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DH12 Happy Camp – Willow Creek
Highway 96
Readers Rating: No. of Ratings: 205  

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Distance:

82.0 mi / 132.0 km

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Video is optimized for broadband access. Wide-angle lenses used to record video straighten the curves out. For a truer sense of twistiness watch the mirror dip .


At a Glance

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest road of all? Well actually, DH1 dwells in a different region. But not to worry. Though its Character’s not perfectly snow-white, even Grumpy would love this long, remote and pretty-darn-fair ride along the rugged cliffs of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers down from Happy Camp. The Engineering of its steady, Sleepy curves along the Klamath and tight esses along the Trinity either side of Hoopa is certainly nothing to get Sneezy at. And while its Pavement shows signs of age here and there, all it needs is a little attention from the Docs at CalTrans. With so little traffic on the empty, undeveloped northern eighty-per cent of this ride, you’ve got a sporting chance to slow down a bit before Dopey flicks on the radar. So c’mon, don’t be Bashful. Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to bike we go.

 

Access
From Happy Camp
Coming in on DH50 O’Brien, OR – Happy Camp
Turn right on Hwy 96. You’re on the road.
Coming in on DH23 Yreka – Happy Camp (Hwy 96)
Keep going straight on Hwy 96. When you leave Happy Camp, you’re on the road.

From Willow Creek
Coming in on DH31 Blue Lake (Arcata) – Willow Creek (Hwy 299)
Coming in on DH13 Weaverville – Willow Creek (Hwy 299)
Go north on Hwy 96. You’re on the road.

On The Road

TOUR NOTE: There are many marked river access spots along the Klamath River. They can be a little hazardous to access on a bike, though, unless you’re particularly skilled at turning around a fully loaded tourer in deep gravel. As a result, you may want to sus it out on foot before riding down. Or leave your bike at the top.

You’re on a narrow bit of benchland for first couple miles out of Happy Camp, one that provides enough space for some cottages, campers and a small field before the steepening slope puts an end to all that. At 2.0 mi (3.2 km), the highway starts to look like a motorcycle road, sweeping against a bare rock cliff looking across a wild river at an unspoiled background of thickly-treed mountains.

The road continues to curve as it rises and falls along the riverbank. A few horizontal tar strips patch the winter cracks on this pretty ride along the river. The left roadside either shoots up sharply as granite cliffs or angles up gently as brown and silver-green grassland clustered with yew, black oak, Ponderosa Pine and juniper. It’s an easy ride, too, with good visibility around most of the big sweepers.

There’s a surprise house perched on a rare bit of flat as you cross the Clear Creek Bridge at 8.1 mi (13.0 km). Despite his screwing around with this DH’s remoteness, you can understand why this suburban pioneer would decide to plant his footings above this visually striking stretch of river.

Fortunately, Clear Creek won’t be turning into another Weaverville very soon. The pitched right hand slope quickly re-establishes its presence, though it’s overshadowed by the lichen-tinged bluff that bulges forcefully out into the river from the other side. A tunnel of foliage temporarily blocks the view, but soon the dominant theme re-emerges: a lonely road curling steadily along the river with layers of mountains in the distance fading from green to blue.

Just when you think you’re finally moving into the Siskiyou Wilderness, there’ll be a couple of mailboxes like the ones by the Independence River access at 11.5 mi (18.5 km) to spoil the sensation. Not that there aren’t plenty of other sensations to focus on. Like that feeling of suspending your weight over blurred pavement, surrendering to the forces of speed and gravity.

The fast sweepers continue, twisting off into the distance. And in the distance, they get even better. Esses link up, starting at 15.4 mi (24.8 km), carrying you along two sections of chalky cliffs. Looking down at the river from the high vantage point at 16.1 mi (25.9 km), the river appears as still as mirrored glass. If only H-D would hurry up and produce an amphibious motorcycle. Hey, after the V-Rod, anything’s possible.

“Bicycles Next 20 Miles” reads the sign at 17.5 mi (28.2 km). Sigh. It seems that wherever you have a quiet, scenic, well-paved road, you can always trust Mr. and Mrs. Spandex to try and get into the act. Given the sweeping nature of most of the curves on this road, maybe you can let them have the paved shoulder all to themselves this time. All six inches of it.

There’s a bit of straightening now as the terrain plateaus into a bench spun with trees and gold grass. But it’s brief. At 18.9 mi (30.4 km) a pair of sweepers signal the commencement of another lean-lady-lean set of twisties. The road contorts as it dives downward into a steep gorge, passing the Dillon Creek BCG at 21.3 mi (34.3 km).

