The Omnibus Oregon Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1988 designated 44.5 miles of the Chetco River as Wild & Scenic, from its headwaters in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness down to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest boundary just above Loeb State Park. The designated segment of the Chetco is located within Curry County in southwest Oregon on the Gold Beach Ranger District. The Chetco Wild & Scenic River is divided into three segments:
- The 27.5-mile Wild segment from the headwaters down to Mislatnah Creek;
- The 8.0-mile Scenic segment from Mislatnah Creek down to Eagle Creek; and
- The 11.0-mile Recreational segment from Eagle Creek down to the RRSNF boundary.
The head of the Chetco River is in the steep, sparsely vegetated, mountainous terrain of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Over its 55.5 mile length, the Chetco River drops from 3700 feet to sea-level as it empties into the Pacific Ocean between the towns of Brookings and Harbor. In the upper section, the river floor is fairly narrow and boulder-strewn with numerous falls and rapids. As the river leaves the wilderness, its character gradually changes. The terrain gradually tempers its rugged steepness, the river gradient gradually lessens, the river bottom widens, and the surrounding hills become more densely forested. The Chetco River Gorge, just below Steel Bridge, contains steep sides and unusual rock formations. Below this, the Chetco River continues to widen, the water slows dramatically, and sand and gravel bars and raised river terraces become more common.
The Chetco River receives healthy runs of large winter steelhead and fall Chinook salmon. Licensed fishing and rafting guides and shuttle services are available to float this section on the RRSNF. The river fishes well when flows are between 2,000 and 4,000 cubic feet/second (cfs) and the levels are receding. Side-drifting for winter steelhead and back-bouncing for Chinook salmon are preferred methods of fishing this stream, although other tactics will catch fish.
The Chetco River has three Outstandingly Remarkable Values:
Water Quality was selected as an Outstandingly Remarkable Value based on its striking color and clarity, its ability to clear quickly following storm events, its contribution to both recreation and fisheries, and its contribution of exceptionally pure and clean water for the domestic water supplies of Brookings and Harbor.
The Chetco River fishery has important populations of anadromous winter steelhead, fall Chinook salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout. The Chetco provides excellent spawning and rearing habitat and has some of the highest salmonid smolt returns of any coastal stream in Oregon.
The Chetco River and its adjacent corridor offer a wide diversity of recreational opportunities, including salmon and steelhead fishing, whitewater kayaking, four-wheel driving, swimming, boating, camping, sightseeing and picnicking are the major attractions. The primary fishing season for steelhead and salmon is between November and March.
From Medford, take I-5 North to exit 55 US-199/Redwood Hwy. Merge onto US-101/ Redwood Hwy towards Crescent City. Near Jedediah-Smith Park, take the Hwy 197 North junction towards Brookings and proceed north on US-101, which crosses the Chetco River in Brookings. Take a left on North Bank Road to access the river via Loeb State Park. North Bank Road turns into Forest Service Road 1376 which accesses the Forest Service campgrounds, launch points, and day use areas.
- Mandatory permits are required to float the Chetco for all users year-round. Free self-issuing permits are available at a boat registration station along the North Bank Chetco River Road (Forest Service Road 1376). Motorized boat use is not allowed on any river segment. Motorized vehicle crossings of the river are prohibited.
- Whitewater floating on the Chetco is limited by a lack of adequate access to the upper areas of the river (especially in the wilderness) during the high flow season. A very limited number of kayakers have floated through the wild segment of the Chetco during high-flow conditions. Rapids are class III and below during the summer months during average flows. During the winter months rapid class is higher depending upon flow conditions. Summer floating during low water conditions has become an increasingly popular river activity on all river segments.
Accessibility: For information about accessible recreation opportunities in Pacific Northwest National Forests, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/r6/accessiblerecreation
- Redwood Bar Campground
- Nook Bar Campground
- Miller Bar Campground
- South Fork Campground
- Loeb State Park
- Harris Beach State Park
River and Stream Fishing
The Chetco River fishery, typical of Pacific coastal systems, is dominated by trout and salmon. There are important populations of anadromous winter steelhead, fall chinook salmon, and sea-run cutthroat trout. Coho and chum salmon are occasionally observed. Resident cutthroat and rainbow trout are abundant in upper stream reaches. Native populations of fall chinook and winter steelhead are supplemented with hatchery fish. The Chetco provides excellent spawning and rearing habitat and has some of the highest salmonid smolt returns of any coastal stream in Oregon. Pacific lamprey, three-spined stickleback, and assorted sculpin are also known to inhabit this system.
- Fish Species: Fall Chinook salmon, winter steelhead, sea-run and resident cutthroat trout
- Fishing Access: 2 X 4, 4 X 4, hiking, boat
- Fishing Methods: Fly, lure and *bait
- Angling Season:
- Steelhead & Chinook Salmon: Jan 1 - March 31,
May 27 - Dec 31
- Trout: May 27 - Oct 31
- Steelhead & Chinook Salmon: Jan 1 - March 31,
- Depth and Size: N/A-? miles
- Complete List of Permitted Fishing Guides
Oregon state fishing license required. See Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for more information.
*Bait is only allowed for salmon and steelhead fishing and not allowed for trout fishing.
Boating - Non-Motorized
Alerts & Warnings
- Forest Order RRS 06 10 22 23 56 Alcohol Prohibition Illinois River Corridor
- Illinois River Swinging Bridge Closure
- Butte Fork Trail Bridge in Red Buttes Wilderness Closed Through July 2023
- Understanding Parking and Fire Restrictions on the Illinois River
- Bear-Human Interactions on the Rise!