Exploring the Eel River Valley

In the Eel River Valley


Loleta has one of the most scenic vistas of the lower Eel River Valley. You can view dairy farms, the Pacific Ocean, and a historic bank building. You can visit the Loleta Cheese Factory, a small family-run business dedicated to the production of fine tasting quality natural cheeses. The medal winning Monterey Jack and Cheddar Cheeses can be sampled in the tasting room along with a dozen other types of cheeses, and the manufacturing of cheeses can be observed through a large viewing window. Visitors are always welcome.

Historic Fern Bridge

Fern Bridge

The beautiful Fern Bridge is a multi-arched historic concrete bridge which crosses the Eel River, allowing entry to broad pastures and the City of Ferndale, a charming Victorian village with its shops, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and beautifully-preserved buildings. Construction on the bridge started in 1911 and is the only bridge on the Eel that has survived many floods and earthquakes. This State and Historic Monument is the oldest reinforced concrete bridge in the existing California Highway network (and was the largest when it was built,) and it has withstood everything the Eel River has been able to throw against it. The bridge had replaced a ferry that had been in service for many years.

Biking and Hiking

The Humboldt Redwoods State Park has been rated as one of the top ten mountain biking areas in the country. Cars are not allowed on the bike trails. Most of the roads are well graded and offer cyclists the option of riding side by side. The rides range from easy to difficult. Contact the Visitor Center in the Park to obtain a trail map at 707-946-2263.


The Eel River from Myers Flat to where the South Fork enters the main tributary offers a beautiful wild and scenic place to canoe or kayak. This easy, class 1.5 run passes the Garden Club of America Grove and the Rockefeller Forest. These areas represent the largest remaining old-growth Redwood forest. Ospreys usually nest along the river here, and wood ducks, common mergansers, and river otters often can be seen.

The boating season on the South Fork is from November through mid-June. The best times are March through April but can be windy in the afternoons. Summer has lower stream flows and pleasantly warm water better suited for swimming. Canoeing on the main fork of the Eel is also spectacular, but can be windy in the summer months.


Over 450 species of birds have been spotted in Humboldt County. During the annual Christmas bird counts, the Ferndale area has been consistently in the top twenty bird counts of more than 1,600 held annually in North America.

Whale Watching

Gray Whales migrate south along the coast from December through May. They return from January through May. The mother whales and their young travel through the area in April and May very close to land and can frequently be seen. Two excellent observation sites are Table Bluff and the bluffs just south of Centerville Beach.

Table Bluff County Park and Eel River Refuge

The 170 foot cliff above the Pacific Ocean at Table Bluff has an excellent view of Humboldt Bay to the north and of the Eel River Delta to the south. The wildflowers here are beautiful in the spring. You can hike along the beach to the south through the Eel River Wildlife Refuge. Take the Hookton Road exit on Highway 101 and follow it west 5 miles to the Park.

Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Humboldt Bay is one of the most important stopover areas along the Pacific Flyway. The Bay is the winter home for thousands of migratory ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds. More than 200 bird species, including 80 kinds of water birds and four endangered species regularly visit the Bay. The Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge currently includes 2,200 acres of seasonal wetlands, salt marshes, grassland, open bay, and mudflats, with an ultimate goal of 8,935 acres.

The peak viewing season for most species of water birds and raptors is September through March. The number of water birds peaks from mid-March to late April. Summer visitors will see many gulls, terns, cormorants, pelicans, egrets and herons. Waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, harbor seals and river otters are visible throughout the year.

Ducks in a pond

Wildlife observation and waterfowl hunting are the principal public uses of the Humboldt Bay Refuge. The total number of visitors averages 15,000 to 17,000 per year.

The refuge has two interpretive trails. Peak viewing season for most species of waterbirds and raptors is September through March. Black Brant and migratory shorebird populations peak from mid-March to late April. Summer visitors will see many gulls, terns, cormorants, and pelicans; as well as resident egrets and herons. Waterfowl, raptors (including osprey), and harbor seals are visible throughout the year.

One trail is open seven days per week during daylight hours (Hookton Slough Trail), and one is open seasonally during refuge office hours (Shorebird Loop Trail). The Hookton Slough Trail follows a tidal slough 1.5 miles out along the south edge of Humboldt Bay. The 3-mile distance (round trip) passes along grasslands, freshwater marsh, mudflats, and open water. Look for herons and egrets, as well as shorebirds, waterfowl, and harbor seals. The 1.75-mile Shorebird Loop Trail passes near some of the refuge's best shorebird viewing areas. The trail affords a good overview of the diverse seasonal wetlands; an optional side trail takes you to the refuge's largest permanent freshwater pond. Interpretive panels along the way illustrate the refuge's wildlife resources and habitat management practices. Look for shorebirds, waterfowl, songbirds, tree frogs, and river otters. Waterfowl, snipe, and coot hunting occurs on five of the seven units of the refuge. An estimated 1,000 hunters utilize the refuge annually.

