The storied Grove of Titans contains some of the world’s largest measured redwoods by volume. It became well-known because of its central role in Richard Preston’s popular 2007 book about big-tree hunters, The Wild Trees. Although the book made it sound like the grove can only be reached by a “heinous bushwhack” through a remote wilderness, in fact it was just a few yards from the Mill Creek Trail and had always been plainly visible to anyone who walked by. So despite efforts to keep the grove’s location secret, within a few years anyone could easily find out where it was, and the grove became a very popular destination.
At the time the trail skirted the grove, so everyone who visited went off-trail to walk around and climb on the biggest trees. A network of unofficial trails appeared; the ferns were trampled, the groundcover worn away, and the trees’ roots were exposed. As the grove lost its pristine character, the clearly-visible unofficial trails encouraged more people to go off-trail for longer periods of time, increasing the amount of damage even more.
Foot traffic turns the uniquely spongy soil in old-growth groves (actually a thick mat of decomposing redwood needles) into hard dirt that inhibits root growth and absorbs less water. With less water, the tops of the trees can die, and eventually the trees might become more likely to fall. You can see this happening on Highway 101 in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where the tops of the big trees are clearly visible from the highway; the needles have fallen off the tops, leaving bare spike-shaped trunks sticking up out of the canopy.
In response to the rapid deterioration of the grove, in 2021 the park opened the Grove of Titans walkway, hopefully eliminating the need to go off-trail by moving the Mill Creek Trail from the edge of the grove to the center. To prevent soil compression and allow rainfall to reach the soil, the trail was elevated slightly on a 6 foot wide metal mesh walkway.
The grove occupies an alluvial flat where a tributary flows into Mill Creek. It’s rather small; you can walk from one end to the other in about three minutes, and there are four notable monster trees. It is, however, a genuinely magnificent grove, exceptionally lush and attractive even by Jed Smith standards, with some of the largest trees in Redwood National and State Parks. The grove is tucked away in a sheltered glen with an open understory and a little creek flowing through, and it gets no traffic noise.
The grove is quite popular, with maybe 2–4 groups per minute passing through at peak times, about the same as Stout Grove or the Boy Scout Tree Trail.
The trail has a lot of steps and is not wheelchair accessible. Like all singletrack trails in the redwoods, bikes and dogs are not allowed.
The trailhead is on Howland Hill Road. It’s not very well marked, but it’s just south of the big auto bridge over Mill Creek and opposite a small restroom building. There are a few small pullouts on the opposite side of the road. The trailhead is marked with a small sign for the Grove of Titans.
The trail to the grove is quite scenic, climbing into the old-growth uplands above Mill Creek. The trail, which used to be rough and muddy due to overuse, has been significantly improved with new footbridges and flights of steps to handle the increased number of visitors.
As the trail descends back to the level of Mill Creek, the trees start to get noticably larger. The trail winds around a huge fallen redwood. Soon afterward, an ornamental gateway that says “Welcome to the Deep Forest” marks the beginning of the metal mesh walkway and the Grove of Titans.
The first large tree is the immense Chesty Puller. Named for a barrel-chesed Marine Corps officer, it’s an outlier separated from the rest of the large trees. Although it's actually two redwoods fused together, with its huge reiterated trunk, it's still the most impressive redwood in the grove.
A long flight of steps descends past Chesty Puller. The trail then crosses a wide, open marsh that divides the grove. Looking back, there’s a dramatic view of the huge tree. The trail then climbs slightly into heart of the grove, which is the most scenic part of the walk. A short spur on the right leads to a platform with a view of Mill Creek.
The grove has an unusual appearance: while most redwood groves have lots of redwoods of varying sizes, the Grove of Titans has a small number of widely-scattered huge redwoods, with very few smaller redwoods, set among an exceptionally lush understory. The elevated walkway accentuates the grove and makes it seem even more lush; the walkway floats above an unbroken layer of ferns, guiding you along a winding path that reveals a little more with each turn.
There’s a second intersection at the Lost Monarch, which is the largest single-trunk tree in the grove and currently the 5th-largest coast redwood by volume in the world.
The spur trail to the left leads to a little loop and the well-known double tree known as the Screaming Titans. At the end of the spur is a small viewing platform with a view of a burbling creek.
Return to the main trail. The trail descends past the grizzled El Viejo del Norte redwood before descending to a creek crossing where the grove, and the metal walkway, ends. This is as far as you can go; the rest of the Mill Creek Trail is closed.
© 2021, 2022 David Baselt