Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
The most scenic redwoods
Bright, open, and lush, Jed Smith's redwood groves are the most scenic in existence. There's an unusual amount of variety in the color and texture of the trees, in the size of the trees, and even in the understory vegetation, making the woods an interesting place to hike. The park also has some trees of truly stupendous size: perhaps not quite as tall as the redwoods to the south, but bigger in diameter. Somewhere in the park is the largest coast redwood by volume, a tree that's exceeded in size, and not by much, by only seven giant sequoias.
With its huge swath of uninterrupted old growth, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is also the most unspoiled redwood park. In fact the main drawback of Jed Smith, at least from a hikers' perspective, is that it's too undeveloped. A large portion of the park has no trails whatsoever, and the Boy Scout Tree Trail is really the only trail that lets the average visitor get a look at the magnificent redwood scenery in the park's interior. Unfortunately it's likely to remain this way for the forseeable future, since with their increasing emphasis on conservation, parks have generally been moving trails and other facilities away from old-growth redwoods.
The park's largest trees, particularly the Grove of Titans and the nearby Del Norte Titan, can't be seen by most visitors, as their location has been kept a secret to protect the trees from damage. The fact that this legendary grove of monster trees is somewhere out there in the wilderness gives the park something of an air of mystery. Judging from the faint trails that now lead to these trees, though, the secret hasn't been very well kept.
Howland Hill Road, which passes through the center of the park, is one of the best redwood drives anywhere. Depending on how recently it's been resurfaced, this narrow dirt road can be as smooth and flat as a paved road, or it could be a continuous string of potholes. Starting from the south, the road climbs steeply into the park. Shortly after cresting, it enters the redwoods, immediately passing through a remarkable cluster of monster trees. Cut into a hillside, the road provides some nice views of the lushly-vegetated ravine below as it descends through an otherworldly landscape. There's a sense of isolation from the outside world, since you're enclosed by fern-carpeted hillsides on either side and the forest canopy above, but also because the verdent, open woods are so unlike anything else you can drive through. After passing the Boy Scout Tree Trail, the road levels out and the forest, though still very attractive old growth, is a little less exceptional until you reach the Stout Grove.
As you view the superb scenery of Howland Hill Road, be thankful that it was not turned into a four-lane highway. The State of California was planning to do just that, but fortunately, due mainly to the growing ecological awareness of the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson put a stop to the project.
The Jed Smith campground is densely wooded but the only big redwoods are around the day use area (next to highway 199) and the group camp (next to the river). Unusually for a lowland forest in this park, the day use area is surrounded by dense growths of huckleberry shrubs. The best campsites are sites 47-58, which are near the group camp. Since these sites are close to the river they are lower than the rest of the campground and are shielded from traffic noise by a steep embankment. There are also some big redwoods around these campsites.
Old-growth redwood hikes
***** Stout Grove (0.6 miles)
***** The Boy Scout Tree Trail (5.2 miles)
*** The Mill Creek Trail (7.4 miles)
*** The Hatton Trail (4.3 miles)
*** The Simpson-Reed Trail (0.9 miles)
*** The Leiffer and Ellsworth Loops (2.1 miles)
** The Little Bald Hills Trail (9.8 miles)
** The Hiouchi Trail (4.4 miles)
* The Wellman Trail (1.5 miles)
Getting to Jed Smith
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is about an hour and 45 minutes north of Arcata and Eureka. Coming from the south, Highway 101 descends from Del Norte Redwoods State Park. Turn onto the first small road to your right just after the highway levels out. This is Humboldt Road. Continue through a residential area until Humboldt Road dead-ends at Howland Hill Road, then turn right. You'll pass a casino and then climb into Jedediah Smith Redwoods. At the top of Howland Hill the road turns into dirt and you enter the redwoods.
Alternatively, continue through Crescent City and exit onto Highway 199 toward Grants Pass. The highway soon enters the park, climbing over a hill with many twists and turns and then passing the Simpson-Reed grove. After crossing a large bridge high over the Smith River, the highway passes the campground (which has a small visitors' center) and then the Hiouchi Information Center. To reach Howland Hill Road, continue for few more miles through the town of Hiouchi and along the Smith River gorge. Just after crossing a bridge over Myrtle Creek, turn right onto South Fork Road, a small road that crosses a high bridge over the Smith River and then soon crosses a second bridge. Turn right at the intersection just after this bridge and continue, over a small covered bridge and through a residential neighborhood, until the road turns to dirt and enters the park.
© 2007, 2010 David Baselt