South Fork Eel River Wilderness


Designated in 2006 by the US Congress, South Fork Eel River Wilderness is a popular destination for both water and land-based outdoor activities. A total of 20 square miles, spread between two units, the Red Mountain Unit and the Cahto Peak Unit, is the perfect natural playground for visitors. Although this Bureau of Land Management property does not allow any motorized vehicles on its grounds, both units are accessible from US Highway 101.

Visitors shouldn't expect any services or facilities on this BLM land. Primitive, dry camping is the only option for campers wishing to stay overnight here. You will need to bring all your equipment, food, and water. If more luxurious camping is your goal, developed camping is available at nearby Richardson Grove State Park and Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area.

The most common activities at South Fork Eel River Wilderness are related to water-based recreation. These include fishing, swimming, boating, and rafting. In spite of this, visitors also get to enjoy hiking and horseback riding within the park areas. Other things to do are photography, wildlife viewing, bird watching, hiking, and cycling.

RV Rentals in South Fork Eel River Wilderness



The Red Mountain Unit in the South Fork Eel River Wilderness is located three miles northeast of Leggett, California. This unit is accessible by traveling US Highway 101 to Piercy and exiting at Frontage road and traveling to the Red Mountain Access Road. The route passes through private property, so look out for signs that indicate such areas.

The Cahto Peak Unit in this BLM wilderness is located ten miles west of Laytonville, California. Access to this unit is also from US Highway 101 at Laytonville, along Cahto Peak Road.
At South Fork Eel River Wilderness, motorized vehicles are not allowed. Park vehicles on the edge of the park and trek in on foot, by bike, or on horseback. No direct public transportation is available to the South Fork Eel River Wilderness.

For visitors who prefer to get a trailer or motorhome for developed camping opportunities nearby, rental equipment is available at Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area.


Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in South Fork Eel River Wilderness

Campsites in South Fork Eel River Wilderness

Reservations camping

Standish-Hickey SRA Campgrounds

Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area offers camping opportunities in three campgrounds, at least one of which is open year-round for camping and recreation. One of the campsites is designated for hikers and bicyclists without cars, while the other two are open for RV camping. Tent camping is offered in all three campgrounds. Pets are allowed.

Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and reservations are also accepted. The maximum trailer length that can be accommodated is 24 feet, while campers and motorhomes that exceed 27 feet cannot be accommodated in the campsites.

Facilities and amenities available include restrooms, showers, potable water, food lockers, and fire grills. Parking pads are also available. Recreational activities like fishing, picnicking, and swimming are popular among campers.

Seasonal activities in South Fork Eel River Wilderness



The South Fork Eel River is home to the largest concentration of naturally reproducing anadromous fish within the wilderness region. The river is an essential resource in the bid to recover threatened steelhead and salmon species.

If you wish to enjoy fishing in this BLM wilderness, then you should visit in the fall and winter as these are the peak fishing seasons. Catch-and-release fishing is sometimes allowed in the park. A valid California fishing license is required for anglers 16 years and older.


Eel River derives its name from the Pacific lamprey, a common fish species in the area. However, the area is not known for its fish alone. Other wildlife such are black-tailed deer, black bears, gray foxes, river otters, and mountain lions thrive in the South Fork Eel River Wilderness and surrounding areas.

In addition to these wildlife species, it is not uncommon for bird watchers in the wilderness to spot owls, eagles, osprey, blue heron, and hawks soaring in the skies above.


Diverse plant species are present within South Fork Eel River Wilderness. Both units feature unique plant communities influenced by the prevalent landscape and soil type. The Red Mountain Unit, for instance, consists of an area of red-tinted soil that gives rise to the growth of both cypress and pine trees interspersed with undergrowth of low brush.

The Cahto Peak Unit, on the other hand, has many watersheds of Douglas fir forests perfect for exploration.


Elk Creek

Elk Creek is a tributary of the South Fork Elk River and a popular creek that has been named as a National Natural Landmark, UN-recognized Biosphere Reserve, and Hydrologic Benchmark. These recognitions are because the creek is an important contributor to the anadromous fishery of the South Fork River.

Hunting opportunities are open to visitors who fancy the sport and are appropriately licensed. Huntable wildlife in the creek includes waterfowl, coot, and snipe.

Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek acts as a crucial wildlife corridor between the South Fork Eel River and the East Branch South Fork Eel River. The creek is considered a wild and scenic river by the Bureau of Land Management due to the old-growth forests, high-quality anadromous fish habitat, spotted owl nesting sites, and rare plant communities found in and around the creek.

Visitors can expect excellent fishing and bird watching opportunities in the creek and its surrounding areas.

Boating and Swimming

There are plenty of opportunities for visitors at South Fork Eel River Wilderness to enjoy water-based recreation due to the presence of water bodies in the region. The Eel River offers class IV-V whitewater rafting opportunities for boating enthusiasts.

The South Fork Eel River, even though twisty, is also open and conducive to boating for most of the year. Pools deep enough for swimming and pristine sandy beaches are scattered throughout the wilderness area.