California may be a sport tourer’s paradise, and if that’s so, then northern California is the Garden of Eden. And there can be no doubt that the serpent lurking within is California Highway 96. Winding through the Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests, tracing the Klamath River and Trinity River much of the way, this road is a rider’s dream.
From Interstate 5 to Willow Creek
CA-96 is easy to find and convenient to work into a tour plan. The highway connects Interstate 5 at its north end with Willow Creek to the south where it meets up with CA-299.
California Highway 299, another excellent road, stretches from the Pacific Coast near Arcata to Redding and continues from there farther east. Both Interstate 5 and CA-299 give riders equally convenient options to jump on CA-96 whether traveling from the north or south.
The resulting route on CA-96 forms a 146 mile arc of thrilling road through two spectacular national forests.
End to end, this 146 mile two lane riding experience is packed with curves. Some are tight blind corners cut into steep hillsides, others are a quick sequence of left-rights with good visibility from one to the next. For the most part the pavement is excellent, but pay attention to rockslide warning signs, particularly through blind corners.
The landscape varies from arid hillsides to lush forests. The Klamath and Trinity Rivers bring green trees and grass to the canyon floor but leave the hills waiting for rain. Forest trees dominate the horizon between Happy Camp and Willow Creek while the river continues to follow in the canyon below. Even among the trees and nearby river, views open to the surrounding hills
Gas is available along the way, but the number of stations is limited between Interstate 5 and Willow Creek. Riders should top up at either end point before setting out. Likewise, there are not many cafes on the route.
What to Look For
Randolph E Collier Rest Area and Visitor Center
Located off I-5, this expansive rest area also hosts a welcome center where one can pick-up maps and other information about Northern California. It might be easy to confuse the rest area with a state park. Don’t miss the walking trails along the banks of the Klamath River.
California Highway 3
This story is all about CA-96, but it’s important to mention California Highway 3, another equally good road in the area. In the unfortunate event CA-96 is closed, as can be the case during fire season, CA-3 offers a great alternative. The road runs between Yreka and Weaverville through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It is easily accessed from CA-293 off CA-96 in the north and CA-299 at Weaverville in the south. A couple of the hairpin turns on CA-3 are the sharpest and steepest we’ve seen anywhere – including Mount Evans and Pikes Peak. Fortunately, the highway is lightly traveled giving riders plenty of breathing room on the road.
A historic town along Highway 96, Happy Camp is an ideal stop for coffee or snacks. In addition, as of this writing, there is one gas station available. Happy Camp is best known for river rafting and hiking trails to the surrounding Marble Mountains.
Tish-Taing a din Village Vista Point
The Tish-Taing a din Village Vista Point looks across the river to the ancestral home of the Hupa Tribe. The site offers cultural information about the Hupa Tribe and their surrounding reservation as well as an opportunity to enjoy views of the Trinity River.
River or Road?
Roads along rivers bring together the best of sport touring. Meandering twisting pavement and incredible natural beauty. Choosing where to focus, a tight turn or an expansive view, is a high-class problem that exists in spades on California Highway 96.
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