A favorite swimming and fishing spot
HIGHLIGHTS: In 1927, a concrete dam was constructed across the South Fork of the Eel River to provide power to the nearby town of Garberville. The project resulted in the creation of Benbow Lake, which quickly gained popularity with locals and motorists driving on US Highway 101. The Benbow family, owners of the lake’s environs and an adjacent inn, petitioned to put the land under state protection to preserve its natural amenities. The first acquisition funds were allocated in 1956, and 207 acres were purchased in 1958. Further land acquisitions followed, and today the recreation area stands at 1,142 acres. In summer 2016, the State of California will remove the dam’s concrete. Swimming in the river, fishing and casual hiking are still popular.
ACTIVITIES: Picnicking, hiking and swimming are all popular activities. Fishing for salmon and steelhead may also be allowed in winter, subject to seasonal regulations.
VISITOR CENTER: The recreation area does not have a visitor center.
CAMPGROUNDS: Due to funding limitations, the campground is closed until further notice. The day use area remains open year-round.
TRAILS: The recreation area’s main route is the Thrap Mill and Pioneer Trails Loop, accessed by parking in the day-use area and fording the river to the trailhead. This 5.5-mile loop passes through stands of old-growth and second-growth redwoods to a site once occupied by an old timber mill, now largely reduced to rusting chunks of iron. The trail also features a view of the historic Benbow Inn.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: The recreation area has long been esteemed for summertime swimming. When the temperatures are high, there are few places on the North Coast that are more pleasant.
HIDDEN GEM: The Thrap Mill Loop provides some historical context on the economy and culture of the North Coast. The decommissioned mill is a testament to the commoditization of the redwood forest, a perspective that has now largely changed – as confirmed by the surviving old-growth trees — to one emphasizing preservation, restoration and limited sustainable harvest.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: None.
DOGS: Allowed on leash in developed areas; not permitted on trails.
ENTRANCE FEE: None.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit the park’s webpage, or call 707-923-3238 in the summer or 707-247-3318 in the winter.
PLACES TO EAT AND STAY: Benbow Historic Inn, next to the recreation area, houses a high-end restaurant and comfortable rooms. Other restaurants and lodging are available in nearby Garberville.
California’s Redwood Coast website (external site) offers resources to help plan your trip to Humboldt County.
On the drive to the park, Regan Ranoa, Outreach Manager, loves to stop at Bluebird Cafe (external link) in Hopland (along 101 heading north to Mendocino or Humboldt) for pie.
STOP: One Log House (external link) for gifts, coffee and fun photo-ops.
Bob Hansen, former President at The Yosemite Fund, suggests staying or dining at the historic Benbow Inn (external link). The Benbow has a great restaurant, bar and outdoor plaza and offers deals off weekends for events like a murder mystery, etc.
DON’T MISS: Regan recommends going farther north and exploring the Avenue of the Giants. Check out our 50 ways to celebrate the parkway!
Tell us your favorite stops, hikes, places to eat, and more when visiting this park!
- Smith River Kayak Tour
- Forest Walk: Meet at Stout Grove Trailhead
- Junior Ranger Program at Jedediah Smith Campground
- Junior Ranger Program: Mill Creek Campground
- Night Sky Viewing
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Acres Protected by the League: 295
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