Prepare to feel tiny as you wander through arguably the world’s finest redwood forest
Distance: 8.0 miles round trip for all three trails described below (longer and shorter options available)
Type: Boy Scout Tree out and back; Stout Grove loop; Simpson Reed Grove/Peterson Memorial Trail double loop
Difficulty: as easy as they come, great fun for the entire family
Best season: all year
Our time on the Oregon Coast had come to an end, but next up was exploring the redwoods in Jedediah Smith State Park near Crescent City, California. I had read claims that the redwood groves there are the most scenic in existence and that the park is the most unspoiled of the redwood parks with some of the largest diameter trees.
We began the day by heading out of Crescent City on unpaved Howland Hill Road. The condition of this road can apparently vary a great deal. Fortunately it was passenger car friendly on the day of our visit. Within a few miles, the redwoods were towering above us and it was hard to believe we were anywhere near civilization. It was easy to see why this is a single lane road with giant trees framing the skinny dirt path. The dense forest was stunningly beautiful and peaceful… and dark! This road is well worth the drive even if you don’t hike any of the trails.
At just five miles from town, we came to the signed Boy Scout Tree trailhead. This is one of the longer trails in the park and one of the most pristine old growth trails in existence. There weren’t any other cars there and we’d only see one person on the way in— an older gentleman sitting along the trail enjoying the quiet. I’m not exactly sure where he came from since the parking lot had been empty. The return hike wasn’t much busier with maybe half a dozen parties encountered.
The Boy Scout Tree trail is rated at 5.2 miles, but our gps logged us at closer to six miles round trip. The trees here are reportedly larger than those at nearby Stout Grove, a much busier trail. We quickly left the road noise behind as the trail gently rolled up and down. Early morning sun peeked through the dense forest, spotlighting focused rays of sun onto the fern covered forest floor. We enjoyed complete silence and a feeling of seclusion—it was exceptionally peaceful and one of the more mystical places I’ve experienced. I use the word “experience” instead of “seen” because it was a pleasure for all of the senses.
As the trail meandered through the dense forest, it crossed three railed footbridges. To find the Boy Scout Tree, we started looking for a steep, unmarked trail approximately 300 yards after the third railed footbridge. Than it was a short scramble up to the giant tree which is actually two redwoods that grew together to form one massive tree.
My favorite stretch of trail was between the first and second railed footbridges. The trees seemed more grand and beautiful in that stretch. To be honest, the Boy Scout Tree itself was not one of the more beautiful trees we saw, just the most massive. And it was fun to say that I took my Eagle Scout husband to see the Boy Scout Tree! I wouldn’t necessarily do this hike again to see the tree, but I would do it again for the trail itself.
Returning to the car, we continued along Howland Hill Road to the signed spur road to Stout Grove where we found a packed parking lot. Here we hiked an easy 0.6 mile loop trail through what is touted as “the most scenic redwood grove in existence”. The trees here were indeed beautiful, but no more so than on the Boy Scout Trail and there were significantly more people. Still, it was a beautiful hike that I would highly recommend.
From Stout we finished the drive east along Howland Hill Road. It was impressive how quickly we left the redwoods— one minute they were there, the next they were gone. We crossed the Smith River and turned west on highway 199 toward Crescent City. We passed the park visitor center and then turned right onto Walker Road. Here we hiked the Simpson Reed Grove Trail combined with the Peterson Memorial Trail. This was a very nice combination of trails that formed a 1.5 mile round trip double loop. Again, the hiking was very easy and suitable for the whole family. I would highly recommend this trail to someone passing through on the highway and wanting a quick hike.
Directions to trailheads: The Boy Scout Tree and Stout Grove trails are located along Howland Hill Road which is just of highway 101 at the southern end of Crescent City. Simpson Reed Grove and Peterson Memorial Trails are located off highway 199 east of Crescent City and just to the west of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Visitor Center.