Happy Camp, California
A morning walk through Happy Camp, CA
Happy Camp, CA is a small unincorporated town in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains of Northern California 70 miles west of Yreka and 120 miles east of Eureka and the California coastline.
I've been here thirteen years, and enjoy living in this little town with so many neighbors that try to make Happy Camp a better place.
This page shows what I saw on my morning walk through this remote mountain town on July 9, 2009.
Image above by Linda Jo Martin - A view of Happy Camp as seen from the top of the Town Trail, which starts on Elk Creek Road.
Linda Jo Martin is the Book Lady on YouTube.Happy Camp, CA is known for being in Karuk Tribe ancestral territory, for being in the center of the Klamath Forest, for multiple nearby Bigfoot sighting reports, for gold prospecting, and for its former timber industry that was destroyed by environmentalist lawsuits to protect the Spotted Owl. It is also a popular site for rafting or kayaking on the Klamath River.
Happy Camp is becoming an artist's mecca with an active art group engaged in planning and building a multi-use art center, and outdoor structures such as the metal Bigfoot sculpture, the largest dreamcatcher in the world, and an old truck repainted and used as a welcome sign. (You will see these near the end of the page.)
When I first moved here on January 11, 2000, there were a lot of empty buildings. The reason was that the lumber industry died out in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to a series of environmentalist lawsuits ostensibly protecting the Spotted Owl. While some owl habitats may have been saved, many Happy Camp families were devastated due to loss of income. Many businesses closed and families moved out of town. That left lots of empty homes and businesses boarded up and abandoned.
It has taken a long time and some new people, but Happy Camp is finally coming back to life. Most of the commercial buildings are now occupied. Many buildings that looked terrible when I moved here have been repainted and loved again.
The State of Jefferson Scenic Byway is Highway 96 from Highway 5 near Yreka, to Happy Camp. From here the route continues over Grayback Road to Oregon. Grayback Road is closed during the winter months due to snow.
The Bigfoot Scenic Byway runs from Happy Camp to Willow Creek, passing by the site of the 1967 Bigfoot filming by the Patterson-Gimlen expedition. For more on that topic - including a few Happy Camp Bigfoot sightings, see Bigfoot Sightings.
There's a Facebook page for the Happy Camp, CA Chamber of Commerce! Please join!
The Klamath River - about 4 miles downriver from Happy Camp.
The Klamath National Forest is huge -- 1,700,000 acres!
Do you think maybe Bigfoot lives here?
Happy Camp changes a lot. That's why I think it is important to preserve a moment in Happy Camp time. Two years from now, much of this could be changed. The town seems on the path to renewal after two decades of distress, despair, decline, and disrepair.
A bit of Happy Camp history:
This little corner of the forest was inhabited only by Native Americans - Karuks - until 1851 when gold miners made their way upriver from the coast. Euro-American settlers stayed because they found gold in the Klamath River and its tributary creeks, and in the hills nearby. There were skirmishes between the Karuks and immigrants, but eventually everyone settled down and intermarried. At this time there are less than ten full-blooded Karuks left.
Hundreds of Chinese miners made Happy Camp their home. The census for 1880 recorded that 250 Happy Campers were white, 250 were Chinese and 97 were Karuks. The Chinese gold and jade miners lived here from 1860 through 1910 when Chinatown burned a second time. After 1920 there were only a few Chinese settlers left.
After the initial gold rush, after the easy pickings disappeared, the people who stayed were serious prospectors who established gold mines in the hills and along the creeks and the river. There was also a Chinese jade mine next to the South Fork of Indian Creek. There is still an active jade and gold mining operation there to this day: South Fork Mining.
Other industries sprang up. There were stores, a brick factory, and several sawmills. For most of the twentieth century the sawmills provided most of the sustenance for Happy Camp families. In the 1980s disaster struck when a series of lawsuits were filed to ostensibly protect the Spotted Owl. These led to the ruination of the lumber industry in Happy Camp and the eventual closing of the mills.