Wildlife viewing from a boat can be excellent. However, boaters should be aware that tides, wind, and weather change rapidly on Humboldt Bay. There are currently four public boat launches on the Bay; the refuge is currently in the process of building a dock for launching small, non-motorized boats at the Hookton Slough Trail parking area.

Humboldt Bay and tidal sloughs are open to fishing year-round. Areas separated from the Bay by land, such as creeks and flooded areas behind levees, are closed to fishing. The Hookton Slough Trail is open to shore fishing; access to other areas is by boat. Guided walks are provided on the Lanphere Dunes Unit on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Camp Weott Guide Services

Tour the river channels and salt marshes where the Eel River meets the sea. Wildlife abounds in the area, which is the focal point for the annual Centerville Christmas Bird Count. In recent years, the count has averaged over 150 species. Shore birds, loons, song birds, cormorants, hawks, egrets, geese, herons, ducks, and kingfishers- you may see any or all. Larger mammals seen here include harbor seals, river otters, sea lions, black-tailed deer, bobcat, raccoon, fox, porcupine, striped and spotted skunk, and various species of rabbit.

Much of the Delta can be reached only by boat, and at the turn of the century was an important Humboldt County seaport. With the abandonment of shipping due to the hazardous bar, most of the area has reverted to a wild state, with only an occasional rotting piling to note man's earlier presence.

Naturalist Bruce Slocum, a Coast Guard licensed operator, has lived in the area most of his life and invites you to explore the Delta with him. Bruce will tell you the history of the Delta and how large ships used to go up the Salt River as you travel down the river to the Pacific. The two-hour tours are by appointment and leave two hours before high tide. Rowboat and canoe rentals are also available, as are special charters and tours. Call 707-786-4187 or 707-786-4902.

Centerville Beach

Centerville Beach is five miles west of Ferndale on Centerville Road. Turn right onto Ocean Avenue from Main Street at the south end of Ferndale and travel towards the ocean. The Park provides access to 9 miles of ocean beach. Dairy farms back the wild beach to the north and steep cliffs are to the south. A large cross overlooks Centerville Beach. The cross memorializes travelers who died when a steamer sank offshore in 1860.

Sandpipers scurry along the water's edge and cormorants, gulls, and pelicans fly along the water. Harbor seals can be seen peering curiously from the breakers. From mid-November to March, one of the largest coastal congregations of Tundra Swans can be found in the Eel River Bottoms north of Centerville Road.

Ferndale's Russ Park

Russ Park was donated by Zipporah Patrick Russ in 1920 "as a park...and refuge and breeding place for birds." More than 100 varieties of birds have been seen in the park. The Park is 105 acres and has 3 miles of trails with a Sitka Spruce forest which is more rare than Redwoods. Russ Park can be reached by turning left at the south end of Main Street onto Ocean Street and traveling 3/4 mile to the gravel parking area on the right.

Fortuna's Eel River Overlook and Walkway

Get up close and personal with the Eel River. Check out the webcam!

From the Overlook, walk or mountain bike north or south along the levee. The Overlook parking lot is located next to River Lodge on Riverwalk Drive west of the Highway 101 Kenmar Road interchange in Fortuna. The Eel's placid summer flow is a stark contrast to the sometime furious and turbulent winter force.

Fishing in the Eel River is a pale shadow of its former glory, but the scenery on the lower Eel River near Fortuna is breathtaking. Bright silver King Salmon leaping into the air, ducks, seals and river otters, deer, Blue Heron, osprey, and even an occasional Bald Eagle or elusive mountain lion sighting bear witness to the area's bounty of wildlife.

North of the Overlook is the North Coast Drought Tolerant Demonstration Garden and Fortuna's newest public area, a diamond in the rough, Ogburn Park.

Cape Mendocino and the Tour of the Unknown Coast

Take the Wildcat Road in Ferndale to Cape Mendocino, Petrolia, Honeydew and then to Rockefeller Forest and back to Highway 101. This area is known as the Lost Coast because of its remoteness. This 100-mile loop drive takes about six hours and is beautiful, passing through some of the prettiest back country in Humboldt county, with beautiful views of rivers, the ocean and mountains. Many car commercials are filmed in this area. The road is narrow and winding in places (not recommended for RV's) so take a picnic lunch and make a day of it.

Capetown is a tiny settlement about 45 minutes from Ferndale. Further south, Cape Mendocino is the western-most point in the continental United States, and offers breath-taking ocean vistas. During the winter, ocean waves may wash onto the road.

Lighthouse Road near Petrolia offers a four-mile-hike south along the beach to the lighthouse. Petrolia was named that because the first oil well in California was drilled there. East of Petrolia is A.W. Way County Park, with picnic tables, restroom and river access.

After passing through Honeydew, travelers will climb Rainbow Ridge, nearly a half-mile high, and pass through Panther Gap before dropping back down into the Rockefeller Forest, over ten thousand acres of the largest virgin redwood forest in the world. Take a short hike to the "Flat Iron Tree".


The Eel River Valley


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