Protecting the beautiful rivers, wild lands and legendary botanical diversity of Oregon's Kalmiopsis Country

The South Kalmiopsis

Overview: A spacious wild land of most uncommon worth and charm

The Inventoried South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area is big—over 100,000 acres of wild National Forest land, It’s the second largest Inventoried Roadless Area in Oregon and the third largest in the Northwest. The South Kalmiopsis is also the name given locally to what is more accurately described as the “east” Kalmiopsis, when viewed in relation to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

The approximately 146,000 acre South Kalmiopsis is bounded in the north by the direct watershed of the Wild and Scenic Illinois River’s Scenic River Area—just before the river dives into its wild remote canyon that so beloved by white water boaters. It reaches south to California’s Smith River National Recreation Area.  On its east side is the 15,000-acre proposed Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area that lies on BLM lands on the west side of the Illinois River Valley.

The South Kalmiopsis is rich in unique wild creeks and rivers—their waters renowned for exceptional clarity.  It’s home to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon and the highest concentration of Serpentine Darlingtonia Wetlands in the Klamath-Siskiyou region and the world.[1] Its complex geologic setting provides text book examples of the direct influence that bedrock geology can have on flora, rivers and local ecosystem

The Kalmiopsis is Oregon’s third largest congressionally protected Wilderness Area. The vast area of National Forest land on the east side of the Wilderness—we’re generally calling the South Kalmiopsis—is actually made up of parts of four Inventoried Roadless Areas—South, North, Packsaddle and Squaw Mountain. The latter obviously needs a name change. In addition, it consists of a large unroaded area, five Forest Service Botanical Areas, two Research Natural Areas, and two Late Successional Forest Reserves, plus the Wild and Scenic River corridors of the Illinois and North Fork Smith..

For roughly 32 miles, the South Kalmiopsis shares a mostly unbroken common boundary with the east side of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness—at least for now but a mega mining threat looms along the Chetco-Illinois Divide in the headwaters of these National Wild and Scenic River.

There’s just enough road for motorized travel to provide high quality recreation and educational opportunities, while maintaining the integrity of this mostly wild landscape.

With few exceptions, when walking the Kalmiopsis Rim Trail (# 1124) you will not know if you’re in congressionally protected Wilderness or the South Kalmiopsis unless you look at your maps. The north end of the trail along the watershed divide of the Chetco and Illinois River is featured in Tim Palmer’s gorgeous and informative new coffee table book—America’s Great Mountain Trails: 100 highcountry  hikes of a lifetime.

But size and continuity with the Kalmiopsis Wilderness is only one measure of the South Kalmiopsis’ worth. It stands apart from other National Forest wild areas in many ways. In author John Hart’s words, It’s a land of most uncommon worth and charm—and if we lose it for the little does of commodities it contains, there will never be anything like it for us again. 

The Wild and Scenic Rivers

The South Kalmiopsis is watershed to three National Wild and Scenic Rivers—the IllinoisNorth Fork Smith, and Chetco Rivers and three streams the U. S. Forest Service has determined to be eligible to become National Wild and Scenic Rivers. Baldface Creek, Rough and Ready Creek and Josephine/Canyon Creeks all meet the free flowing and nationally outstanding criteria required to be added to the national system of wild and scenic rivers upon action of congress.


Wilder and redder

In the seminal hiking guide to the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains—Hiking the Bigfoot Country—John Hart writes that the South Kalmiopsis is both redder and wilder than the adjacent Chetco River basin in the congressionally protected Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Hart describes the South Kalmiopsis as “all tumbled ridges drained by the North Fork Smith River and Rough and Ready Creek.”

This is the climax of peridotite landscape, the stunted yet lovely forests and the enormous reddish vistas of the Josephine Sheet.

What John Hart refers to as the Josephine Sheets is now known as the serpentine terrain of the Josephine ophiolite. 

Kalmiopsis Wild
The watershed divide between Baldface Creek and Rough and Ready Creek in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area and the U.S. Forest Service’s recommended 34,000 acre South Kalmiopsis Wilderenss Addition. Barbara Ullian Photo.


Two large Inventoried Roadless Areas surround the 179,000 acre congressionally protected Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The North and South Kalmiopsis—in reality one big wild area—total over 194,000 acres. They’re the largest unprotected national forest wild area in Oregon.

  • South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area – 104,620 acres
  • North Kalmiopsis Roadless Area –   88,582 acres
  • Kalmiopsis Wilderness Addition         1,166 acres

Smaller nearby wild areas

Additional unprotected roadless and wild areas surround the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the North and South Kalmiopsis. The wild areas are often separated by little more than a narrow road corridor. They include the Packsaddle Roadless Area at over 7,000 acres and the Squaw Mountain Roadless area at 7,700 acres.

Why the Roadless Area Rule does not protect the South Kalmiopsis

The Clinton Roadless Area Conservation Rule is supposed to prevent logging and new road construction in Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA) such as the South Kalmiopsis. However, it did not prevent post-fire logging in the South or North Kalmiopsis Roadless Areas during the Bush Administration.

The rule also allows motorized recreation in IRAs. Irresponsible off highway vehicle use is seriously impacting the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area’s unique serpentine terrain and rare plant habitat. Even in areas closed to public motorized travel, OHV users are creating new routes, including in the Forest Service recommended South Kalmiopsis Wilderness Additiion. They vandalize gates and vehicle barriers.

OHV activities have resulted in irreversible impacts to many miles of streams in the South Kalmiopsis through the introduction of Port Orford cedar root disease. The non-native pathogen is fatal to Port Orford cedar, which is often the principle riparian conifer along streams flowing through serpentine terrain. See the USDA’s Celebrating Wildflowers on Port Orford cedar.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule offers no protection from the most significant threat facing the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area—nickel strip mining. The Cleopatra mining project is entirely in the South Kalmiopsis, as well as both proposed mine sites for the RNR mining project at Rough and Ready Creek. Learn more at our Kalmiopsis Rivers website.


[1] Mapping of natural heritage data shows that, with adjacent national forest and BLM lands, the South Kalmiopsis is host to one of the highest concentrations of rare plants in the Klamath-Siskiyou Region and likely North America. The U.S. Forest Service’s West Fork Illinois River Watershed Analysis notes that the West Fork Illinois River Watershed is host to the highest concentration of rare plants in Oregon. Heritage element mapping shows the concentration of rare plants in the Rough and Ready Creek Watershed to be highest of the West Fork Illinois tributaries.