Most visitors to The Nature Conservancy's McCloud River Preserve come for world-class fly fishing, but this remote location provides great hiking, as well.
A 19-mile drive from Highway 89 in the town of McCloud, Calif., on a rough road, this hidden treasure sits at the intersection of the Cascade Mountains to the north and Sierras to the south. The result is an exceptionally high diversity of plant and animal life. Visitor logs have recorded recent sightings of river otter, bear cubs, deer, rattlesnakes, quail, kingfisher and osprey. Even wolverine and spotted owls have been spotted here.
To reach the McCloud River Preserve, take Interstate 5 south to the McCloud/Route 89 exit. In the town of McCloud, turn right at the gas station onto Squaw Valley Road and set your trip odometer. Bear right at 9.3 miles, staying on FS road 11. At the 11.9-mile mark, turn right at the sign for "Ah-di-na" campground and the McCloud River Preserve. The road gets progressively rougher from this point: high clearance vehicles are recommended. At the 18-mile mark you'll pass the Forest Service "Ah-di-na" campground. Park near the end of the road at the 19-mile mark.
After parking at the end of a U.S. Forest Service road, cross a foot bridge and follow the sign to the preserve, which you'll reach after walking a gently descending, one-third mile walk along the lower McCloud River. At the preserve entrance you will find a picnic area, staff cabins and an information kiosk with variety of interpretive materials and maps.
Anglers, you'll need to sign out one of the five walk-on tags at the kiosk, or wait until someone else is finished and returns a tag. Five additional tags are available by advance reservation. This section of river hosts many carefully guarded fishing holes where anglers have recorded catching rainbow trout longer than 20 inches and brown trout up to 36 inches long. Fishing is catch-and-release only with flies or artificial lures with barbless hooks.
Pick up a trail map here before heading out, as it shows the location of the best swimming holes.
The old-growth Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine and incense cedar growing on this trail are rare in the heavily logged McCloud drainage and are generally confined to the inner-river canyon around this preserve. This pocket of wildness attracted the interest of a group of individuals who purchased the land from the Central Pacific Railroad as a retreat. They donated part of their holding to The Nature Conservancy in 1973.
The three-mile-long trail heading downstream from the buildings first crosses a creek and passes by remnants of pit dwellings constructed long ago by the Wintu tribe. Beneath the larger conifers, you'll find Pacific dogwood and big-leaf maple and an occasional yew. Look carefully on the moister areas of the forest floor and you'll see the heart-shaped wild ginger.
The trail parallels the river for 2.6 miles. Although the trail only has one extended steep climb, it has rocky stretches. In several open spots, you'll find yourself far above the river in a drier ecosystem with canyon live oak. Poison oak is common on this trail, so consider wearing long pants.
Several limestone outcrops offer habitat to two species that occur only in a small area in and adjacent to this preserve: the Shasta salamander and a plant called Shasta eupatory. The trail ends with a sign and rope at the property boundary. Trace your steps to return.
Spring, summer and fall offer unique experiences in the preserve, but check the weather first, as snow and wet conditions can make the already difficult road treacherous.
For more information, visit The Nature Conservancy website at www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/california/preserves/art9786.html or call 530-926-4366.
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.