This is what led to a decade of failure. Happy Camp couldn't sustain new businesses to replace the sawmills. Hundreds of people were forced to leave the area - something that was very traumatic for people who were accustomed to living in a remote area in the woods. Long-established businesses closed because there was insufficient revenue, with so many formerly working people now unemployed or gone. Houses and businesses stood empty and in disrepair. It was at this point I moved into Happy Camp, in the year 2000.
Since then numerous buildings have been re-occupied. Most received renovation. There's been a lot of growth. Two art centers were established in the hope that Happy Camp will become an artist-colony town. One could not ask for a more picturesque place to do nature paintings! An extensive new art center is planned; it will most likely be right next to Highway 96 on the east side of town.
This lens gives almost one-hundred photographs that show what the town was like in the summer of 2009 on the day I walked through at about 8-9 am. This is a moment in Happy Camp time. It isn't the only moment. Happy Camp continually changes. The current trend is that it is changing for the better.
River Girl - ...a Happy Camp novel! (I wrote this one.)
I intended this book to be my gift to the children of Happy Camp - so they would have a book about a girl living near a place they know and love. In the time since it was published it has been read (mostly by adults!) in many other areas throughout the USA. It is available on Amazon - either as a paperback, or for Kindle.
In 1918 Claire Welch, age nine, moves from the San Francisco Bay Area to the coastal town of Eureka, far to the north. She must leave her dearest friend behind.
From there Claire heads toward a difficult life, traveling inland to Happy Camp, a small town in the middle of a huge forest.
Near Happy Camp, in the Klamath River Valley, she faces the pain of loneliness and learns the true meaning of friendship.
River Girl was written for children and teens, ages 8 to 15.
My walk around Happy Camp, CA on July 9, 2009
I entered Happy Camp from the southwest, passed the green elevation/population sign, and turned left on Second Avenue.
The first photo gallery shows what I saw on Second Avenue that day. Click on the photos to see each one.
Happy Camp, CA, Second Avenue - ...this was at one time called Bridge Street.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Karuk Tribe
Karuk means "upriver". Yurok means "downriver". The Karuks have lived in the Happy Camp area for many centuries. Their territory extended downriver to the Orleans area. The Yuroks live further downriver, near the Pacific coast.
The Karuk name for Happy Camp is AthithÃºfvuunupma.
The Karuk Tribe's administrative offices are in Happy Camp. The tribe has it's own website: Karuk Tribe Official Tribal Website. The Karuk Tribe is one of the major employers in Happy Camp. They get most of their funding from grants. The tribe owns the old elementary school and has built several newer buildings there to accommodate the community health clinic, the dental office, and the People's Center.
The Forest Service in Happy Camp
Another major employer in Happy Camp is the U.S. Forest Service. Their website: The Klamath National Forest.
Every summer there are fires in the forest near Happy Camp. Fire fighting is an important seasonal job opportunity for many Happy Camp people.
The Second Avenue Bridge
The original bridge over Indian Creek at this location was a gift to Happy Camp from the original owners of the J. Camp Mercantile: John Camp, Heil Camp, and John Titus. (You will see their building in the next photo gallery.)
Back around 1865 they ordered metal rods from Eureka on the coast, for the building of the bridge. The rods had to be brought to Happy Camp on the mule train! One can only imagine the difficulty of bringing such an unwieldy, heavy load all the way up the Klamath River Valley on the backs of mules!
That bridge and others were eventually wiped out by floods. There have been many floods in Happy Camp -- both on Indian Creek and on the Klamath River.
My Street Name Rant
I don't know if anyone else cares, but the streets of Happy Camp used to have different names. Second Avenue was called Bridge Street -- because of the bridge. First Avenue was called Church Street. I guess there was a church there at one time. And Indian Creek Road was Main Street back in the old days.
I cannot understand why the streets were renamed "First Avenue" etc. . . . there are only four of these "Avenues" which are really just tiny countrified streets. I have always wondered why someone way back when decided to number the streets -- especially since Happy Camp is such a tiny little village, nobody is going to get lost here anyway. They won't need numbered streets. It isn't like San Francisco or New York where numbered streets are very helpful!
I'd love to have Happy Camp return to the original street names.
