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Yreka to Eureka - CA Hwy 96


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After reading an article about overlooked great rides in California in the current issue of “Friction Zone,” I realized that in all my travels around Northern California I had never ridden Hwy 96 along the Klamath River. So, last weekend I decided to take advantage of the warm weather and head north for a two-day ride thru the Klamath National Forest, over to the northern coast, returning through the Anderson Valley.


After an early start, I hit Yreka for a pit stop/coffee break at about 10 a.m. With clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 60’s, I headed north on the frontage road that turns into 263 (rather than getting back on I-5). Once you clear town, this is a fun little ride that winds along the Shasta River canyon, where it meets the Klamath River and Hwy 96.




From that intersection, I was swept away for the next 3 hours as I followed the twists and turns along the Klamath River, until I reached the end of Hwy 96 at Willow Creek. Starting out, the terrain is relatively barren with lots of vertical rock formations, scrub pine and prairie grass along the canyons. The initial stretch of 96 offers few safe passing opportunities due to the tight, blind turns, and lack of straight sections of road. Fortunately, traffic was almost non-existent, except for the occasion logging truck. I found that the empty ones travel these roads at well over the posted speeds, while the full ones will uses the turn-outs if you are patient.




Eventually, the highway stretches out somewhat, with decent passing intervals and wonderful views of the river. As you head west, the topography also changes, with more foliage and heavier tree coverage as you approach the heart of the logging country. Other than a few rafters, I had the road all to myself for much of the first 70 miles, arriving in Happy Camp about noon, the first “town” along the route. There you’ll find the statue of Big Foot at the entrance to the town. Here the Klamath River Highway also picks up the designation of “Big Foot Scenic Highway.” The town also offers a few places to eat, although I didn’t stop (unfortunately).




The next 45-mile section of Hwy 96 was a mix of fast sweepers, with an occasional set of twisties just to make it interesting. Passing Somes Bar (where the Salmon joins the Klamath River) the traffic was still non-existent, the pavement great.


The temperature reached 70, so it was time to shed some layers. I stopped in the village of Orleans and decided to grab a fast sandwich at the Café/Gas Station/Motel/ and Mining Museum. It was one of the strangest road food places I’ve sampled, featuring the “World’s Largest Collection of Cast Iron Cookware.” (Recommend you stop in Happy Camp.)




About ten miles east of Pekwuteu, the pavement became a mass of tar snakes. It was along this stretch that I also hit two traffic controls for the ubiquitous paving crews. After clearing this congestion and passing some school buses, it was clear road again. The corners tightened as the road began to climb, seemingly stuck to the shear rock walls that towered above the river hundreds of feet below. At one point, the lanes narrowed through a section tight chicanes, vertical canyon wall on one side and steel railings on the other. This is one of the great sections of road that make you want to turn around and run it again. (Ideally, you won’t meet any logging trucks coming through at the same time!


After passing through the tribal village of Hoopa on the river valley floor, the highway climbed through a stretch of wonderful twisties and sweepers for most of the 11 miles to the junction of 299 in Willow Creek.


Here I had the option of turning east and taking 299 all the way to Redding (another great ride). Instead, I turned right and headed west towards Arcata and the Pacific Coast. (Willow Creek is a decent size town and offers plenty of options for food, gas, and lodging.) This section of the Trinity River National Scenic Byway was the perfect ending to a fantastic day on the road. The road continues to wind its way up from Willow Creek, and over the Berry Summit (on four lanes new pavement). From there it’s mostly all down hill, along a great section of sweeping, scenic canyons and vistas of the ocean.


Be advised that this stretch of 299 is well patrolled by the CHP, who use those nasty, low-profile white Dodge Chargers with no markings except for a logo on the doors! Thanks to the flashing headlights of on-coming traffic I was able to slow to legal speed just before a radar trap on a blind corner.


Merging on to 101 south, I headed into Eureka, where I found a cheap motel for the night, then headed back into the “Old Town” section of Eureka for a nice seafood dinner. At the recommendation of one of the locals, I settled on the Sea Grill, on E Street. I was not disappointed! Great seafood, reasonable prices, and excellent service.



William Carson House (Ingomar Club), Eureka


The next morning I was on the road before dawn. It was foggy and 45 degrees, so I stayed behind two cars heading south to avoid the potential deer strike until the sun came up. At that point I had the road pretty much to myself all the way through Redwoods State Park into Garberville. That stretch of Highway 101 is also a magnificent section of highway, especially without all the motor homes and RVs you typically encounter during the summer months.


