★★★★

The Mill Creek Trail

From Stout Grove to the Grove of Titans


Length 4.8 mi · Climbing 300 ft
California > Redwood National and State Parks > Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

The Mill Creek Trail

Trail closed

As of November 2022, the Mill Creek Trail between the Grove of Titans and the Hiouchi Trail is still closed for renovation, even though Redwood National Park’s Alerts page says that it’s open. This segment was originally supposed to reopen on September 1, 2022, but one of the six new bridges hasn’t been finished yet.

Background

The Mill Creek Trail connects two of Jedediah Smith’s best groves, Stout Grove and the Grove of Titans. It makes a great day hike from the Jedediah Smith Campground and is a nice alternative to the park’s busier trails.

Between the two groves, the trail runs on a hillside above Mill Creek, following a natural break in the redwoods around the creek. The redwoods in this area are pretty small, and the trail even drops out of the redwoods entirely a few times. So the trail is essentially two big-tree groves with a lot of smaller trees in between.

The trail was renovated in 2022 and is now wider and easier to hike, with some nice new large footbridges.

The route described below can only be hiked in summer. In winter, when Mill Creek is too high to cross, it’s possible to start at Howland Hill Road south of the Grove of Titans and do the hike in reverse. You won’t be able to reach Stout Grove, but the out-and-back hike to Little Stout Grove is quite enjoyable and usually not very busy, at least after the Grove of Titans.

Hike description

Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps. In summer, when the seasonal footbridge across the wide Smith River is installed, you can also start at the Jedediah Smith Campground and walk across the river to Stout Grove.

Starting at the busy Stout Grove parking lot, take the paved trail that descends into the grove. Stay to your left at each intersection, passing through scenic Stout Grove, to emerge from under the redwoods onto the gravel banks at the confluence of Mill Creek and the Smith River. Cross Mill Creek and look for a trail that climbs into the redwoods.

The Mill Creek Trail begins in an alluvial-flat redwood grove just across Mill Creek from Stout Grove. “Little Stout Grove”, as I call it, is about half the size of Stout Grove and gets few visitors; even on a busy holiday weekend you might get it to yourself, making it feel like a quiet, hidden refuge. The sublime and remarkably scenic grove is unusually bright and open with tall, straight trees and perfectly flat ground carpeted with ferns and sorrel. A large clearing in the middle of the grove admits a lot of light and is filled with maple trees that soften the look of the grove and turn a brilliant yellow in early November. Stout Grove can be seen just across Mill Creek as a huge, dark wall of giant trees.

In the 1970s a loop trail circled around the entire grove, but only the north and east sides of the loop remain. The south side of the loop can still be followed, but is unmaintained and gradually deteriorating; it’s on a hillside and isn’t especially scenic.

Little Stout Grove

After only a few yards, the trail climbs out of the grove and the scenery quickly changes to upland redwoods. The redwoods become much smaller and a dense understory, at first of rhododendron and huckleberry, but soon transitioning to tanoak, obscures views into the forest.

It’s not entirely clear why the redwoods are so much smaller here, since there are other upland trails and streamside trails with much bigger trees. The trail may have been routed to avoid large redwoods; that would explain why it originally skirted the Grove of Titans.

However, the trail is still old-growth and is quite scenic, diving into very attractive redwood groves whenever it passes through areas with flat ground. Between the flats the trail descends into dense streamside brush.

The Mill Creek Trail

The Mill Creek Trail

The Mill Creek Trail

The Mill Creek Trail

There are a few areas where you can hear cars grinding along nearby Howland Hill Road.

Passing through a gateway that says “Welcome to the Deep Forest”, the trail emerges into the Grove of Titans, a strikingly lush flat with about half a dozen monster redwoods. The grove has a much different look from the miles of trail that precede it: darker, more open, with a lot more ferns and much bigger trees, it’s like stepping into a different world. A slightly bouncy metal mesh walkway floats above the ferns and helps make everything feel a little surreal. When it opened in 2021, the Grove immediately became one of Jedediah Smith’s most popular destinations.

At the end of the Grove of Titans walkway, turn around and return the way you came. For a longer hike, it’s possible to continue for another three-quarters of a mile to Howland Hill Road and then walk back to Stout Grove on the road.


 

© 2022 David Baselt