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Elder Creek

Elder Creek and the Angelo Coast Range Reserve

Features: A tributary of the South Fork Eel Wild & Scenic River, Elder Creek can only be described with superlatives.This nearly pristine stream is a National Natural Landmark, Hydrologic Benchmark, and a United Nations recognized Biosphere Reserve. The creek is an important contributor to the South Fork’s anadromous fishery. Federal officials recently identified the creek as essential for the recovery of threatened coho salmon and steelhead. The upper creek segment is in the South Fork Wilderness administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The lower segment flows through the Angelo Coast Range Reserve, which is managed for wild lands research by the University of California, Berkeley.

The South Fork Eel supports the largest concentration of naturally reproducing anadromous fish in the region. Federal officials recently identified the river as essential for the recovery of threatened salmon and steelhead. The upper portion of river is also located on the Angelo Reserve and the lower portion of the river flows through BLM’s South Fork Wilderness, which was established by Congress in 2006.

A short two mile hike from the Preserve Headquarters along the South Fork leads you to the confluence of the river with Elder Creek. The creek has almost a primeval look, framed by old growth forests favored by the threatened northern spotted owl. A seven mile segment of Elder Creek, from its source on Cahto Peak to its confluence with the South Fork was first identified by the BLM as an eligible Wild & Scenic River in 1992 due to its outstanding fish, wildlife, and ecological values. It is proposed for protection as a Wild & Scenic River in Rep. Jared Huffman’s Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act. The river would be administered through a cooperative management agreement between the BLM and the State of California (representing UC Berkeley).

Driving Directions: 
The Reserve is a relatively short 19.4 mile drive from the community of Laytonville in northern Mendocino County, about 3.5 hours north of the Bay Area on Highway 101. The main Reserve access road north of the Reserve headquarters is open from sunrise to sunset to public hiking but not driving. The hike from the Reserve Headquarters to the Elder Creek confluence is an easy 4 mile roundtrip on the main Reserve Road. For directions to the Reserve, a Reserve map, and visitor rules and regulations, click on this link:


Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.