One of the best redwood hikes in the world is less than a one day drive from the bay area...
Driving up from the Bay Area on US 101 N you'll travel through numerous redwood filled state parks. All are worth a visit, but for a spectacular experience through a cathedral of towering and ancient giants, keep driving all the way up to Crescent City and Jedediah Smith State Park.
Here, you'll hike the Boy Scout Tree Trail to visit the giant Boy Scout Tree, honoring the boys who blazed the trail to this tree:
From the Trailhead to the Boy Scout Tree and Falls
Return - From the Falls to the Trailhead
Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101, at the south end of Crescent City, turn east on Elk Valley Road. After 1.5 miles, fork right on Howland Hill Road and continue east about four more miles to the signed trailhead located on the north side of the road
Start the hike at dawn. There will be few if any other hikers at that time, and you'll be alone in a forest full of trees, hundreds and some even thousands of years old. There are birds, but their chirps and whistles are quiet, except for the occasional squawking crow. And out on this trail, the silence is dotted with the pure sounds of nature, not cars, planes or industrial effluence. The old giants around you creak and moan, the sword ferns rustle, and the air is filled with the sweet mossy scent of old earth.
The trailhead is located off the unpaved single lane Howland Hill road. Just driving slowly on this road, early in the morning, gives you a feeling of the experience yet to come. Normally, the trailhead has an official marker, but on my visit there was just a sheet of paper stapled to a post. Let's hope they get the real marker back soon. There are about 6 or 8 spots for parking along the narrow road, another reason to get there early.
Hiking the first part of the trail, breathing in the forest air, feeling the soft and cushiony ground under your feet, all thoughts of the world you left behind will disappear. Here are trees that first poked through the soil before Columbus visited the continent, before the dark ages, before even the birth of Christianity. One undisclosed tree in the park has been determined by scientists to be over 2520 years old!
As you walk, you can see the story in their bark. The lines, the cracks, the mossy glow and the twisted, knotted burls reveal their character and resilience.
The trail winds gently through the forest, with occasional ups and downs. This is not an endurance hike though, this is purely and simply a spiritual hike. You will be humbled, awed and filled with excitement. Every step brings a new vision, fresh light and a new perspective.
The giant redwoods stand firm at the base, and their crowns disappear hundreds of feet above you, where they wait for rolling banks of fog to catch. Redwoods thrive in the foggy conditions near the coast. The moisture generated from the fog supplies up to 40% of the tree's water needs.
This is an old growth forest, untouched by loggers or other types of devastation. The forest has had an opportunity to develop multiple layers of canopy and a thick, cushiony floor. However, these forests are tempting targets for logging:
From the pages of the Crescent City American, July 1928.
The big tree which is known as the Boy Scout Tree after the Boy Scouts blazed a trail to it, about one mile from the Robert Howland home, has been figured up and if the tree was felled and cut into lumber, it would saw out over 165,000 board feet of lumber.
The mammoth redwood is 27 feet in diameter and over 400 feet tall. The tree is on the property of the Del Norte Timber Company.
Now, the park is protected open space. However, these beautiful trees face a new threats by poachers, environmental issues and drought. Learn more about how you can help protect the redwoods here.
This is a direct, out and back hike, with two destinations. At about 3 miles, the trail splits. To the right, up a short but steep hill, is the Boy Scout Tree. Returning back to the split and taking the other trail will lead you to Fern Falls, which is a gentle trickle in the summer. The distance from the tree to the falls is less than a quarter mile. The round trip, including the falls, is just over 6 miles.
Here are a few of my favorite scenes on my way to the Boy Scout Tree and Fern Falls:
At the split, take the trail to the right, climb the short hill, and here he is, the big daddy, the Boy Scout Tree:
After I took some time to meditate in the shadow of the giant, I went back down to the split and continued on the trail to Fern Falls. On the way I passed a mossy and mysterious section of the forest. Twisted maple branches were draped with a damp moss that moved gently with the breeze. Little chickadees chirped and flittered around me.
Past a few more sections of the majestic giants, the forest opens up to reveal the falls:
The falls is a good place to sit and enjoy the internal calm and relaxation that this place generates. Streams and waterfalls release negative ions. When we breath these in, it is believed to stimulate the production of serotonin in our bodies. Serotonin is thought to improve mood and alleviate depressive states. If you don't already feel a sense of calm and well being in the forest, the falls will get you there.
On my return route, back to the trailhead, I switched lenses to be able to zoom in on certain features of the landscape.
I found myself walking slower and slower. I didn't want to leave this place, and was honestly a little saddened when I started hearing the voices of other hikers approaching. This place feels like a beautiful gift. The vibrant and ancient life, the harmony, and the spiritual connection here generate a natural euphoria.
The fullness of your experience here is directly related to your respect of this forest. Enjoy and treat this park, and all of nature, as the gift it is.