You cross the river for the first time at 22.1 mi (35.6 km). The bank is not as steep on this side but the road’s still nice and sweepy. Since the road never wavers from its course along the river, this gives you the variety of the opposite bank’s perspective on the river and surrounding mountains. The terrain’s gentler, though, and this takes its toll when you enter a short section of straight at 24.4 mi (39.3 km). No cause for alarm as there are many more curves to come.

Indeed, the road starts to gently curve again as soon as 25.8 mi (41.5 km) -- right about the point the pavement takes a downturn. You don’t see much of the river here, just the slope off to the right angling down through mixed, interleafed forest. The trees covering the contoured mountains, ridges and vales create a soft, fairytale scene.

The river reappears at 28.2 mi (45.4 km) and with the slight eastward shift, you can make out the blue, bear-market shape of Offield Mtn. You lose the scenery as the DH rallies with a run of shallow curves. But then at 29.9 mi (48.1 km), you get it all—a long, steep, sweeper steers you around a steep rockface to a wide view over and across the river.

There are a few impressive curves as you negotiate downwards at 31.9 mi (51.3 km) toward the river crossing. But the dramatic span of the H. Lyle Davis Memorial Bridge itself is far more impressive. As is the fact that CalTrans had the class to name it after the heavy equipment operator whose number came up while building it.

At 35.9 mi (57.8 km), Sugarloaf Rock, a big piece of mossy rock reminiscent of a chia pet gets thrown into the scenic mix. It overlooks Somes Bar, the confluence of the Salmon and Klamath Rivers and locale of the Pic-Ya-Wish Ceremonial Site at 36.6 mi (58.9 km). So that’s what’s going on here. You’ve been wishing upon a star for a remote, winding, well-engineered road with no traffic and nary an STC. And your wish is finally being granted.

Salmon River Rd (TE-A) turns off left at 37.9 mi (60.1 km). Then a bridge takes you across the deep gorge of Salmon River and into Humboldt County. The jurisdictional change makes no difference to the scenery, however. At 38.9 mi (62.6 km), you glimpse the road ahead twist atop an enormous face that verticals straight down to the river. Think it looks great? It feels even better. The 39.4 mi (56.2 km) mark puts you into the first S-curves you’ve seen in a while.

By 40.7 mi (65.5), the road has resumed its familiar, gently winding form. The scene changes a little as you gradually descend. The white foam of the riffling river bubbles beneath black and brown cliffs across the way. At 96 degrees in the shade, chances are you’ll be in that water before this ride is out. Even if it does require a trip down a third world road to one of the gravel river access bars to get to it.

The curves undergo some minor tightening at 42.2 mi (67.9 km). But just as things were starting to feel like they might get interesting again, a sign welcomes you to Orleans at 43.8 mi (70.5 km) and you cross the river into town. Orleans is a bit of a disappointment, too. Its French Quarter offers a choice of the Bigfoot Country Store and the Orleans Market Pizza & BBQ. Oh, well. C’est la vie.

The speed zone’s back up to 55 mph (90 kmh) at 45.3 mi (72.9 km). You cross Camp Creek and begin a long, steady, increasingly-curvy descent along the west side of the river. The pavement roughs up a bit at 48.4 mi (77.9 km), probably a result of the crumbly slopes and rockfaces that get in your face as you ess gently along the slope. At 51.1 mi (82.2 km), the pavement resumes its fine form. And so do you.

Despite its high rating for scenery, this DH has few real mind blowing scenic events. Its attractiveness lies in the consistent reel of low treed mountains, rock faces and river perspectives that unfold before you in different ways as you travel southeast through the rugged Siskiyou, Marble and Salmon Ranges. The scene at 52.2 mi (84.0 km) offers a classic example. From the Slate Creek crossing, the road ahead banks upward off the river, climbing the glinting, slate slopes that lie bald beneath a tousled combover of trees .

The river curves off to the left while the road turns to the right at 53.4 mi (85.9 km). You cross the steep-sided Bluff Creek, then the highway nips behind a huge rocky knoll that marks the creek’s confluence with the Klamath River. Now the steepness is on your left in the form of a bare, dominating curtain of rock that hides the river on the other side.

The road continues to sweep respectably through the rock and treed landscape, toward the distinctive outline of Mill Creek Ridge. The buildings on the left at 54.8 mi (88.2 km) are part of the low-key Bluff Creek Resort. You’re back along the river at 57.3 mi (92.2 km) where you cross the Yurock Reservation Boundary. And you do indeed rock, all the way through the steady curves that carry you across the Klamath to Weitchpec, the townlet where the Trinity and Klamath Rivers meet at 59.2 mi (95.3 km).

