Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Dwarfed by the redwoods on Howland Hill Road

NOTE: I use a fixed format for the Dog Blog. The photos that I embed in the text are either 400x300 or 300x400 pixels. When you click on the photos (and you really should) you get the full resolution version. I always crop the full size version to the same aspect ratio so that it is identical to the embedded photo, just bigger. But that doesn't do the redwoods justice. So for the posts about our trip to the redwood country, I kept many of the full size photos at their original resolution. Even with wider and taller photos it's hard to capture the scale of the redwood trees. So do click on the pictures and enjoy the full size of the giant trees. /NOTE

We were going to spend the first two nights of our trip in Crescent City, the northernmost coastal town in California. Then our plan was to move south and stay in the town of Klamath for the next two nights. It made sense for us to do our hiking north to south as well to minimize backtracking, so we spent day one exploring Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It's just over 10,000 acres of which more than 90% is redwood forest. It includes several groves of old growth trees. I picked the Boy Scout Tree Trail for our first hike. It's five miles round trip and six hundred feet of elevation gain to the eponymous Boy Scout Tree and a small waterfall. It would be a good mornings workout before lunch. It was even a short drive to the trailhead, only five miles from our hotel. It was nice that we didn't have to spend a lot of time driving before we started hiking.

Walking the closed road was a nice hike

Before leaving town we made a quick stop at Redwood National Park Headquarters to pick up maps for the national park and various state parks. Of course I got a Redwood National Park tshirt too. Then we were off to do some hiking. Our trailhead was off of Howland Hill Road. It's a narrow, twisting dirt road that winds through virgin redwood forest, crossing the southern half of the park. It's highly recommended as just a scenic drive, a very different experience than zooming through the redwoods on paved highways like US 101 or California 199.

Find the road we needed just down the street from our hotel - check. Find the turnoff onto Howland Hill Road to enter the park - check. Road narrows and turns to dirt after a mile when it enters the park - check. Follow very windy dirt road for 2.7 miles to trailhead - check. Wait. I A mile before we were supposed to reach the trailhead we were stopped by a locked gate across the road.

We double checked the directions. There hadn't been much for us to get wrong. We thought about going to do a different hike but eventually decided to just walk the road. It only added two easy miles to the hike, which was only five miles anyway. And we were already in the big trees, so walking the road was just like taking a wide, nicely graded trail. There were two other cars parked in a pullout just before the gate and there was just enough space for us to pull in next to them. A couple from one of the other cars had just started down the road ahead of us so we followed them.

Stout Grove - not just tall, they're big too

The redwood forest was amazing. We were completely in shade. It was a bright, sunny day but only a soft, green light filtered down through the forest canopy way above us. It felt like we were inside of a huge building. The forest was open, the dim light insufficient to maintain much underbrush at ground level. But the trunks of the redwoods stretched out of sight into a thick canopy above. It was quiet and peaceful. We were a long way from any busy roads. There weren't even sounds of birds or the wind. Everything was covered in moss which seemed to muffle any sound. Walking in the redwood forest reminded me of being in a great European cathedral, with large open spaces, where walls and columns stretched high above to a ceiling that you could barely see. The atmosphere was the same, one of awe and peacefulness and reverence. When you talked it seemed like you should whisper.

It's hard to believe but in the 1960's the state of California was planning to make Howland Hill Road a four lane highway. Fortunately for us conservationists were able to stop the plans so the forest is still here for us to experience. Sadly the politics now favor defunding the Park Service and eliminating protection on some of our national monuments. We live in a much more selfish time.

It's hard to get your mind around their size - or your arms.

The couple we were following turned back after only a quarter of a mile. As they passed us on the way back, they asked us if we "knew where the big trees were". I was too caught off guard to even give my usual smart ass answer. I experienced a moment of cognitive dissonanace as I thought "did they really ask that?" Then I looked around to make sure that yes, we were standing in the middle of a giant redwood forest. By this time Sandy had answered them, politely, and told them how they could get to some of the named groves in the park. They thanked her and went back to their car. When they were gone Sandy said "I'm not sure what they were expecting. There are giant trees all around us!" I guess there wasn't a sign saying "Big Tree" on any of them. Well even if they weren't impressed, we certainly were.

We kept going for quite a while. We began to wonder what was wrong when my GPS said that we had gone a mile and a half. It was only supposed to be a mile to the trailhead. Just then we heard loud noises ahead and as we came around a corner we could see a big earth mover working on the road. That explained why it was closed. We decided that was probably far enough. We didn't want to hike through the work area so we turned back.

Looking out to Chetco Point

That night when I checked the map carefully it looked liket the trailhead was probably right where they were working. It didn't matter. We had a really good hike along the road and saw some very big trees.

