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Up The Road: Bigfoot And Feather River Scenic Byways

Bon Doran

This a perfect time for heading up the road, what with fewer fellow travelers, fall colors, and cool weather that’s not yet wet.

For autumn road trips, California classics include Hwy. 1 along the coast, just about any stretch from Santa Barbara north, and U.S. 395 along the eastern Sierra Nevada, from Mammoth to Lone Pine to Lake Tahoe, with so many stunning stops in between. 

Not to mention the cool escapes we visited in August—the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, for example, 500 miles of road weaving together the Almanor area, Lassen Park, Mount Shasta, and Lava Beds in Modoc County before continuing north into Oregon.

Not far from Redwood National & State Parks over on the coast is the Bigfoot Scenic Byway, starting in Willow Creek, east of Arcata and Eureka on Hwy. 299, and following State Hwy. 96 through Karuk, Yurok, and Hoopa tribal lands then on to Yreka. These remote forests boast more bigfoot sightings than anywhere else in the country.

Which is why Willow Creek, a spot in the road overlooking the Trinity River, puts on the big-deal Bigfoot Days Parade and Festival over Labor Day weekend, a party going on for some 60 years now. Yep. You just missed it. But explore the whole hairy hominid story at Willow Creek’s China Flat Museum annex, open weekends in October, everything from bigfoot footprint casts and maps to sighting photos.

Credit Linda JM / Flickr
Big Foot statue in Happy Camp, by artist Cheryl Wainwright of Happy Camp and Ralph Starritt of Yreka

Never mind that Humboldt County’s Ray L. Wallace confessed on his deathbed in 2002 that he faked the bigfoot “evidence” he “found” in 1958. He kept the story, and the hoax, alive, his family said, by offering to sell Bigfoot to a Texas millionaire, and by filming and photographing the faked critter in the wild as it ate frogs, elk—even breakfast cereal. Bigfoot believers still believe.

Then there’s the Feather River Scenic Byway, exploring the far northern reaches of the Sierra Nevada, State Hwy. 70, and the canyon of the North Fork of the Feather River. To take in the entire route, start or finish at Hallelujah Junction at U.S. Hwy. 395 on the Sierra’s eastern flank.

Highlights include the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, one of the largest collections of restored diesel locomotives in the country. Unlike other railroad museums, here you can climb all over the collected relics and really get a feel for how they work. Or come just for special short excursion trains, such as October’s Pumpkin Express, coming right up, and the popular Run-a-Locomotive program, where for a fee you can drive one around the yard.

Also worthwhile: the Jim Beckwourth Museum on Rocky Point Rd, open only by appointment right now, which honors African-American pioneer and guide James Beckwourth, and Plumas-Eureka State Park near Graeagle and Blairsden, one of California’s unsung gems. The charming town of Quincy, south of Lake Almanor and Lassen, is home to Feather River College and its unique ag program, which offers rodeo classes, equine studies, and a BS program in Equine and Ranch Management.

Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.