Happy Camp, CA street names poll - I'd like to have your opinion on this.
What do you think about Happy Camp, CA street names?
The other side of the bridge - ...we're still on Second AvenueClick thumbnail to view full-size
The J. Camp Mercantile and Happy Camp History
You can find out more about the old mercantile building and see photos from earlier eras by reading an article I wrote for Evans Mercantile on Happy Camp history. The article tracks the history of dry-goods stores in our town and introduces some early Happy Camp residents.
This photograph shows what the building looked like in 2000 when I moved to Happy Camp. Since that time the owners have had it painted by local sign painter, Ray Arneson - restoring the lettering on the front of the building and painting over the old Shell Oil advertisement.
The American House and Henry Doolittle
The American House is the original name of the old wooden hotel that stands on the corner of Second Avenue and Indian Creek Road. The original structure was built by Henry Doolittle in 1856. It was one of the first buildings in Happy Camp built by Euro-American settlers, but it burned down twice and this is a later version in the same location.* (see the update in the next paragraph.) This photo shows what The American House looked like in 2000 when I moved here. Since then the trees have been cut down and the entire building painted for the first time by the new owner.
[*UPDATE, 2010: I received email from the current owner of the American House. She states that there's no evidence that the hotel ever burned down. She wrote: "It never burnt down...there is no evidence to support that onsite archeologically nor have I ever read it in written records. There are two legal property lots associated with the site...maybe an outhouse burned on the property - but never the hotel. In the 14 years since I bought it ... my caretaker, and the many folks digging deep, especially in the basement, show layers in time going back literally thousands of years to the time the Karuk first occupied the site. Each major flood swirled the contents in the basement which then settled and formed an historic record back to the 1860s."
I was told it burned down twice by the daughter of an early resident. I also noted the current structure doesn't resemble the hotel shown in the first two hotel photographs shown on the Evans Mercantile History web page but it does look like the building in the photo at the bottom of that page. I agree that if the hotel had burned in that location, there should have been some evidence in the basement - ashes, or even burnt timber. Here I find conflicting information: local legend vs. the owner's statement of evidence discovered. I post the controversy here so it is out in the open, so everyone can make up their own minds on this issue.]
In the only books about Happy Camp history, it was noted that Henry Doolittle left Happy Camp in 1872 after many years of community service as a business owner, Postmaster, and Justice of the Peace. After I established Happy Camp News in 2001, a descendant of Henry Doolittle, Richard Ramsey, wrote to me about him. From Mr. Ramsey I learned that Henry Doolittle left here and went to Washington state.
Strange personal tie-in: my mother, who has never lived in Happy Camp, married a man from Washington state named Bob Doolittle, back around 1987. There's a resemblance!
There are two streets and a creek in the Happy Camp area named after Henry Doolittle. His brothers, Albert and Alphonso, lived here for a while too but left long before Henry did.
The American House has had other names over the course of the last century. It was called the Cuddihy Hotel and the Baker Hotel. The most recent owner changed the building's name to The American Hotel. It is now a private residence.
The Timber Inn
I'm not qualified to write much about The Timber Inn because I never saw it before it burned down in 1975. It was on Second Avenue right next to the backyard of The American House. In this photo it is right behind the "garage".
The Timber Inn housed a café, bar, and dance hall. Behind that was the Del Rio Theater - the only theater Happy Camp has ever had. After the Timber Inn and Del Rio Theater burned, corn started growing in the ruins -- popcorn that had been dropped by people watching movies in the little theater!
Old Town Park
The property where the Timber Inn once stood was vacant for years until 1999 when Happy Camp Community Services leased the land to create Old Town Park. Now there are fund raising efforts to buy the land and develop the park. If you would like to donate to this project, send your donation money directly to:
Happy Camp Community Services
PO Box 1129
Happy Camp, CA 96039
They will hold donations in an escrow account until $45,000 is raised.
Fishing in the Klamath River
I'm not a fishing enthusiast, as I'm a vegetarian, but Happy Camp is famous for fishing opportunities. My landlady once told me she and her husband moved here for the fishing! Happy Camp has been called the "Steelhead Capital of the World." There's also a lot of salmon in the river.
