McCloud River Preserve

The McCloud River is one of California's aquatic jewels. Located near the top of California, north of the Sierra Nevada and at the southern end of the Cascade Range, the McCloud snakes its way down a scenic canyon beneath the rugged slopes of 14,000-foot Mount Shasta. The cool waters of the river roil with life. In the spring, clouds of emerging insects dance across the waters as they hatch, and trout are driven to fits of feeding frenzy. The McCloud has been a fisherman's paradise ever since its original inhabitants, the Wintu Indians, speared and trapped salmon and steelhead as the fish made their seasonal journeys from the sea.


Northern California, about 20 miles from the town of McCloud


2,330 acres

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site  

The Conservancy's initial objective for the McCloud River Preserve was to protect native fish and the watershed in which they occurred. An extensive biological study indicated that a portion of the preserve could be opened to carefully managed public use, including catch-and-release fishing. Two and a half miles of the river were opened to the public in 1976; the remainder of the preserve is managed as a natural area and a locale for scientific research.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing

Research projects have ranged from analyses of trout populations to a study that attempted to document the presence of the elusive wolverine by baiting stations with various animal carcasses and using an automatic camera to photograph the animals it attracted. Because improving the health of the watershed is one of our main conservation goals, the Conservancy also monitors native species and water quality.

Concerned about the effects of logging and road-building along some of the McCloud's tributaries, the Conservancy has monitored the river's water quality by recording water temperature, suspended and settled sediments, pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. Staff ecologists also collect and identify aquatic insects, which provide food for many fish and other animals and are themselves a good indicator of water quality. Some native species are sensitive to slight changes in the chemical makeup of a stream and will disappear if their environment changes. 


What to See: Plants

Pacific dogwood, redbud, wild rose, lupine, and many other plants bloom in the spring. The forests create beautiful canopies of Douglas fir, incense cedar, Pacific yew, canyon live oak, and ponderosa pine.

What to See: Animals

The world-famous Shasta rainbow trout shares the waters with the exotic (non-native) brown trout, first introduced by sportsmen in the mid-1930s. The McCloud was formerly the southernmost refuge for the bull trout or "Dolly Varden," which is, like the Shasta rainbow, a member of the salmon family. Although once a common sight, the bull trout has not been seen in the McCloud since 1975 and has been declared locally extinct. Riffle sculpin, another McCloud native species, abound in the cobble-lined portions of the river.

Beneath dense mixed conifer and oak forests, wildlife is active in the rugged canyons. Mountain lions prowl the forest along with wolverines, ringtails, and gray foxes. On the canyon's limestone outcrops are found two species, the Shasta salamander and a plant named the Shasta eupatory, that occur nowhere else on earth. Along the river, otters searching for a meal glide through large pools lined with white alder, Indian rhubarb, and horsetail. Black bears lope along trails beside the river, and bald eagles and osprey soar overhead.

The McCloud River Preserve, open only from sunrise to sunset, offers three miles of hiking trails and a self-guided nature walk. Hikers, birdwatchers, and wildflower enthusiasts are invited to visit, but they should keep in mind that the preserve is snowbound during the winter months (November through early April).

The preserve allows 10 anglers to fish using catch and release techniques at any one time. Five of these fishing places may be reserved a least a few weeks in advance through the Conservancy's San Francisco office: 201 Mission Street, 4th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105; phone (415) 777-0487.

The remaining five fishing spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are held until 10 a.m. of the date reserved. Anglers may use spinning or fly equipment, but the creel limit is zero and fishing is catch and release only. Single, barbless hooks are required by state law.

No pets are allowed on the property.


From Interstate 5:

  • Take State Highway 89 east to the town of McCloud. 
  • Turn south at the Exxon station onto Squaw Valley Creek Road (reset your odometer at the turn).
  • Follow the signs nine miles to McCloud Reservoir ("Lake McCloud").
  • Stay right, following the road above the reservoir's west shore until you have driven 11.4 miles from the turn off Highway 89.
  • Turn right onto a dirt road and follow the signs to Ah-Di-Na Campground six miles ahead (17.4 miles from Highway 89). This dirt road - very rough and rocky, narrow in spots, winding but not steep - is negotiable in a two-wheel-drive vehicle as long as it hasn't rained or snowed recently.
  • The road dead-ends at the McCloud River Preserve parking area 1.1 miles beyond the campground. Park here and follow the foot trail one-third mile to the preserve headquarters. There is an informational kiosk, staff residence and a sign-in booth at the preserve headquarters.

Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

comments powered by Disqus

Read our guidelines on posting comments


Stay Updated

Learn about the places you love and find out how you can help by signing up for Nature eNews.

I'm already on the list Read our privacy policy

Thank you for joining our online community!

We'll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates, and exciting stories.