Redwoods Hiking Spring 2017 – Boy Scout Tree Trail

1      Boy Scout Tree Trail

The Boy Scout Tree Trail is a great hike through the heart of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, starting from a big grove along Howland Hill road then winding all the way northwest to Fern Falls which is very near the western border of the park.  The trail goes up and down a 400 foot hill and a smaller hill and makes its way along slopes, uplands, and creek bottoms.   It goes by many large redwoods right by the trail, and most of the trail provides expansive views of the redwood forest.  Then at the end Fern Falls is very beautiful.  This is an out and back trail, with the start and finish at Howland Hill road.

To prepare for this hike I referred to three sources, all of them excellent:

  • GF Beranek has published a new book covering Jedediah Smith and Del Norte Redwoods State Parks. This is an excellent resource, with beautiful photos not just of redwoods but also photos and descriptions of their forest habitat including companion tree species, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insectivores.   Every section and trail in the park is covered in detail, including twenty pages dedicated to the Boy Scout Tree Trail.   This is a companion book to earlier publications on Humboldt Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, and Tree of Dreams and Fortune, all very good.   You can find these books in some of the visitor centers and almost all the gift shops around the redwood parks.  It should definitely be a fixture in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park visitor center.
  • Dave Baselt has a web site redwoodhikes.com which covers all the trails in all the redwood parks, with topographic maps, elevation profiles, hike descriptions, and photos. In addition his waterproof large foldout park maps can be ordered online or purchased in the park visitor centers.  I always bring and use his related map when I visit a park and hike a particular trail.
  • Mario Vaden has built quite a redwoods web site, which can be launched off his commercial landscaping website mdvaden.com. Lots of photos, essays, and trail descriptions, including the Boy Scout Tree Trail.  Some of his photos are for sale, including his famous epic sunset view of the Geisha Redwood.

The trail head for Boy Scout Tree Trail is on Howland Hill road about two miles north of the southern park entrance.  Howland Hill road is a great drive among big redwoods.  It is more or less a 10 mph road, given the bumps, blind corners, some tight squeezes between trees, and lots of pebbles which can work their way into your wheel cover or brakes.  Plus driving slower keeps the dust down.

I arrived on a sunny weekend day about 9 AM.  There were a few cars parked at the trail head.  When I finished this hike about four hours later there were  about 25 cars at the trail head and in side slip spaces nearby on Howland Hill road.  Maybe I met 75 people on the trail going out and back, which means running across a person or group every five to ten minutes or so, so lots of solitude as well.

Grove at Howland Hill road Boy Scout Tree Trail parking area
Boy Scout Tree Trail trail head sign

 

 

2      The Climb to Upland Redwoods

 

The first part of the trail is flat, then starting at the scenic bridge shown below it starts to climb at a moderate pace for about a mile or so, passing some big redwoods by the trail with expansive views to the north.  There is a under duct under one old log that kind of looks like a giant crocodile.

First bridge on flats near start of BSTT
Nice trail side redwood on climb up east slope
This log leaning over the trail on the way up looks a little like a crocodile

Upon reaching the summit I anticipated catching a bit of the cool ocean breeze as described by Jerry Beranek in his book.  And by golly, there it was, smack dab on top of the hill.  In addition to the northwest ocean breeze there is a hint of salt water in the wind.

This big trail side triple redwood is at the summit

The trail then circles around the hilltops, with nice redwoods growing among fern dominated ground cover.

Hill top redwoods in fern fields

 

3      Down to Jordan Creek

 

But what goes up must come down and eventually the trail starts to descend toward the Jordan Creek valley.  Here on the west side of the hill the terrain is more wrinkled and rugged, as is the trail.  There are lots of roots to negotiate, which can be your friend when braking going downhill or looking for steps going uphill but can be your enemy when catching a toe.  In fact it is so steep in places steps have been built into the trail for assistance.  These help a lot.

Helpful log stairs in trail going down to Jordan Creek

Jordan Creek itself is pretty small where the trail crosses near its headwaters.  But still it is a very dense setting, with lots of huckleberry and western hemlock mixed in with the redwoods.  There is a RCCI study plot in the back country on the west side of JSRSP, not particularly near this trail but having the same type of redwood habitat, which has the greatest measured biomass density of any area on the planet Earth.

This small bridge crosses Jordan Creek near its headwaters

 

4      Valley of the Giants

 

After crossing Jordan Creek there is a short climb to hill side terraces which follow the generally westward path of Jordan Creek.  The trail follows these steppes around some bends and pockets.  And along, below, and above these steppes and pockets, are sets of really large redwoods.  Ones Jerry Beranek calls Class AA and Dave Baselt describes as Giants.  Many are single stem, but there are others that started as adjacent single stem and then fused as their diameters expanded.

The two big redwoods shown below start the Valley of the Giants.  They are right across the trail from each other.  One has a spectacular up trunk burl holding a fern garden.

Large trail side redwood at eastern end of Valley of the Giants
Second large trail side redwood at eastern entrance of Valley of the Giants
A nice fern garden high on the trunk of big redwood at eastern end of Valley of the Giants

Some of the big redwoods can be seen in their full profile, while others are cloaked by the undergrowth or other trunks.   Here are some views along the trail.

Big redwood visible in full profile in Valley of the Giants
This single stem 20 foot diameter redwood grows right by the trail in the Valley of the Giants

5      Boy Scout Tree Area and Fern Falls

 

After leaving the Valley of the Giants there are still plenty of nice redwoods.    This past winter a large redwood fell across the trail in the section that descends to the Boy Scout Tree area.  There is still a pretty big crater in the trail where the trunk fell across it.   Then shortly after there is quite a large trail side redwood with a big reiteration, burl, and fern garden low on the trunk

Crater in trail on hill down to Boy Scout Tree, caused by redwood falling across the trail.
Big redwood on trail down to Boy Scout Tree with reiteration, burl, and fern garden low on the trunk.

As the trail enters the Boy Scout Tree area  there are still plenty of nice redwoods, and Sitka spruce start to make an appearance.

Nice redwood by trail in Boy Scout Tree area

Soon the spur trail on the right that leads up to the Boy Scout Tree is encountered.  The Boy Scout Tree is an impressive fused redwood.

Boy Scout redwood tree

From the Boy Scout Tree area the trail continues to descend and winds around a bend, where Fern Falls makes a sudden appearance.   The falls are quite spectacular, especially when the flow rate is high such as the day I encountered them.

Rounding this bend, Fern Falls comes into view
Fern Falls at western end of Boy Scout Tree trail

While at this end of the park there is a hint of Crescent City, with an occasional hum of truck tires or the harbor horn.  Just a whisper, nothing unpleasant and it adds to the hike.

The hike back was just as enjoyable though maybe a little more tiring going up the tall hill from the west side.  But not too strenuous and the downhill jaunt to the parking lot at Howland Hill road was fun.