That's about all I can tell you about fishing. Locally there are several people working as fishing guides. You can see Ron's business sign in the photo gallery above. Google Klamath River fishing to learn more about it.
The Frontier Café & Saloon
If you compare this old picture with the picture of the Frontier Café and Saloon in the photo gallery above, you may soon be as confused as I am. It looks like the bricks from the Shell building were moved to create the saloon part of the Frontier. Or is the saloon the Shell building with a cafe built on the side? The Shell building seems to be sitting in the place where Highway 96 was extended, leaving Happy Camp's Second Avenue off the highway. I guess I'll have to ask an old time resident to be sure. If you know the answer -- leave a message in the guestbook below so I can find out what happened to that Shell building!
I've never been in the saloon except for Chamber of Commerce meetings when we used to have them there, but I've eaten at the café many times. They have wonderful meals including vegetarian tacos and lasagna. (I'm a vegetarian, remember?) The waitress, Debbie, makes some of the best salsa in town! They also have plenty of food for people who aren't vegetarians. It is a full-service restaurant.
News Flash! ... the American House Motel is now for sale ... - This video gives a better look at the house, and the owner is in it.
Learn more about the house here: A detailed description of the American House Hotel in Happy Camp...
Dear Mad'm - By Stella Walthall Patterson, published by Naturegraph in Happy Camp
In 2011 I had an inspiration for a Dear Mad'm Day - and guess what - the Chamber of Commerce liked it, and they've been celebrating Dear Mad'm Day ever since then, every year.
Learn more about Dear Mad'm Day here: Friends of Dear Mad'm.
An 80 year old woman leaves the city to spend a year on a remote mining claim near Happy Camp. (True story!)
New! A biography of Stella Walthall Patterson, by two of her relatives! This tells the story behind the amazing author of Dear Mad'm.
Up the hill on Highway 96 in Happy Camp, CA - ...I love the uphill hike - for the exercise.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Headway Market
When I moved here in 2000 the Headway Market was empty and the former owner worked at the hardware store. For a few years the Family Resource Center rented the building, but they had to leave when the Karuk Tribe purchased it. The tribe did a major remodeling project and now it is used for the Senior Nutrition Program.
Highway 96 - the Bigfoot Scenic Byway
The Bigfoot Scenic Byway runs from the Bigfoot statue at the corner of Highway 96 and Davis St. to Willow Creek, California 75 miles south west of here.
You'll see the Bigfoot statue in a minute. We're almost there.
JavaBob's Bigfoot Deli
When I moved here this building was yellow and empty. In 2004 or 2005 my neighbor, Bob, opened JavaBob's Bigfoot Deli in the building. Unfortunately he closed in 2006. He left town to go look for Bigfoot in other areas of the country.
The local real estate office uses the windows there to display properties for sale. If you'd like to see some go to the River Connection Realty website.
Why the Town Moved Uphill
After years of terrible floods, after having homes and businesses ruined, newer construction projects moved uphill for safety reasons. The Klamath River still floods every few years. I was caught in a Klamath River flood on December 30, 2005, and had to stay in the church in Horse Creek for two nights because the Klamath River Highway was flooded in either direction.
Highway 96 in Happy Camp, California - ...also known as the Bigfoot Scenic BywayClick thumbnail to view full-size
Urban Sprawl in a Small Mountain Town?
This part of Happy Camp reminds me of urban sprawl. It is blandly industrial, unlike what most people would expect a tiny mountain village to be like. There's no consistent theme and the buildings don't match. It dates to the years of the lumber mills whereas the older section of town on Second Avenue dates from the gold prospecting era.
Buildings on Highway 96 are far apart and the street is wide - probably to accommodate lumber trucks which are rarely seen here anymore. The empty hardware store and the building that used to be JavaBob's Bigfoot Deli add to the feeling of urban sprawl due to their emptiness. I hope they can be put back into use soon. There are also empty lots that could be built on.
At least now the old restaurant is occupied again after all these years. It gives hope that the town will eventually recover from the distressing post-lumber mill years.
