The Eel River is a federally designated Wild and Scenic River that flows generally north and west through the California Coast Range and enters the Pacific Ocean about 10 miles (16 km) south of Humboldt Bay, 14 miles (23 km) southwest of Eureka and 8 miles (13 km) west of Fortuna, California. The river and its tributaries form the third largest watershed entirely in California and drain a rugged area of 3,684 square miles (954,152 ha).
Petroglyphs indicate that native tribes may have occupied the Eel River watershed for more than 2500 years. The first European explorers arrived in the early 17th century and found the area was home to at least four different tribes. The river was named in 1850 during the California Gold Rush by an exploring party that traded supplies with local fishermen in return for a large number of Pacific lamprey, which they mistook for eels.
There are two hydroelectric dams on the Eel River, the Scott Dam that forms Lake Pillsbury, and the Cape Horn Dam that forms Van Arsdale Reservoir. At Cape Horn Dam, the majority of the water is diverted through a tunnel and hydroelectric plant, and then through a 1 mile (1.6 km) tunnel to the headwaters of the Russian River to provide water for Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. The river discharge is related to the seasonal climate which is highly variable, with average flows in the winter over 100 times greater than in summer. The watershed supports abundant forests – including some of the world’s largest redwood trees and historically was an important salmon spawning river. Read more about the Eel River here and here. Explore more of the Eel River here: