Stout Grove is the world’s most scenic stand of redwoods. It’s not all that large, and it doesn’t have the biggest trees, but for sheer photogenic beauty nothing beats this extraordinary grove on a sunny afternoon.
Located on a small floodplain at the confluence of two rivers, Stout Grove is a quintessential alluvial-flat grove, with an otherworldly, cathedral-like majesty. There are quite a few good-sized trees here, although the Stout Tree with its distinctively rippled bark dwarfs all the others. The trees are all redwoods, with no understory of tanoak or other small trees to obscure the views. The redwoods are densely packed, especially at the west end of the grove. A perfect, plush, lawn-like layer of ferns and redwood sorrel carpets the ground.
The grove has a remarkably hushed and serene environment. Sounds are damped out by the thick, spongy layer of needles on the ground. What’s more, the grove is hidden away off the normal tourist routes and busy Highway 101 is miles away. At times, however, some traffic noise does drift across the river from two-lane Highway 199, about a quarter-mile away. The noise is worse on weekdays when a lot of trucks use the highway, and in winter when there’s less foliage to block the noise.
Because the grove is a little difficult to reach, it’s rarely crowded: on a summer afternoon there might be three or four groups of people strolling around the short loop trail. A minimalist approach to development has left the grove largely natural and unspoiled. The usual signs with tree names and heights have been removed, since they encouraged people to go off-trail and damage the trees. The tall fences that used to surround the trail were also removed. There are no interpretive leaflets to read and no cross-sections of thousand-year-old redwoods to look at. There’s a tiny visitor’s center in the campground across the river, but it’s so well-hidden that you’ll never find it unless you go looking for it.
Unfortunately, as park visitorship increased over the years a clear track to the grove’s biggest tree, the Stout Tree, appeared in the groundcover, encouraging practically every visitor to go off-trail and walk around the tree. In 2018 the park gave in and added a viewing platform to the tree to prevent further damage.
Beginning in about 2010 a lot of big trees have been falling along the northern edge of the grove, where it borders the Smith River. Before then, there were only two or three large fallen trees in this area; now the trail passes a nearly continuous string of fallen giants. Some of the best views are now blocked by fallen trees. The rest of the grove seems to be unaffected.
Mosquitos are plentiful here in the summer, so be sure to bring bug repellent.
The best time to see the grove is in the late afternoon. Around 3 pm in the summer, the grove is dull and gloomy-looking, but by 4 pm the sun slants into the grove (thanks to a break in the canopy over Mill Creek) and the foliage becomes backlit with rich, brilliant golds and greens, like a stained-glass window in a cathedral. Sunbeams slant down, often visible as they cut through the darkness, to dapple the tree trunks and ferns. By 5 pm the show is over. I’ve been there many times and still find the transformation amazing. In the winter the angle of the sun isn’t right and the light show doesn’t happen.
Just across Mill Creek (a small creek that empties into the much larger Smith River) is another redwood grove that’s much smaller and not quite as impressive but still exceptionally nice. It’s worth the short walk over, at least in the summertime when two small footbridges make crossing the creek easy.
From Crescent City, drive east on Highway 199. Continue past the Jedediah Smith campground entrance, the Hiouchi Information Center, and the town of Hiouchi. Immediately after crossing the Myrtle Creek bridge, turn right and cross the Smith River on a second bridge. Pass the Forks Launch Facility and continue across Craigs Creek on another bridge. Immediately after this bridge, bear right at a 3-way intersection. Cross a short covered bridge and continue through a residential area. The paved road surface gives way to dirt as you enter the redwoods. Continue for another mile and a half until you reach a paved road to your right. Turn right onto this road to reach the Stout Grove parking area.
The grove can also be reached by driving Howland Hill Road from the south, a much longer (5 mile) but also much more scenic drive on a narrow dirt road.
Like most of Redwood National and State Parks, there’s no parking fee or entrance fee for Stout Grove.
Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.
From the parking area, a trail leads downhill into Stout Grove, where a loop trail takes you around the extraordinary flat. Two other trails branch off from the loop. If you’re walking clockwise, the first trail leads to the Smith River and in summertime, a long bridge over the river to the campground. The second trail quickly leaves the old-growth redwoods and heads toward the Little Bald Hills Trail.
© 2006, 2009, 2019 David Baselt