The National Wild and Scenic Eel River


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The Eel River watershed is a magnificent resource in North Coastal California. Running south to north, this watershed is the state’s third-largest, covering 3,684 square miles. Stretched out, the river and its tributaries would be 3,448 miles long. The mainstem stretches more than two hundred air miles and over 800 river miles from the headwaters above Lake Pillsbury in Lake County to the ocean.

The Eel River has received both State (1972) and Federal (1981) Wild and Scenic River designation, a title which is to protect the river from dams and ensure that environmental concerns rank equally with development and industry. However, Eel River water, fish, and ecosystem have been and continue to be consistently violated and exploited.

Classification/Mileage: Wild — 97.0 miles; Scenic — 28.0 miles; Recreational — 273.0

Four major tributaries contribute to the Eel:

The Van Duzen River tributary starts in the northern end of the Hettenshaw Valley, entering the Mainstem Eel just south of Fortuna in Humboldt County and covers 420 square miles.

Starting in the south end of the Hettenshaw Valley, the North Fork tributary drains 286 square miles, is 35 miles long, and flows only in Trinity County.

The Middle Fork is the Eel’s largest tributary. It rises in the Yolla Bolly Mountains in Trinity County. After being joined by Black Butte River, which flows from the north side of Hull Mountain in Mendocino County and joins the Middle Fork just east of Covelo in Round Valley, this fork travels 70 miles to the west through some of the most rugged wilderness in the state, draining 753 square miles. It joins the mainstem Eel at Dos Rios, the popular put-in place for rafters and kayakers making the four-day run through the famous Eel River canyon to Alderpoint.

The South Fork is the only major tributary that joins the mainstem from the west. The South Fork begins in Mendocino County south of Laytonville traveling west before heading almost due north, through ancient redwood forests, for a total of 105 miles, draining 689 square miles, joining the Mainstem just south of Pepperwood. It is along this tributary that highway 101 travels.


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