Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

The most scenic redwoods
California > Redwood National and State Parks

*** The Leiffer and Ellsworth Loops *** The Simpson-Reed Trail *** The Hatton Trail * The Wellman Loop Trail ** The Hiouchi Trail ***** Stout Grove ***** The Boy Scout Tree Trail *** The Mill Creek Trail * The Mill Creek Horse Trail (Redwood NP) ** The Little Bald Hills Trail *** Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

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

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.

The Del Norte Titan, one of the largest coast redwoods by volume; its location is kept secret.

Old-growth redwood hikes

***** Stout Grove (0.6 miles)
This small grove by the side of the Smith River is the most scenic redwood grove in existence. Best seen in the late afternoon, the grove has a remarkable cathedral-like appearance, hushed and serene, with huge straight trees rising through the gloom into brilliantly backlit foliage.

***** The Boy Scout Tree Trail (5.2 miles)
An extraordinary out-and-back hike that proceeds through a variety of redwood environments, from a low-lying plain with a pure grove of ancient redwoods, to an upland environment with smaller trees, to a mixed-species forest dotted with monster redwoods. The drive to the trailhead, along a narrow dirt road that leads through superb old-growth redwoods, only adds to the mystique of the hike.

*** The Mill Creek Trail (7.4 miles)
Starting at Stout Grove, the Mill Creek trail follows Mill Creek four miles upstream. The scenery is not as redwood-intensive as might be expected, since the redwoods don't grow right along the banks of the creek. Nonetheless, this is a nice hike.

*** The Hatton Trail (4.3 miles)
This hike starts across Highway 199 from the Simpson-Reed Trail and climbs a hillside above the highway. As the trail climbs, it passes through an interesting variety of redwood environments, from dense, lush lowlands to sun-dappled uplands. Although scenery is superb, traffic noise makes it difficult to really appreciate this hike.

*** The Simpson-Reed Trail (0.9 miles)
One of the most popular trails in the park, mainly due to its location on Highway 199. This short loop has a strikingly lush look that's noticably different from the rest of the park.

*** The Leiffer and Ellsworth Loops (2.1 miles)
Each of these two connected loops climbs and then descends a hillside, passing by a few stretches of big redwoods along the way. One of Jed Smith's less spectacular old-growth hikes.

Other hikes

** The Little Bald Hills Trail (9.8 miles)
This trail climbs out of Jed Smith's old-growth redwoods, passing through lush fir groves before entering a sparse hilltop pine forest.

** The Hiouchi Trail (4.4 miles)
This trail follows the Smith River, mostly through uninteresting mixed-species forest at the edge of the old growth redwoods.

* The Wellman Trail (1.5 miles)
Located across Highway 199 from the campground, this trail climbs through unspectacular redwood uplands before descending through dense non-redwood forest.

Stout Grove

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.

More information

  • Orion Magazine has a great excerpt from Richard Preston's book The Wild Trees, about how the Grove of Titans was recently discovered in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. This grove contains the world's largest, third-largest, and sixth-largest redwood by volume, but you can't visit it because its location has not been disclosed.
  • Mario Vaden's website has some impressive pictures of the Grove of Titans as well as the Del Norte Titan, which was the world's largest redwood until the Grove was found.
  • BnB Hiouchi has a blog that describes several hikes in the Jed Smith area.
  • Reserve campsites at Reserve America.

Howland Hill Road



© 2007, 2010 David Baselt