South Fork Canyon Recreation Area
Guide

Introduction

The South Fork Canyon Recreation Area is a Bureau of Land Management property that provides access to the South Fork River, and should not be confused with the South Fork State Recreation Area, situated just southeast of the site. The South Fork Canyon Recreation Area is located in the canyon just northwest of the dam and South Fork Reservoir. The canyon features high limestone cliffs, and there is spectacular natural desert wilderness and scenery to enjoy in the region. The South Fork Canyon Recreation Area is open year-round, and amenities are available free of charge.

Recreational activities at South Fork Canyon Recreation Area include river floating with tubes, kayaks, canoes, and rafts on Class I and II rapids, and fishing on the river and in the reservoir. Amazing hiking opportunities are available in the region including along the California National Historic Trail, which runs through 700 miles of wilderness areas and Bureau of Land Management properties in Nevada, near the BLM South Fork Canyon Recreation Area.

There is primitive camping available at the South Fork Canyon Recreation Area site along the canyon, northwest of the river and reservoir, and developed camping sites for RVers at the adjacent South Fork State Recreation area. While in the region you can also explore the Wild Horse Reservoir State Recreation Area to the north, and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, to the southwest.

RV Rentals in South Fork Canyon Recreation Area

Transportation

Driving

To reach the Bureau of Land Management's South Fork Canyon Recreation Area, take State Road 227 southeast from Elko, Nevada, towards Spring Creek, for about 7 miles. At the junction with State Road 228, turn west onto the South Fork Road. Turn west again on Hamilton Stage Road and continue to the site. The access road is gravel and dirt surfaced, and can be dusty in dry weather, and rutted and rough in wet weather, and may not be appropriate for all vehicles.

Alternatively, you can take the Bullion Road, a naturally surfaced, gravel and dirt, backroad south from Elko, through the wilderness areas to the South Fork Canyon Recreation Area. This road can have rough sections, especially in wet weather and may not be appropriate for large RV units and tow-trailers.

You can also take the Hylton Road, which crosses the dam at the South Fork Reservoir from the state park to the east to the BLM area. Campgrounds are available in the South Fork State Recreation Area to the east down the Hylton Road from the BLM area.

Services and amenities are accessible in Elko, and at the junction of State Road 227 and 228. The region is arid and hot, with desert terrain. Ensure your vehicle is well maintained with adequate fluid levels to operate in extreme heat.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in South Fork Canyon Recreation Area

Campsites in South Fork Canyon Recreation Area

First-come first-served

East Campground South Fork

The East Campground South Fork accommodates RVs and tow trailers for RVers in the region looking for overnight camping. This is a small, quiet campground, located on the east shore of the South Fork Reservoir, in the South Fork State Recreation Area, south of the BLM site. The campground has 25 sites and is open, with little shade or shelter. Campsites do not have power or water for RVs; however, there is a water supply, and an RV dump station, as well as a restroom and shower facility with running water.

An amphitheater on-site occasionally hosts interpretive programs run by local organizations and the state park. All campsites have picnic tables and grills. Sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the campground is open all year round. A boat launch to access the reservoir is located nearby at Hastings Cove. Hiking opportunities abound in the state park with several miles of cycling and hiking trails. There is also a group use area at Tomera Cove.

Primitive Camping South Fork Canyon Recreation Area

Primitive camping is available at the Bureau of Land Management South Fork Canyon Recreation Area, in the canyon. The tall limestone walls of the canyon provide some shade and shelter to backpackers looking to do some backcountry camping. Dispersed camping is available for a maximum stay of up to 14 days, in any 30 day period, at a single site. Backcountry campers are encouraged to use previously occupied sites and fire rings, and disturb the local ecosystem as little as possible. Campers should adhere to “Leave No Trace” principles.

You will need to pack in drinking water or use purification tablets for local water supplies. Backcountry campers in the region are treated to spectacular dark night skies, amazing sunrises and sunsets, and breathtaking vistas of the surrounding desert wilderness. Experience with backcountry camping in a desert environment is recommended as temperatures and conditions can be extreme in the region.

Seasonal activities in South Fork Canyon Recreation Area

In-Season

Floating and Rafting

The South Fork Humboldt River is accessible from the BLM South Fork Canyon Recreation Area, and is a popular location for river floating activities. Visitors float the river on tubes and flotation devices, when it is lower in the summer, and on rafts, kayaks, and canoes earlier in the year, when spring run off turns some of the Class I rapids into Class II rapids, with higher water levels. Ensure you wear appropriate safety equipment, including flotation devices and helmets, especially when the water is high and running fast in the spring.

Spring

Fishing

The South Fork Reservoir, just southeast of the South Fork Canyon Recreation Area, has 1640 acres of water surface and can reach depths of 67 feet when it is at full capacity. The reservoir is stocked with rainbow, brown, and bowcutt, a rainbow/cutthroat hybrid, as well as smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and wipers, a striped bass/white bass hybrid. There are also channel catfish in the reservoir.

Rainbow trout average about 16 inches in length, and bowcutt average over 19 inches. Bass can reach up to 21 inches, and wipers can range in size from 6 to 12 pounds. Spring to early summer is the most productive fishing season in the reservoir. Ensure you have a valid State of Nevada fishing license.

Off-Season

Hiking

The wilderness regions around South Fork Canyon Recreation Area are excellent for hiking during the transition seasons in the spring and fall, when temperatures in the region are the most moderate. Take plenty of water, wear good hiking boots for rough terrain, and watch out for rattlesnakes!

The California National Historic Trail runs through this section of Nevada and follows the route of a mid-19th century trail that settlers once used to travel west in search of gold and rich farmland. The trail spans 700 miles in the State of Nevada and extends further through California and Utah. More hiking trails can be found in the South Fork State Recreation Area to the southeast where an eight mile trail system is available.

Reservoir Boating

Two boat launches are located on the 1600 acre, South Fork Reservoir, adjacent to the BLM site, and accessible from the State Park Recreation Area. The boat launches are located at Coyote Cove and Hamilton Cove, and can accommodate boats up to 15 feet in length. Much of the lake is designated as a no-wake zone, so recreational boaters with motorized watercraft will need to observe speed limits closely. During the hot summer months in Nevada, getting out on the water is the perfect way to cool down!

Cycling

Opt for strenuous outdoor activities during the off-season when temperatures are more moderate. There is an eight mile trail system in the South Fork State Recreation Area, near the BLM South Fork Canyon Recreation Area, and most of these trails are available to cycling enthusiasts. Some of the trails have significant grades They are naturally surfaced, and can have rough sections. Use an appropriate bicycle for cycling activities with wide nubby tires, and don't forget a helmet.

The South Fork State Recreation Area website gives details on which routes are open to cyclists, as well as the grade, slope, surface material, and firmness of the trails, so you can determine which route is most appropriate for your equipment and ability level.

Wilderness Photography

Pick up a camera and prepare to take some shots of the beautiful desert wilderness surrounding the South Fork Canyon Recreation Area. Use the canyon walls for interesting perspectives and lighting, and capture unique geological formations. Bird lovers can photograph a wide variety of birds and waterfowl which flock to the river and reservoir here, as they provide an excellent water source and habitat.

Also attracted by the riparian areas around the river and reservoir are local mammals such as mule deer, beaver, badgers, and kit foxes. The Ruby Mountains soar in the distance, and sagebrush-covered plains stretch out from the BLM site. Sunsets to the west are especially spectacular and provide excellent photographic opportunities