is still mined in Klamath to this day!) Klamath also contains 5 designated wildlife areas and a host of recreational opportunities for nature lovers, campers, hikers, and photographers. Besides the famous redwoods, you will find seas of ponderosa pines at lower elevations and subalpine firs and other conifers at higher elevations.

Before you strap on your canteen and camera lenses, there are a few things to know before you go. Unlike many other forests do, Klamath has no trash removal service. In other words, don’t expect to find a ton of conveniently placed trash cans. You will need to take your own trash out with you.

The forest does have some restrooms, but they are not always open. Subsequently, it doesn’t hurt to go in with a backup plan for that scenario. Bring your own biodegradable toilet paper, shovel, and hand sanitizer, and make sure your business is conducted at least 200 feet away from any nearby trails or water sources. If your toiletries are not biodegradable, bring a sealable trash bag as well. Ladies, the convenience of peeing without squatting is an option with easy-to-store products such as these. Now, you’re fully prepared to get out there!

History of the Forest

Klamath first became a national forest in 1905. It was made into a reserve by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, the same year he reserved the Klamath’s old Sierra Nevada neighbor, Inyo National Forest. The USDA offers this beautiful gallery of genuine historic photos of Klamath, featuring inhabitants who relied on the land centuries ago.  

Today, Klamath staff are under pressure to control what is gearing up to be a challenging year for wildfires across the state. Lightning strikes have already sparked several fires in Klamath National Forest this year. Fire resources may be spread thin as California enters another drought and faces July-like dryness much earlier in the season than usual. More on this straight from the forest’s home news page here.

An aircraft dropping retardant on a fire - Klamath National Forest fire season is increasingly challenging.
Fire season in Klamath National Forest seems to be more challenging every year. – Photo by Ben Kuo on Unsplash

Ranger Districts

Not sure where to begin in the forest? Give any of these three ranger districts a call. They can tell you where to find the best scenic byways, easiest or hardest wilderness trails, the hottest birding sites, and more:

Goosenest Ranger District
(530) 398-4391
37805 Highway 97
MacDoel, CA 96058

Happy Camp/Oak Knoll Ranger District
(530) 598-9310
63822 Highway 96
PO Box 377
Happy Camp, CA 96039

Salmon/Scott River Ranger District 
(530) 643-1838
11263 N Highway 3
Fort Jones, CA 96032

Recreation in Klamath National Forest

In Klamath National Forest, you will find opportunities for boating, swimming, and fishing in the pristine mountain lakes as well as whitewater rafting on the river rapids. There are about 200 miles of river for rafters to explore and 150 miles more of wild, scenic rivers to view and enjoy. There are 32 developed campgrounds throughout the park. You are not limited to these sites however, the USDA allows ground camping in most wild areas. Pitch your shelter and awake in a field of flowers, or next to a glittering lake high in the mountains. Your choices for adventure in this forest are endless! Just remember that a California Campfire Permit is required. Oh, and don’t feed the bears.

Hey, birders out there! In anticipation of World Migratory Bird Day on October 29th, Klamath officials have already created a list of birding hot spots that are already aflutter with migratory species returning to the forest from their winter getaways. This list includes tips on finding specific species of interest, such as flycatchers, warblers, cranes, raptors, chats, and belted kingfishers.

Want to start your hike, but unsure of which trail is best for you? This interactive mapping tool will not only show you which trails will lead you to the lakes and where the trailheads are, but it also rates each trail from easy to difficult.  

Whitewater rafters - Klamath National Forest is a top destination for this.
Klamath National Forest offers first-class whitewater rafting. – Image by 198570 from Pixabay

Wilderness Areas in Klamath National Forest

There are 5 beautiful, all-natural wilderness areas in Klamath, including:

Marble Mountain Wilderness is one of those originals designated by congress we mentioned earlier. Believe it or not, this one wilderness area contains 89 different lakes! That’s a lot of water, even for 225,000 acres. The entire area is so scenic and remote, it really is a photographer’s paradise. Get the perfect shot at Marble Mountain Rim, where silvery-gray peaks rise gracefully out of the forest, cupping the trees in one magnificent valley of deep green conifers and aquamarine pools. This wilderness area contains a portion of the famous Pacific Crest Trail. It runs from south to north for 32 miles across the higher elevations of the Marble Mountains.

Wondering what kind of wildlife you’ll run into? You could see anything from spotted skunks to wild horses! Check out this Klamath Wildlife Gallary to see when and where hikers have found and documented each animal in the park.  

Visit Klamath National Forest

Want to plan a weekend in Klamath, but unsure of where to stay? Find yourself a cozy little dream cottage in the redwoods with these  Air BnB rentals. These aren’t your typical hotel rooms outside of town. These are highly rated cabins that actually give you the privacy and peace of the woods. Many of them are actually located inside the forest or near the shores of tributaries and rivers.

And of course, save TheNationalForests.com  to your reading list for a quick and easy connection to America’s national forests. Get out there and have fun!

-By Heaven Morrow

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