Urban sprawl in Happy Camp, CA - I'd like your opinion on this.
Is the upper Happy Camp area urban sprawl or picturesque?
More Highway 96 photos from Happy Camp, CA - ...the journey continues!Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Bigfoot Statue
This statue was intended to be a community project; it started with a call for scrap metal in 2001. The artists who did most of the work were Cheryl Wainwright of Happy Camp and professional artist Ralph Starritt of Yreka.
Davis Street - Uptown Happy Camp, CA - ...a hub of artistic, commercial, and recreational activity. Sort of.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Happy Camp, CA Art
...there are lots of artists in town.
Artists in Happy Camp
Happy Camp artists have worked hard to try to save this town from the post-lumber mill doldrums. The Bigfoot statue was the first major art project. While that was being constructed art shows began to provide a night out on the town complete with potluck dinners and wine. There's now an art show monthly to introduce a new art gallery exhibit. There are also weekly dinners to raise money for the proposed Klamath-Siskiyou Art Center complex of buildings that will be built next to Highway 96 on the east side of town.
The Giant Dreamcatcher in Happy Camp, CA
...created by Dennis Day
Davis Street starts with the Bigfoot statue and ends with the giant dreamcatcher.
To learn more about the creation of this huge dreamcatcher see my interview with Dennis Day: The Largest Dreamcatcher in the World.
Indian Creek Road, Happy Camp, CAClick thumbnail to view full-size
The making of the grasshopper in Happy Camp, CA - by artist, Barbara Yates
In the Land of the Grasshopper Song
Two young women were sent to the Klamath River Valley to help civilize the natives in 1908. This is a memoir of their experiences here.
The Old Truck
Until recently that truck was stuck in the brambles and poison oak behind the pharmacy. My son showed it to me years ago and I took this picture of him standing on the hood on March 24, 2003!
I wasn't happy when one of the local business owners pulled the truck out of the bushes behind the pharmacy to sit on the corner of Davis St. and Indian Creek Road - on her property - but despite the fact that it is a wreck, it does look okay there. It definitely symbolizes something about Happy Camp.
Broken. Old. Lumber. Town.
At one time she had a huge log across it where the big bend is in the truck's bed... and that looked even better. I'm sorry that the log was removed.
When people pull into Happy Camp from the Grayback Road route over the mountain from Oregon, this is the first thing they see. I hope they aren't thinking that if they stay long enough their vehicle will end up like that one!
One thing for sure -- when you live in a remote place in a rugged mountain range you're entitled to your own sense of beauty -- and I've never heard any complaints about the truck.
Happy Camp High School, Happy Camp, CA - ...remodeling project, summer of 2009.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Old Log High School
At one time Happy Camp didn't have a high school. Local residents got together in the thirties and built one of logs. That old high school still exists at the corner of Washington and Fourth Avenue, behind the newer and much larger high school you saw in the photos above.
Now the old log high school is used as a senior citizen center. Also the occasional government food give-aways take place there.
Tall Timber Tall Tales is by a former Happy Camper named Jack Layton, who I met on Facebook, in the Growing Up In Happy Camp group.
Happy Camp's Indian Creek Road between the high school and Second Avenue - ...this used to be called Main Street in the early days of Happy Camp.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Klamath Knot - An award winning nature book by David Rains Wallace.
This book is a bit scholarly - not an "easy read" but it is an award winning philosophical examination of the biology, geology, flora and fauna of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. I read parts of it to my daughter when we were homeschooling and we both enjoyed it. At least I did and at the time she acted like she valued the experience! The San Francisco Chronicle called this one of the best non-fiction books of the twentieth century.
Aaron Martin's Amazing Happy Camp Area Videos - Pssst... Aaron is my son... the one that was standing on that truck, a long time ago...
The Bigfoot Jamboree celebration in Happy Camp! This happens every year.
Happy Campers swimming in Indian Creek near Doolittle Bridge.
Somewhere near Happy Camp.
Where Aaron demonstrates how to jump off the top of what used to be my van, and then injure himself by hitting a tree.
Aaron's friends... I think this was at River Park in Happy Camp.
