I cannot say enough about how great Highway 96 and its surrounding roads are. Yeah it's a little tough getting from Ashland over Siskiyou summit to the turnoff, but once you're on 96 you are rewarded with a wonderful 2 lane highway in pretty good condition. There is some variability in the shoulders but then there isn't that much traffic anymore. You follow the Klamath (designated wild and scenic river) for a long ways in a generally downhill trending road until you reach Weitchpec. There, at the confluence of the Trinity, you climb back up towards Willow Creek and thence to a summit climb on 299 to reach Arcata. There is a bike trail in the area (basically the old highway) that circumvents some of the crappy parts of 299 on the way to Arcata. There are a variety of FS campgrounds as well. Enough towns on the route as well to restock.
Our club does a one-week tour in the Klamath area. It started out as one time trip - it's now an annual affair and sells out. The area includes the Marble Mountain and Russian Wildernesses which make for good alternate route choices.
36 is a great road, no doubt but hilly and remote. 299 is a non-starter (my opinion).