You were riding downriver on the Klamath. Now you’re riding upriver along the Trinity. Though you wouldn’t know it at first as you move into a deeply treed section. The mega-foliage is short lived and you emerge along a slope to your first clear view of the Trinity River at 60.7 mi (97.7 km). There’s nothing short-lived about the mega-curves, though. They continue and get tighter to boot, a trend exemplified by the particularly sphincter-clenching sweeper at 61.3 mi (98.6 km).

Your whole tire is in play as the sweetest piece of this road so far flits in an out of the trees, winding and weeping along cliffs above the river. At 63.2 mi (101.7 km), the DH narrows, with the expected twisty consequences. Despite the tightness of the corners, visibility is outstanding around most of them. And with the pavement holding its own, there’s no reason not to be adding that little extra wear to the outer edges of your rubber. Unless it’s that rather-too-cliff-like slope that pitches off to the right.

The tight stuff climaxes with a long chain of S-curves hanging precariously over the river, clinging to a sharp, extruding rockface. Then, more moderate esses take over, winding you down to the Indian town of Hoopa at 66.7 mi (107.3 km). What’s the Hoopa all about? It sure ain’t the straightaway that bisects the long and wide Hoopa Valley.

This broad valley seems particularly vast compared to the narrow, steep sides of the Klamath. That may be interesting enough that you’re not immediately thrown by the sudden development, lack of curves and inevitable speed zone. But by the time you hit Hoopa’s uneven block of services at 69.3 mi (111.5 km), the novelty has long worn off.

Doo de doo de doo de…. Hey, what happened? After the drab straightness along the river, the DH surprises you with a curve. But Hoopa’s not a memory yet. After all, if the land’s flat, you’ve gotta put buildings on it. Or at least some junked out cars. You’re not officially out of this tidbit of scenic misery until the river bends at 73.6 mi (118.4 km). And takes the road with it.

This was worth the wait. Smooth, brilliantly engineered pavement lashes up a steep granite slope. There’s a commanding view of the Trinity River before the blacktop contorts into the thick trees. Despite the mostly forested setting, sightlines are great. As is the feeling you get as you hone your cornering technique on this virtually faultless piece of road.

You know it’s over when you notice an RV Park on your left at 79.1 mi (127.27 km). Nothing against alternative lifestyles, but why here? Not that it matters; the land has flattened out again, leaving few if any curves for these burly pylons to negotiate on the final miles to Hwy 299 and the not-so princely town of Willow Creek, at 82.0 mi (132.0 km).

Twisted Edges
TE-A Somes Bar – Butler Flat (7.0 mi / 11.3 km) Salmon River Rd
Why is the first 7.0 mi (11.3 km) of Salmon River Rd paved and engineered like a fantasy when the rest of route to Cecilville hasn’t been upgraded since about the year Grimm’s Fairy Tales were written? Maybe when we’re older, we’ll understand. Meanwhile, just enjoy the reverie of this enchanted, traffic-free stretch of road through the riverside woods.

TOUR NOTE: Butler Flat, right down beside the river, provides a natural spot to stop before turning around and heading back. For braver souls, the road continues as a paved, but mostly one-lane goat path for another 27.6 mi (44.4 km) to Cecilville. There are some extremely precarious sections where this sullivan is crumbling away atop a straight drop down to the Salmon River and is so narrow, you’d be lucky to get a trike through by itself, let alone edge past a pylon coming the other way. Your reward for taking your life in your hands? Direct access to the fabulous DH2 Cecilville - Callahan.

 

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    Rider Reviews:

    'Rode from I-5 to Willow Creek and back to Happy Camp. Pavement in generally good condition, but much road construction near Willow Creek in the tight areas. Occasional stones in roadway, and lots of squirrels. On 96 sometimes I catch myself just smiling and laughing. Ha!' --scritch

    'Little traffic, great sweepers and twisties. One of my favorite roads. Keep your eyes open for STCs and Park Rangers. Add DH23 to Yreka to continue the fun.' --Shaun Gallant

    'Good road, very scenic. ' --Ron Leonard

    'Good road for relaxed riding-no traffic.' --Jim Hodson

    'We did this ride in August with, as the book indicates, very little traffic. Great ride!!' --Dave Tanchak

    'Scenic. Relaxing. Remote (a half-dozen cars in 132km/83 mi...maybe).' --Angus Noble

    'I just did this ride. It's really great!' --Richard Andrade

     

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