Back to Old Happy Camp
At this point I've completed a circle. Here's a map to show you where I went. You can click on the map to go to Google maps and explore Happy Camp more.
This is the amazing memoir of a former Happy Camp, CA citizen, Linda Willis. She came here in the fifties with her husband, Dempsey, who worked as a lineman for Pacific Power. At first they lived in a local trailer park but as time went on and children were born, they moved up the creek to Doolittle Road. Their house is the one across the bridge on the right side.
This book explains everything about how they got their property, where they got their water, and how the house was built in sections. I very much loved reading Linda's Happy Camp memoir and hope she will have this reprinted. Great book!
Through Old Chinatown and Home on Highway 96 - ...the final leg of my morning walk.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Scenic Byways of Northern California
Travels through Northern California scenic byways. I'm mentioned in the acknowledgement section of this book! That was a huge surprise for me! Published locally by Naturegraph Publishers.
Happy Camp, CA and Klamath River Links
- Happy Camp News
The news service I used to own.
- Happy Camp Chamber of Commerce
More information about Happy Camp
- Karuk Tribe
Official site for the Karuk Tribe.
- Karuk Songs
Traditional songs of the Karuk Tribe, Happy Camp, CA.
- Happy Camp Elementary School
The mission of Happy Camp Union Elementary School District is to provide, through staff, parents, and community, an education in a safe, secure environment which recognizes the uniqueness and needs of all students, provides the tools for success in h
- Naturegraph Publishers, Happy Camp, California
Naturegraph Publishers, Inc. publishes books about nature, Native Americans, and spirituality.
- South Fork Mining | Happy Camp Jade | Gold | Rhodonite
South Fork Mining is a small scale mining operation located in Happy Camp, California, in Siskiyou County featuring Klamath River Valley stones such as Happy Camp Jade, Idocrase, Californite, Vesuvianite, Jade, Jade rough, slabs, jade carvings, caboc
- Klamath-Siskiyou Art Center
The Klamath-Siskiyou Art Center is located in far northern California near the Oregon border on HWY 96 In the mythic State of Jefferson in Happy Camp, California.
- River Connection Realty
Cabins, upscale homes, land, and businesses for sale in the Klamath River Valley.
- Discovering the Klamath River Corridor
Take the virtual tour of the Klamath River Valley with an emphasis on historical, cultural, recreational & natural resources.
- Life in Bigfoot Country: Happy Camp, California
My life in Bigfoot country - and why I decided to research Bigfoot sightings.
- Happy Camp High School
The mission of Happy Camp High School is to provide a meaningful education that promotes self-esteem and provides useful tools for lifelong learning.
- Happy Camp Community Computer Center
A full computer lab with high-speed internet access.
- Growing Up In Happy Camp - Facebook Group
This is a fun Facebook group where people are sharing their memories of growing up in Happy Camp!
- Happy Camp, CA Facebook Group
Happy Camp, CA is a group for community announcements and information sharing, and conversations.
- Happy Camp, CA, Chamber of Commerce - Community Organization - Happy Camp | Facebook
Happy Camp, CA, Chamber of Commerce | Facebook
- River Girl, A Happy Camp Novel
River Girl is a historical novel about a family that moves from the San Francisco Bay Area to Happy Camp, a small town in the Klamath River Valley. The novel spans the years from 1918 to 1924.
- Bigfoot sightings near Happy Camp, CA
Bigfoot sightings! There have been a lot of reports of Bigfoot sightings near Happy Camp, CA.
Religions and Churches in Happy Camp, California
There are seven that I know of. If I've missed anything, let me know in the comment section on this page.
1. Happy Camp Christian Fellowship - the only church in Happy Camp with their own website!
2. Assembly of God Church - in Indian Meadows.
3. LDS Church on Park Ave. - next to the elementary school.
4. Happy Camp Bible Church - the old log church on Second Ave.
5. All Saints Catholic Church on Indian Creek Road.
6. Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses - on Indian Creek Road, moving to Hwy. 96.
7. Baha'i Faith in Happy Camp - contact through Naturegraph Publishers on Indian Creek Road.
Let me know what you think of Happy Camp!