North Fork Smith Trail, Oregon makes for a beautiful, varied hike through a temperate rainforest filled with large old-growth trees. The trailhead is located about 54 miles west of Eugene – about 31 miles northeast of Reedsport – within the Siuslaw National Forest. I recommend bringing directions or studying them beforehand. You can find directions from Eugene as well as Reedsport here.
The popular Kentucky Falls Trail is connected to North Fork Smith Trail. So you can reach Kentucky Falls by starting at either trailhead. Though, it will take longer starting from North Fork Smith Trailhead. It’s about 8.5 miles total from one end to the other. Here’s a map of the trail system, although be warned – we noticed it was a bit inaccurate. Compared to other maps, though, it’s the most accurate in our opinion.
North Fork Smith Trail
My husband, Nat (below center), brother, Oliver (below left), and I arrived at the trailhead around 11 am on March 31. We originally planned for 10 am at Kentucky Falls Trailhead to then carpool down to North Fork Smith Trailhead so we could hike all the way through. However, we couldn’t make it due to snow. So we waited for Oliver to realize we couldn’t reach Kentucky Falls Trailhead (he had no trouble with his Jeep). Eventually he figured it out (spotty cell service) and we all made our way down to North Fork Smith Trailhead.
The parking lot is decently sized with plenty of space to turn around. There are no restrooms or potable water. We also didn’t see any indication of a fee or pass requirement, but we still came prepared with our forest pass.
North Fork Smith Trail is intermediate-difficult with its dangerous conditions and elevation change. There are holes from mountain beavers, steep muddy areas, narrow spots overlooking deep canyons, as well as large logs and debris blocking the trail. Just use caution when traversing these parts of the trail.
Also be aware of several splits in the trail. A printed map will come in super handy for navigating these intersections.
Hiking North Fork Smith Trail
The trail starts off level and weaves into a lush, green forest.
You’ll eventually reach the first split in the trail – left for a short loop and right between a large cut log to continue on North Fork Smith Trail. The split is just after a long wooden bridge.
We accidentally hiked a ways along the loop before Nat noticed our mistake. You can see the split in the photo below – Nat and Oliver are standing next to the cut log.
I spotted this cute snake hiding in the low underbrush – thank goodness I watched my step!
We crossed a lot of small wooden bridges over mossy creeks.
Some areas of the forest are open, while other areas are more forested and dense.
Moss-covered old-growth trees drooped over the path.
There were a lot of fallen branches and trees on the trail. One large tree in particular gave us a workout. We clambered down the canyon and then up and over the log – packs had to come off.
After a while you’ll reach the first of two large cedar bridges that cross North Fork Smith River.
The trees are truly amazing – this was down alongside the river.
In addition to the fallen trees, we encountered a lot of elevation change and switchbacks. There’s also a steep incline down to the river and back up again at both cedar bridges.
Eventually we reached the second large cedar bridge.
After a ways we arrived at another split in the trail. The photo below is looking back the way we came (trail on the right). One way goes up while the other way goes forward alongside the river. Both trails will meet up again. We decided to continue forward.
The trail becomes faint and covered by large ferns.
Setting up Camp
We decided to hike off the trail toward the river to set up camp between the trees.
Our campsite was right alongside the river – perfect for filtering water. We only had to hike up a couple hundred feet to reach the bank.
Once we had a chance to set up camp and relax, we set out for Kentucky Falls. It was only a few more miles from our campsite.
We continued along the trail and soon met up with the other trail from the previous split. After a ways farther we reached another intersection with signs that point to Kentucky Falls and North Fork Smith Trail.
Finally we arrived at Kentucky Falls and soaked in its grandeur. We enjoyed the refreshing mist floating off of the waterfalls.
After a while we made our way back to camp where we cooked dinner and relaxed until going to bed.
The Next Morning
Nat and I woke up early with a hunger for a hot cup of coffee. You can clearly see who’s the morning person and who’s not. ;]
It sprinkled at about 8 am but didn’t last very long. The weather was fair for the rest of the morning and for our hike out.
North Fork Smith Trail is a great hiking and backpacking destination. It’s not the most family friendly with the amount of debris, uneven terrain, and elevation change. However, the loop at the beginning is a quick and easy hike. There’s also the option to hike in as far as you can go, and then simply turn around.
The forest is beautiful and lush and the trees are majestic. North Fork Smith Trail offers a challenging yet rewarding experience. We plan to backpack out there again and hope to hike all the way through!