Located in the far northwest corner of California, the Smith is the only river in the both the federal and state systems that enjoys nearly watershed-wide protection. One of the few undammed rivers in the state, the California Legislature wisely protected the Smith and its tributaries in 1972. The river and most of the tributaries were subsequently added to the federal system at the request of Governor Jerry Brown and upon the approval of Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus in 1981. In 1994, most of the Smith and its tributaries on National Forest lands were re-designated by Congress in legislation establishing the 305,000-acre Smith River National Recreation Area.
The Smith River possesses outstandingly remarkable fish and recreation values. The river’s high water quality and nearly pristine aquatic habitat supports some of the healthiest salmon, steelhead, and coastal cutthroat trout fisheries remaining in California. A combination of unique geology, soils, and climates has created several refuges in the Smith River watershed for rare plants. The Smith offers a wide variety of easy to experts only whitewater boating. Other recreational opportunities include camping, hiking, picnicking, swimming, angling, and sightseeing along the Smith River National Scenic Byway (Highway 199). More than 65 miles of trails provide backcountry access to various river segments and tributaries, as well as access to the Siskiyou Wilderness. The lower Smith River flows through the old growth redwoods, which are a popular tourist destination in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.