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The Eel River is a major river system of the northern Pacificmarker coast of the U.S. state of Californiamarker. Approximately 200 miles (320 km) long, it drains a rugged area in the California Coast Ranges between the Sacramento Valley and the ocean. For most of its course, the river flows northwest, parallel to the coast.

The river has both State (1972) and Federal (1981) Wild and Scenic River status. There are classified as Wild and classified as Scenic along the river's course.

The Eel River's watershed of 3,684 square miles (9,537 kmĀ²) is the third largest in California. The river and its tributaries total 3,448 river miles (5,548 km), flowing through five counties.


The river originates on the southern flank of Bald Mountain in northeastern Mendocino Countymarker. It flows southeast, then west, through Mendocino National Forestmarker and Lake Countymarker. It is impounded in Lake Pillsburymarker, the reservoir created by Scott Dam.

Below Lake Pillsbury the Eel River re-enters Mendocino County, turning northwest approximately 15 miles (24 km) east of Willitsmarker. It flows northwest in a long isolated valley, collecting many tributaries including the Middle Fork Eel River and the North Fork Eel River. Between these two tributaries the Round Valley Indian Reservation lies east of the Eel River.

After the North Fork confluence, the Eel River flows through the southwestern corner of Trinity Countymarker then crosses Humboldt County from the southeast to northwest, flowing in a winding course past a series of small mountain communities. The South Fork Eel River joins as the river valley widens. U.S. Route 101 runs along the South Fork Eel River and then the main Eel River's lower course.

After passing Rio Dellmarker, the Eel River is joined by the Van Duzen River. Below that confluence, the Eel passes Fortunamarker and enters the Pacific in central Humboldt County, approximately 15 miles (24 km) south of Eurekamarker.

The Northwestern Pacific Railroad follows a portion of the Eel River.

North Fork

The North Fork Eel River rises in Hettenshaw Valley of Trinity Countymarker west of Mad River Ridge. It flows south through Six Rivers National Forestmarker and the Round Valley Indian Reservation. In its lower course the North Fork Eel River enters Mendocino County before turning west to join the Eel River. It drains and is in length.

Middle Fork

The Middle Fork Eel River rises in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wildernessmarker of Mendocino National Forest, near the Trinity Countymarker/Tehama Countymarker line. It flows southwest and south along the eastern edge of Round Valley, collecting many tributaries such as the North Fork Middle Fork Eel River, Balm of Gilead Creek, Black Butte River, and Elk Creek. The Middle Fork Eel River then flows west for about 15 miles (24 km). It is paralleled by State Route 162 along its last few miles. It meets the main Eel River at Dos Rios. It is the largest of the tributaries and drains .

South Fork

The South Fork Eel River rises in Mendocino County, southwest of Laytonvillemarker. It flows generally north, past Branscomb, Leggett, Piercy, and Benbow. At Benbow, there is a small dam which forms Benbow Lake. Below the dam, the South Fork flows north past Garberville Airportmarker in Garbervillemarker, Redwaymarker, Mirandamarker, and Weottmarker before joining the main Eel River. The drainage area for the South Fork is .

At Phillipsville, a small town near Miranda, the Avenue of the Giants begins paralleling U.S. Route 101 as they follow the South Fork through Humboldt Redwoods State Parkmarker. The Avenue of the Giants was once part of U.S. Route 101 until a freeway bypass was built.

Van Duzen

The Van Duzen River rises in the Hettenshaw Valley and joins the main Eel River south of Fortuna in Humbolt county. It drains .


The three forks of the Eel and their tributaries provide many opportunities for whitewater kayaking and rafting on their upper sections. There are also many miles of river suitable for flatwater boating in the downstream sections. includes rainbow trout, Chinook salmon, and the largest steelhead run in California. Camping and hiking are popular in Richardson Grove State Parkmarker, Humboldt Redwoods State Parkmarker, Six Rivers National Forestmarker and Mendocino National Forestmarker.

River modifications

There are two hydroelectric dams on the Eel, 130-foot (39 m) Scott Dam, which forms Lake Pillsburymarker, and 50-foot (15 m) Cape Horn Dam, which forms Van Arsdale Reservoir just north of Potter Valleymarker. At Cape Horn Dam, a portion of the water is diverted through a tunnel and hydroelectric plant, and then to the headwaters of the Russian River in Potter Valley and is known as the Potter Valley Project (PVP).

See also


  1. "National Wild and Scenic Eel River", The Eel River Reporter, Friends of the Eel River publication Vol.VIII, Summer 2005 p.14
  2. Course info for main Eel River and its Forks mainly from:
  3. Fishing in the Eel River Valley

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