Next we went to visit the Stout Grove. It should have been easy to reach, only four miles further on Howland Hill Road. It would have been very efficient if the road hadn't been closed. Instead driving around took us half an hour but in the grand scheme of things that wasn't a big deal. The parking area where the road was closed at the other end was very small. Even though there were only four or five cars I still had to get creative to find a spot to park. The road here was extremely narrow but I did manage to get off the road so I wasn't blocking anyone.

Again it was supposed to be a mile down Howland Hill Road from where we parked to a short spur trail to the Stout Grove. This time our info was correct and we found the signed junction right where it was supposed to be. We took the half mile loop around the grove. It did indeed have some trees that were gigantic, bigger than any that we had seen on our earlier walk. This was old growth forest that had escaped logging and the biggest trees might have been as much as fifteen hundred years old.

Looking down on the beach below Chetco Point

On our way back we took a different trail that followed the Stout River. It had looked very scenic as we appoached on the highway. Sadly the trail stayed about a hundred yards inland, just far enough that the brush blocked any views. We did have glimpses of some impressive houses on the other side of the river. They were in the National Forest rather than the park. People with big bucks must have bought up any inholdings near the river. It's a shame that such a beautiful area is only accessible to a handful of people instead of being available to everyone.

By the time we got back to our car a real mess had developed. More people had come and they had parked along the side of the road for some way back from the end. The problem was that the road was barely wide enough for two cars, so with a car parked on the side there was only one lane for traffic. The end of the road was hidden around a curve so people would drive to the end before they realized that there was no place to park and no place to turn around. By then other people had come up behind them so they couldn't back out. We took our time getting our stuff back in the car. It took about ten minutes for people to sort things out and clear the road. As soon as we got the chance I zoomed out of there and back to the highway. Early starts on hikes are a good thing for lots of reasons.

An uprooted giant in the Simpson-Reed Grove

By now we were both really hungry and ready for lunch. Since we were going to be traveling south tomorrow, we decided to go north today and head into Oregon on US 101. The first major town, Brookings Harbor, was only twenty five miles away. We had a tourist brochure and it looked like there were some interesting restaurants, shops, and a marina. Since Crescent City wasn't very tourist-oriented we thought we might find some cool stuff.

The first thing that we found when we got there was that there wasn't any town called Brookings Harbor. There were actually two towns, Brookings and Harbor, right next to each other.

We had lunch at Wild River Pizza, a pizzaria and microbrewery. It's hard to go wrong with that combination. We were both a little dehydrated from hiking all morning so we didn't try their beer. We stuck to water and soda instead. But the pizza was excellent. I'm a pizza aficionado and I thought it was very, very good. Sandy really liked it too.

After lunch we looked for the doggie bakery that we had seen in the brochure. We wanted to get some special treats to take home for Abby. We didn't have any luck finding it though. Apparently it had gone out of business.

Next we drove out to Chetco Point Park. It's definitely in an out of the way spot. In fact, the parking lot is right next to the city waste treatment plant. Across the street was a paper mill. Needless to say the combination of smells was not pleasant. We had to walk behind the sewage plant to get to the point. But once we got to the park the offshore breeze blew the unpleasant smell away and it was actually quite pretty. At the very end of the land a lady had an easel set up and was doing a painting, perched right at the top of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The scene with her there was almost worthy of a painting itself. I did have to wonder why they put an industrial zone just inland from a scenic section of shoreline.

Round Two at Seaquest Brewery

Our last stop was the marina. It was a disappointment. There really weren't any shops. The marina itself was ugly. There were lots of dead fish floating where the boats were parked, like someone had just dumped them in the water. The only good thing there was a place that sold ice cream called Slugs 'n Stones 'n Ice Cream Cones. Several people walking along the marina told us the ice cream was delicious so we both got big cones. Sure enough, they were right. It was good.

By now it was late afternoon and time to head back. We made one more stop in Jed Smith State Park, this time parking near some of the trails in the northern part of the park just off highway 122. We had seen the signs for the turnoff when we had driven in the day before. There were several groves of big trees there. We did a short hike through the Simpson-Reed Grove. Even though we had done two hikes in the morning, we were still impressed by the redwoods. We spent most of the time walking around with our heads tilted way back, craning our necks to see the tops of the trees.

After stopping at our hotel to clean up it was time for Happy Hour. We went to SeaQuake Brewing, a microbrewery and restaurant in Crescent City. This time I did try their beer while Sandy enjoyed some California wine. While we had our drinks we looked over our pictures from the day's explorations. Over a good dinner, we planned our activities for the next day.