At Leggett, I picked up Hwy 1 and wound my way along this “mini-Dragon” of sharp twisties and switch-backs, down through a misty Redwood valley to Rockport, and finally the coastline. Again, I had the road all to myself. I cruised along the ocean down to Fort Bragg, where I stopped for breakfast at EggHeads. (This is the place for crab omelets!)




Continuing down the coast, I pasted Mendocino and Albion. Instead of taking 128 east, my usual route towards home, I deferred again to the Friction Zone article and decided to try Philo-Greenwood Road, which starts in Elk and terminates in the town of Philo, west of Booneville on 128.


The road starts out very rough and narrow along a plush ridgeline, climbing over the coastal mountains before it starts to drop down into the wine country of Anderson Valley. It was a fun alternative to 128, but the dips and bumps combined with patches on top of patches in the asphalt keep it from being a great road. Still, I enjoyed the new experience of a “road less traveled.”


Passing through Booneville, I couldn’t help but notice that at least four new wine tasting rooms had opened since my last trip there in the spring. I stopped to get rid of my jacket liner, as the temperature was is the 70’s. Leaving the town, I headed north and east on Hwy 253 towards Ukiah, another great road with lots of twists, turns, and great vistas. Reaching Hwy 101, I went south for a few miles to pick up 175, with lots of tight twisties and fast sweepers. Unfortunately, there was a lot of “rock slides” in the corners.


Picking up Hwy 29, I made my way over to Lower Lake, and then north on 53 through Clearlake. From there it was east on Hwy 20, with one last stretch of fast sweepers and light traffic to Williams. Crossing I-5, it was a straight shot home on 20 all the way to Grass Valley.


Two days of discovering new routes, great roads, and great weather – it doesn’t get much better!


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Great report! Having grown up in Redding and family in Fort Jones I am pretty familiar with most of the places you mentioned.


I only started riding motorcycles a couple years ago and almost the exact ride you just described is on my list of things to do!. I think I would go west on 299 to Hayfork and then hit 36 to the coast. I have driven 299 from Willow Creek to Eureka many times and haven't been on 36 yet.


How did you get from Grass Valley to Eureka? I-5? The long way would be quite long but would be nice, Grass Valley to Truckee to 89 and up through McCloud and MT. Shasta to I-5.


Take Care,



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Thank you for the ride, brings back memories. I did the Klamath River road on my backward way to the UN this July. Great road. What damped my spirit was 108f in the valley. What dampened :) my body was standing over a lawn sprinkler for ten minutes getting soaked from top to bottom at a little shop. At the end of rt. 96 (Willow Creek) I turned East on 299 and spent the night in Weaverville, a nice little place. Next day rt. 36 to 101 and then rt. 1 to the coast. Rt. 1 from Leggett to the coast was TWISTY! The day and my ride ended near Santa Rosa. :cry:

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I think I would go west on 299 to Hayfork and then hit 36 to the coast. I have driven 299 from Willow Creek to Eureka many times and haven't been on 36 yet.


How did you get from Grass Valley to Eureka? I-5? The long way would be quite long but would be nice, Grass Valley to Truckee to 89 and up through McCloud and MT. Shasta to I-5.



I didn't want to get into Eureka after dark, so I took the short route up 5 to Yreka. I did that identical ride to Hayfork and back around Shasta just a few months ago. It is another of the great rides in NorCal! We are totally blessed.

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Dave, it looks like you were riding your 1150. Is the 12RT not your current ride?


I took 299 all the way from 101 to Redding this summer. Started out at he coast at 65F and hit Redding at 103F. Quite a change in climate.

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There was a great little pizza place in Happy Camp we enjoyed lunch some years ago. You didn't mention the Samoa Cook house as an eatery. Historic and had good food, just west of Eureka.

Doing the Lost coast is a fun way back to 101 if a bit out of the way. One looses GPS coverage due to the canopy of trees in the woods.

Hwy 96 is a lot more fun on a solo bike verses the sidecar rig pulling a tent trailer! What was I thinking?

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Hey, I had one of the best burgers of my life at that place in Orleans. I love Hwy 96! Much better than Hwy 3, that goes around the east side of the Trinity Mountains.

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Great report and that is some great route and views...as for 299 that brings back memories of summers in burney ....sorry mind wonders sometimes ...enjoy the ride

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Too bad we missed you as I was there last weekend as well. You didn't miss any food in Happy Camp, we asked for coffee but they didn't make any that day and sent us to the liquor store instead? huh?... In any case we turned off at Somes Bar and traveled along the Salmon River then returned along the Scott River. Stopped in Seiad Valley for pancakes, nice. It was a good weekend in Northern California.

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Nice ride and pics, Dave. A few of us ran it this summer. We agreed that 3/ 299 / 96 / 199 will replace Hwy 36 as our annual NorCal run.

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