The first thing that will strike you about Benbow Lake State Recreation Area is that there is no lake. In 2017, the concrete dam was decommissioned partly to restore a vital salmon fishery. The dam had been used since the mid-1930s. This is great news for RV campers who love to fish. What is left after the dam's removal is a gorgeous stretch of the South Fork of the Eel River, which meanders its way through stunning Humbolt County, home of the giant redwoods. If salmon or steelhead fishing isn't your thing, Benbow Lake State Recreation Area offers breathtaking hiking opportunities. In early June it is also the site of the Summer Arts & Music Festival.
Average summer highs in this remote part of California can reach 87 degrees. In winter, average lows reach 37 degrees. The recreation area is about 200 miles north of San Francisco and 67 miles south down US Route 101 from the county seat of Eureka. The site is a bit light in terms of RV amenities, but it makes up for it in the scenery and riverside beach. The day use area is open year-round and the campground is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Benbow Lake State Recreation Area is just two miles south of Benbow, California. The recreation is located directly along US Route 101 in Northern CA. Route 101 gives you a comfortable two lanes in either direction. However, the road is very windy as this is very hilly terrain, so use caution if you are driving a big rig. The highway follows the South Fork of the Eel River, so you don't face much change in elevation. Thankfully, this part of the country rarely sees freezing conditions, so if you're coming in for some winter fishing, rain is probably the worst thing you have to worry about. Basic amenities are available two miles north in the settlement of Benbow.
Turn off Route 101 onto Benbow Road just south of the South Fork of the Eel River. Turn right after a hundred yards onto Fish Crossing Lane, cross the narrow single-lane bridge and you will immediately arrive in the recreation area and campground. The roads on site are unsealed and narrow, but there are three loops in the campground area to aid in orienting your rig in the right direction. Half of the sites are reached through a tunnel under Route 101. Keep in mine most sites can only fit an RV or trailer up to 30 or 35 feet in length. Parking for day use within the recreational area is quite sparse.
The campground at Benbow Lake State Recreation Area has recently been renovated. Reservations are possible online. There are a total of 77 campsites at Benbow Lake. There are no hookups for your rig but water taps are available throughout the site. There are also toilets throughout and centrally located showers. The entire site and its amenities are ADA-accessible. The dump station is at the entrance to the recreation area right next to the kiosk and campsite HQ. The maximum length for RVs is 30 feet and 24 feet for trailers. The campground is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day but the recreation area is available for day use year-round. If you need any off-site amenities, the small settlement of Benbow is only two miles up Route 101. Only firewood bought on site can be used. Firewood should not be gathered in the recreation area or brought in from elsewhere. If you need any help, the host should be available near the entrance to offer assistance.
Enjoy the views of mountains, redwoods, and the East Branch South Fork Eel River at this award-winning campground on the California coast. Sites include full hookups with cable, Wi-Fi, and asphalt site pads. Campground amenities include restrooms and showers, laundry facilities, a seasonal pool and Jacuzzi, a splash park, miniature golf, FootGolf, regular golf, a community campfire, a pavilion, a Kamping Kitchen, a store with frozen foods and other groceries, and a dog park. Planned activities include barrel train rides, arts and crafts, popsicles by the pool, and movies under the stars.
There is no boat launch at Benbow Lake State Recreation Area. It also bears repeating that there is no lake in the recreation area either. Nevertheless, if you have a canoe or a kayak, this is a great place to drop in and enjoy the stunning redwood landscape around the South Fork of the Eel River. This is a truly amazing area in which to mess around in a boat, whether you want a great workout, a bit of sightseeing, or a way to get to the best fishing spot.
A short trail from the central loop of the campground leads to a pebbly beach along the South Fork of the Eel River. This is gorgeous fresh mountain water that doesn't get too cold. There is no better way to cool off on a hot summer day than to jump into a river in the hills of northern California. The part of the river along the beach is relatively shallow and safe as long as you take the necessary precautions for swimming in a wild mountain stream.
The Summer Arts & Music Festival at Benbow Lake State Recreation Area offers two days of hippy fun for the whole family in June. The festival features hundreds of handicraft vendors, a variety of local food booths, a belly dancing temple, a heavy focus on going green, and a kid's zone. All of that is, of course, in addition to some amazing live music. Over 50 live music acts perform every year with something for everyone, children and adults alike.
Geocaching is an outdoor activity for the digital age. Players use GPS to deposit and retrieve special containers at precise coordinates all around the world. When a player discovers one of these containers, he or she can retrieve the logbook stored inside and log his or her discovery before returning the container exactly back to where it was found. Reports indicate that one or more geocaching containers are stashed somewhere in Benbow Lake State Recreation Area. Take part in the global treasure hunt.
Benbow Lake State Recreation Area may not actually have a lake, but it is an absolutely stunning location for a picnic. The South Fork Eel River and the northern Californian hills provide a stunning background for a classic American weenie roast. Much of the recreation area is shaded by the world famous redwoods, lending a prehistoric splendor to your al fresco lunch. The park has a great communal campfire area that can be used by larger picnicking groups.
Benbow Lake State Recreation Area offers you a hiking opportunity that you will never forget during your campervan road trip though California. From the upper end of the campground Thrap Mill Trail, an old logging road, takes you up into the awe-inspiring giant redwoods of northern California. Once you get onto the trail, you have various route options taking you either through enchanting ravines or up to spectacular lookout points. Check at the recreation area's kiosk for the info you need to plan your route.
Bring your camper or trailer for a world-class opportunity to try your hand at steelhead and Chinook salmon fishing. These are some of the most sporting and delicious species of fish available for sport fishing in the country. Plus, the setting at Benbow Lake State Recreation Area cannot be beaten. Surround yourself with the majestic and primordial giant redwoods while hooking into some gorgeous fish. Remember that despite the name, the dam and the lake no longer exist, greatly improving the fishing experience at Benbow.