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The Wild Rivers Coast fits its name well

If you’ve ever driven down Highway 199 from Grants Pass to the California/Oregon Coast, you probably want to go back. I’ve been there dozens of times, and I can’t get enough.

I couldn’t invent a better outdoor getaway package than the giant redwoods forests, wild rivers full of salmon and swimming holes, and some of the most dramatic stretches of coastline on the Pacific.

The region between Bandon and  Orick, Calif., is referred to as the Wild Rivers Coast for a good reason. Just inland from the breathtaking ocean scenery and tucked into the rugged Siskiyou Mountains, it's arguably the highest concentration of wild rivers in North America.

If you plan to visit the Wild Rivers Coast, here are three spots I can recommend closest to the Oregon/California border region:

Smith River

Clear, emerald waters allow you to see straight to the bottom of this spectacularly beautiful river. This is the largest undammed river system in California. Most of the Smith River watershed is in a semi-protected status as a National Recreation Area in California, but not the North Fork of the Smith in Oregon. KS Wild has been working with several local residents to protect the North Fork from the threat of industrial nickel mining.

The tallest trees on the planet are at Redwood National and State Parks; the park system reaches its northern extent on the lower Smith. There are developed campgrounds right along Highway 199, including Patrick’s Creek and at the national and state parks. There are also ample off-the-beaten-path opportunities for swimming, hiking or just getting into the backcountry. If I am with my family, I enjoy visiting the easy trails around Stout Grove on the north end of the park system.

While both the South and North Forks of the Smith River can be explored on rafts and kayaks, it requires advanced skill and understanding the river flows, which can vary widely throughout the year. I recommend contacting a guide company such as Momentum River Expeditions or Indigo Creek Outfitters.

Winchuck River

Just to the north of the Smith is the lesser-known Winchuck River. It flows into the Pacific a half-mile north of the Oregon/California border. Here you can find the extreme northern extent of the redwoods, including the only trees of this kind in Oregon. There is concern that climate change will lessen the fog along the coast that these trees need to survive.

I enjoy camping on the Winchuck, especially along Wheeler Creek above where it flows into the river. The campground is called “Ludlum” after a wealthy businessman who in the 1930s built the Ludlum House, a large two-story rustic cabin next to the campground. Recently restored, Ludlum House is rented out by the Forest Service and is a treat if you have a large group.

In winter months when the crowds are mostly gone, this area is rife with wild mushrooms (but do not take any risks with edible mushrooms). Salamander hunts are fun, too! The Klamath-Siskiyou region has the second-highest amphibian diversity in North America and you can often see rough-skinned newts right in Wheeler Creek.

Chetco River

The Chetco River flows into the Pacific near Brookings, about five miles north of the California border, but its origins are deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The Kalmiopsis, one of the most remote wilderness areas in Oregon, was protected as a primitive area even before the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The far upper section of the river is a narrow canyon with steep shoots and massive boulders. If you are an adventure seeker, you can’t go wrong exploring the Chetco. But the upper Chetco is not for the faint of heart and can be quite challenging country to explore. Some outfitters, such as Northwest Rafting Company, offer trips on occasion to this remote and wild river country.

Once the river leaves the wilderness, it opens up and widens. The stretch of river immediately inside and just outside the wilderness was threatened by in-stream mining, but now has short-term protections as Congress considers longer-term protections. Further downriver is Loeb State Park, about eight miles from Brookings on the north side of the river. This park offers a great campground, with river access, including a pleasant riverside trail.

There are several other spectacular streams and rivers worth exploring and it is the sheer density of rivers that makes this area so special. In just over 150 miles of coast, the rivers include (from north to south): New River, Floras Creek, Sixes River, Elk River, Euchre Creek, Rogue River, Hunter Creek, Pistol River, Chetco River, Smith River and the Klamath River.

With the list of rivers like that, there's no better name than the Wild Rivers Coast.

Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.