The park offers hiking as well as numerous other activities. The river is a great place for fishing, canoeing, swimming, and floating. Our fire roads offer the mountain biker the chance to see some of the backcountry areas of the park. Or, you can just relax in one of our campgrounds. Whatever your favorite activity, you will find plenty to do here.
During the summer, the water level in the Eel River drops significantly. There are several popular swimming holes where you can cool off on those hot summer days. These are listed below.
Some Popular Swimming Holes
Reached by a 15 minute hike on the Hidden Springs Beach Trail, this is a popular swimming place for campers at Hidden Springs Campground. The river bends here and the water slows. River otters and turtles may be seen swimming here as well.
Reached by hiking five minutes on the river trail from Burlington Campground, this swimming hole is not as deep as the one at Hidden Springs. But, it does offer a chance to get wet and is very refreshing on a hot day. Children enjoy playing near the seasonal bridge in the shallow water.
Located one mile north of Burlington Campground on the Avenue of the Giants, this is a popular local swimming hole. You may park on top of the bluff and walk down, or drive your car onto the river bar (at your own risk). The river bottom here is very sandy.
Located three miles north of the Visitor Center on the Avenue of the Giants, this is a day use fee area. If you are camping at the park, there is no additional fee for day use. Those who are not camping pay $5. The river bends here and there is a nice hole for swimming or wading.
To reach Leatherwood Bar, drive four miles north of the Visitor Center on the Avenue of the Giants. At the intersection, a right turn will take you to Founders Grove. The sign pointing left reads, "Freeway South." Turn left and then immediately turn right onto the unmarked dirt road. This leads to Leatherwood Bar, another locally popular swimming hole. The beach here is usually sandy (depending on winter river conditions) and sunny.
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The South Fork of the Eel River flows through magnificent stands of old-growth redwoods to its confluence with the main fork of the Eel River near Founders Grove within Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The river received its name, not from its meandering course, but from the lamprey (mistakenly called eel) that frequent the waters during their spawning cycle each spring. When the first white explorers observed Native Americans trapping "eels" during one of these spawning runs, they named the river accordingly.
Salmon and steelhead fishing in the Eel River is best during the fall and winter, after the first rains in October and until early March. Summer fishing is considered poor because of warm and low water conditions, and the fish are generally small.
Fishing conditions along the Eel River are generally unpredictable. Heavy rainfall - as little as one inch of rain - can bring silt down into the river and muddy the water for days. On the other hand, if stream flows drop below minimum levels, the Eel River may be closed to fishing at any time - even during the winter. Before planning a trip to the area, we recommend calling the California Department of Fish and Game's north coast river information number at (707)442-4502.
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Mountain bikes are permitted on the backcountry fire roads. Bicyclists may use all the trail camps except Johnson Camp, which is accessible by a "hikers only" trail.
The ride up to 3379 foot Grasshopper Peak is popular. Riding the rugged backcountry of the park requires some steep uphill climbing. Most of the roads are graded dirt. During winter, riding on them is not recommended as the mud can be quite deep and several roads frequently wash out in the heavy rains.
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Bird watching is popular in some areas of the park. Several spots offer vistas of the river. At Dyerville Overlook, bald eagles have been seen. Ospreys and their nests are frequently seen along the river as well. The Visitor Center sells several good bird identification guides.
Wildlife watching can also be very rewarding. Albee Creek Campground is a popular spot. Deer and even bear have been seen in the fruit orchard there. The park's natural prairies offer open places to look for wildlife from.
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Revised: 5 January 1999
Copyright © 1996 Kim A. Cabrera