, Lagoons, Humboldt County
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Humboldt Lagoons: Unique habitats that invite adventure

Article & photos by Casey Allen, Frank Galusha and Marna Powell
Big Lagoon, six miles north of Trinidad, is a body of fresh water separated from the Pacific Ocean by 3.5 miles of sand spit. Winter rains fill the lagoon until the spit is breached at the north end and freshwater flows into the sea. This is when sea run cutthroat and steelhead trout and Coho salmon migrate from the ocean, through the lagoon, to spawn in Maple Creek.

Lagoons, Big Lagoon, Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon, Humbodlt County
Big Lagoon can be accessed from the south by turning west off Highway 101 on Roundhouse Creek Rd and then north on Big Lagoon Park Road.

The County Park has a restroom and boat ramp. Camping is available just past the boat ramp. There is also a dirt road less than a mile north of the end of the 4 lanes on the highway. Shore fishing and car top boat launching is available there. The mouth can be reached by boat or on foot from Dry Lagoon Beach.

Big Lagoon, Humboldt County
Once the lagoon opens to the ocean the tides dictate the level of the lagoon.

This brackish ebb and flow allows California halibut, flounder, redtail perch and Dungeness crabs to visit the lagoon. Waterfowl are hunted, mostly by scull boat, but great shoots are few. This is a good place to see canvasback ducks and more common are the bluebill, butterball, and ruddy ducks. Sea scoters, black brant and mud hens can be found in large numbers and puddle ducks frequent the eastern, reed covered marsh. These and a host of shorebirds attract the raptors. Falcon, redtail hawks, osprey and an occasional eagle can be seen hunting.

The lagoon mouth opens on the north end of the spit and is a hearty walk from the Humboldt County Park boat ramp.

Visitors like to walk the beach looking for agates. Some of Humboldt County’s largest agates are found on the wave slope of this spit. Those who walk the farthest find the best agates.  There is a deadly undertow on this steep beach and people should be very careful. Each year someone dies from being swept into the surf along our northern beaches.

The spit was once used by the US military as a bombing target in 1944-1945. For years there was a warning issued about suspected unexploded ordinance. Today, the dunes are another wild, beautiful place, yet close to a road.

Humboldt County Lagoons, Kayakers, Marna Powell, Kayak Zak's
Humboldt County's lagoons are especially popular with kayakers. Photo by Marna Powell.

Boaters and kayakers can launch and cruise the water along the spit, protected from the north wind. There is a 10 mph speed limit on the lagoon for motor boats. This limit does not apply to the wind surfers who enjoy skipping across the lagoon at speeds over 30 mph. The Humboldt Yacht Club holds a yearly regatta at Big Lagoon since the 1950’s.

Kayaks, elk, Stone Lagoon, Humboldt County, Marna Powell, Kayak Zak's
Kayakers reach remote areas and often get a glimpse of Roosevelt Elk in the area around Stone Lagoon. In this case, it appears the elk were undisturbed by a small fleet that had come to their shore. Photo by Marna Powell

Stone Lagoon is located on Highway 101, fourteen miles north of Trinidad, between Big Lagoon to the south and Freshwater Lagoon to the north. There is a private campground with horseback riding and a small boat camp on the south side of the lagoon accessible only by boat or foot trail from the Dry Lagoon beach parking lot. That foot trail is part of the newly emerging Coastal Trail. Look north along the beach from Dry Lagoon Beach and you will see a rock extending into the surf called Sharp Point. A primitive trail on the back side leads to the coffee table sized top. It is extremely dangerous but thrilling to peek over the edge 100 feet above the surrounding surf.

A favorite attraction at Stone Lagoon is the large herd of Roosevelt Elk. They often stop traffic on hwy 101 especially in September during the rut. That is the best time to see the otherwise reclusive monster bulls. These single minded monarchs chase hot cows through the campground, horse corrals, and across the highway. They can also be extremely dangerous.

Stone Lagoon, Humboldt County
Stone Lagoon has a sand spit separating the lagoon from the sea.

Each winter, when rains fill the lagoon, the spit gives way, usually on the south end, and empties into the ocean. That gives steelhead and cutthroat a chance to run into the lagoon and on to McDonald Creek to spawn. Once Stone Lagoon drains into the ocean it is not affected much by the tide and can close completely. Fish must be in the ocean nearby to make it in during this short period. Big Lagoon opens to the sea and stays open for weeks where tides flood and ebb changing the level of the lagoon. This helps fish reach the lower pools of the lagoon’s feeder stream, Maple Creek, at high tide.

McDonald Creek needs steady rains to maintain enough water for fish to run. This important little stream can leave fish exposed and vulnerable while spawning. Restoration projects and access restrictions have helped create more safe space for returning fish.

When most anglers talk about fishing Stone Lagoon, it is the sea run cutthroat trout they discuss. There are not many places where they are common enough to target but Stone Lagoon heads the list with Big Lagoon a close second. The Klamath and Smith Rivers also have good cutthroat populations.

Freshwater Lagoon is only 2 miles south of Orick and, hence its name, the only actual freshwater lagoon of the three. Stone and Big Lagoons break open to the sea after winter rains and their brackish waters hold cutthroat trout and steelhead.

Freshwater Lagoon, Pacific Ocean, Humboldt County
Highway 101 separates Freshwater Lagoon from the Pacific Ocean on a scenic, driftwood covered sand spit.

Freshwater lagoon is planted with rainbow trout and largemouth bass grow to a good size. The whole area is a feast for the eyes. Hawks, osprey, and occasional eagles hunt around the lagoon and red winged blackbirds are common in the spring and summer. Bluebill, canvasback, and coots are winter visitors.

For additional information on this area visit this website:

Big Lagoon Wildlife Area

Welcome to the Humboldt County Lagoons!


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Website Design Photo Credits: thanks the following individuals for contributing photographs for use on our Home and Section pages: Anders Tomlinson of, Casey Allen of Bayside, CA; Jason Haley of Medford, OR; Steve Breth of Burney, CA; Tracy McCormack of Eureka, CA; Grant Thompson of Grand Junction, CO; Richard Bott of Shingletown, CA; Ron Loftus of Yreka, CA; Scott Caldwell of Montague, CA; Lorissa Soriano of Alturas, CA and the late Dave Menke, formerly with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

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