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The “Six Rivers” of California’s North Coast

Happy World Water Day!


Today is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate water in all its forms and functions, and we encourage you to take a moment to notice three or more ways that water is involved in your day — i.e. taking a shower, staying hydrated, washing laundry or dishes, admiring a river, stepping in a puddle, visiting the beach, cleaning out your gutters, checking your rain gauge, kayaking, and more!


Author Peter B. Kyne suggested the name “Six Rivers” for the national forest that straddles four counties in Northwest California, and through which six major rivers pass. Join us in highlighting the North Coast’s “Six Rivers,” but do not mistake that every river, creek, or stream not listed here is unimportant. On the contrary, the nooks, crannies, and connectivity of our watersheds are just as important and deserving of recognition as the big, famous waterways (and possibly more in need of our love and attention, since they are often overlooked). Go explore the waterways that flow nearby where you live!


1. The Smith River, California’s only undammed river system, is a 25-mile Wild & Scenic River that flows through Del Norte and Siskiyou Counties with a 719-square mile basin. The Smith River National Recreation Area in Six Rivers National Forest is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Confluence of the South Fork Smith River (right) into the Smith River.
Confluence of the South Fork Smith River (right) into the Smith River. Photo by Clinton Steeds via Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0).

2. The Klamath River, California’s 2nd-largest river after the Sacramento, is a 263-mile Wild & Scenic River with a 15,689-square mile basin that flows through Lake, Klamath, and Jackson Counties in Oregon, and Modoc, Trinity, Siskiyou, Del Norte, and Humboldt Counties in California. Removal of the Klamath River’s four dams is underway!

Mid-Klamath River.
Mid-Klamath River. Photo by Jason Hartwick / Swiftwater Films.

3. The Trinity River is a 165-mile Wild & Scenic River with a 2,900-square mile basin that flows through Trinity and Humboldt Counties. The Trinity River is predominantly rain-fed.

The Trinity River near Hoopa, California.
The Trinity River near Hoopa, California. Photo by PGHolbrook via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

4. The Mad River is a 113-mile river with a 497-square mile basin that flows through Trinity and Humboldt Counties, and is impaired by sediment and temperature under the Clean Water Act. The Mad River provides residential and commercial water to 94,000 people in Humboldt County.

The Mad River from Mad River Slough Train Trestle.
The Mad River from Mad River Slough Train Trestle. Photo by Pi.1415926535 via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

5. The Van Duzen River, a tributary of the Eel River, is a 63-mile Wild & Scenic River with a 429-square mile basin that flows through Trinity and Humboldt Counties. The Van Duzen River is listed as sediment-impaired under the Clean Water Act.

The Van Duzen River.
The Van Duzen River. Photo by Nicholas Motto / Getty Images via Canva Pro.

6. The Eel River is a 196-mile Wild & Scenic River with a 3,684-square mile basin that flows through Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties. The Eel River was historically the third-largest salmon-producing river system in California.

The South Fork Eel River.
The South Fork Eel River. Photo by Abigail Lowell.

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