Updated: Aug 8, 2021
Right smack dab in the middle of bigfoot country, that's where Six Rivers National Forest sits. With its dense evergreen forests, crystal clear rivers overflowing with steelhead and salmon, and steep river canyons-- you'd love this place too if you were sasquatch!
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 219 miles, 2-4 days
Season: May - November
Technical Rating: Green
Typical Terrain: This particular BDT contains more pavement than other BDT routes in California (approx 30% dirt). Consider the alternative route that adds significantly more dirt. Recommended Vehicle: Subaru with all terrain tires.
Adventure Vans: We recommend a 144" Sprinter with 4x4 all terrain tires.
Alternative Routes: Yes! See under route details.
At just under one million acres, Six Rivers National Forest stretches across the length of far Northern California, reaching all the way to the Oregon Border. The Six Rivers Backcountry Discovery Trail traverses the southern portion of the forest from Mendocino County heads north into the heart of Humboldt County. This is bigfoot country, and for good reason, it's perhaps too easy to disappear into the seemingly unending wilderness! But, for those seeking solitude in the mountains, the Six Rivers BDT delivers in spades. This particular version of the Six Rivers BDT follows the original route as marked on National Forest maps, but the route has been extended so that it now terminates on Hwy 299, just west of Willow Creek (home of the once famous bigfoot siting and Bigfoot museum). The route begins in the town of Covelo, where the Mendocino Backcountry Discovery Trail finishes. The Six Rivers BDT heads north on paved country roads for some ways until the trail turns into a well kept forest service road. The scenery along much of the route is mixture of steep mountain slopes covered in mixed coniferous forests and open and rolling grass hills dotted with oak and chaparel. You'll pass through the tiny villages of Kettepom and Zenia as you make your way towards Ruth Lake. Ruth Lake is a hidden gem that's frequented by locals during the warmer months. If you're lucky, you may see even see an osprey or a bald eagle hunting over the lake. Peregrine falcon are also known to frequent the forest. Ruth Lake seems like a thriving bastion of civilization compared to the deserted mountains that surround it (a small gas station, lodging, and couple of restaurants). If you're planning to stay along the lake, consider checking out Fir Cove campground, or Mad River campground to the north (on the banks of the Mad River). From Ruth Lake, the route primarily follows along the banks of the Mad River before heading up to Horse ridge. Be sure to visit the two lookouts along Horse ridge (one of which is abandoned, and the other is staffed during summer and early fall). Horse ridge has some great views of Ruth Lake below, along with some great hidden campsites (if you know where to look, see the Google map!). From Horse Ridge you'll cross the pavement at Hwy 36 as you continue north on the final leg of the journey. On this portion of the BDT, there's a good chance that you'll see more wildlife than humans. The route continues along well kept dirt roads until it meets its northern terminus, at Hwy 299. If you like getting squatchy, consider heading a few miles east on Hwy 299 to Willow Creek, home of Bigfoot Collection Museum. The college town of Arcata (head west towards hwy 101) is another great place to end your adventure with a bite or a drink.
Camping Recommendations Dispersed camping is permitted throughout the National Forest (make sure you are within NF boundaries, as the southern section traverses mostly private property.
Fir Cove Campground
Mad River Campground
Horse Ridge Camp
Recommended Points of Interest
Mad River (south of Ruth Lake)
Horse Ridge fire lookout
Pickett Peak fire lookout
Bigfoot Collection Museum (Willow Creek)
Arcata (college town)
Alternative Dirt Segment Overland Trail Guides has created an alternative re-reroute for the Six Rivers BDT north of Highway 36. The re-route is primarily dirt (unlike the official BDT, which is mostly pavement north of Hwy 36), but has yet to be verified. If you plan to tackle the reroute, plan ahead and carry extra fuel in case you need to turn around.
Six Rivers BDT + Mendocino BDT
For those looking that would like to the Six Rivers BDT, consider linking the Mendocino Backcountry Discovery Trail to the south with the Six Rivers BDT. The end result is a remote adventure in Northern California's wilderness with approximately 400 miles of dirt.
Emerald Triangle Grand Traverse
If you're feeling especially adventurous, consider looking into the the Emerald Triangle Grand Traverse. This route traverses most of the Mendocino and Six Rivers Backcountry Discovery Trails, and connects with a network of dirt roads along the Lost Coast for a truly epic overland adventure that's over 600 miles in length.
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (base map layer, USFS 2016 layer)
Six Rivers National Forest paper map (USFS online map store)
Download GPX files