Bigfoot Scenic Byway
09/27/2015 10:11PM ● Published by Kerri Regan
Lurking LegendOctober 2015
By Kerri Regan
Photos: Ronda Ball
"Elusive" may not be a strong enough word to describe Bigfoot—a tall, hairy creature purported to hang out in secluded forests.
But if you want to see him (her?), your best odds are right here in the North State. The Bigfoot Scenic Byway – an 89-mile stretch of Highway 96 from Willow Creek to Happy Camp – boasts the most Bigfoot sightings in the country.
“It’s a fun place for people who are interested in Bigfoot – either the lore or actually looking for Bigfoot,” says Melissa Dougherty, executive director of the Willow Creek Chamber of Commerce.
It’s easy to understand why a camera-shy creature might lay down roots here. Rugged wilderness, glacial lakes, mountain ranges and rushing rivers provide plenty of places to hide.
There are also plenty of places to play if you’re a human. The byway winds through the Six Rivers and Klamath national forests. “We’re surrounded by wilderness,” Dougherty says. “The Trinity Alps are our backyard. People use this is a launching point for whitewater rafting, fishing for steelhead and salmon or sightseeing up in the mountains to get away from it all.”
This stretch of highway is part of the National Forest Scenic Byway system, designated by the U.S. Forest Service. It takes about two hours to traverse it if you're in a hurry, but it's easy to keep yourself busy over a long weekend (or more).
The towns along the byway are steeped in character. Willow Creek is the “Gateway to Bigfoot Country,” and at the other end of the byway is Happy Camp, which includes an 18-foot-tall metal sculpture of Bigfoot.
The legendary creature – known as Gigantopithecus by scientists – has been described as ranging from 6 to 12 feet tall, walking upright and covered in hair, not fur. Believers opine that it evolved alongside humans, but became exceptionally skilled at avoiding human contact.
The phenomenon emerged in the late 1950s, and the most famous footage (known as the Patterson-Gimlin film) is purported to show a female Bigfoot in 1967 at about the midpoint of the Bigfoot Scenic Byway.
The byway celebrates the mighty Sasquatch in everything from business names (Bigfoot Restaurant, Bigfoot Rafting, Bigfoot Books—the list goes on) to festivals, including the annual Bigfoot Days each Labor Day weekend.
At the Willow Creek-China Flat Museum, you’ll be greeted by a 25-foot wooden Bigfoot in the parking lot, and the museum includes everything from plaster casts of giant footprints to a history of local sightings.
“Oh, people come from all over the world,” says Terri Castner, who runs the museum’s docent program. “People just love the mystery of it, because nobody’s captured one that we know of. People will say, ‘Howcome I’ve never seen a Bigfoot skeleton?’ Well, you spend time out in the woods—have you ever seen a bear skeleton? How many deer skeletons are out there? Nature takes care of her own.”
Guests have visited from all over the world, including Hong Kong, Guam, Holland, Ukraine and Wales. “We had a couple from Abu Dhabi who came here for Bigfoot,” Castner says.
Even if you don’t spot the big guy, you're sure to encounter all sorts of interesting wildlife - elk, deer, river otters, bears, bald eagles and osprey make their homes here. And don't forget your camera. Given all that rugged terrain, who knows what’s hiding out there?