Explore Northern California’s Ancient Redwood Forests in Del Norte County
There are more than 1,000 redwood groves throughout California. Some are compact and accessible, others are sprawling with a thick understory that only the most adept explorers will conquer. In any case, these ancient collections of towering trees are something you have to experience in person.
What makes a redwood grove a redwood grove?
Redwood forests get almost double the rainfall that their friends to the south receive. More water means the trees have uncapped potential to grow. Additionally, forest fires are less likely in wetter conditions, so yet another obstacle has been removed for the giants. This unchecked power yields inspiring forests with trees that can grow to 360 feet tall and 24 feet in diameter at the base. Some seedlings have been known to grow a foot a year.
A grove by any other name
One of the first official redwood groves was named in 1929 when Clara Stout, widow to lumberman Frank D. Stout, donated 44-acres to the Save the Redwoods League to honor her husband’s legacy. This donation helped to establish Jedediah Smith State Park, which would grow to 10,000 acres and now has the most old-growth redwoods per acre of all of California’s parks.
That tradition continues today through the Save the Redwoods League, where a donation can not only honor a loved one or organization, but it also helps preserve these majestic groves.
Seeing is believing
Stout Memorial Grove in Jedediah Smith State Park remains one of the best options to experience glorious old-growth redwood forests.
This easy loop is less than one mile and includes access to the Smith River’s crystal waters. You’ll find a cathedral-like canopy above and a rich floor of ferns. If you have a sunny day, plan for a late afternoon stroll — that’s when the colors of the grove really pop. For the densest collection of redwoods, stick to the west end of the grove.
Driving Directions to Jedediah Smith State Park
To get there, take Highway 199 from Crescent City or Howland Hill Road from the south. The trailhead has parking and vault toilets but is not suitable for RVs and trailers. The Parks Service also provides a brochure with a helpful map of the area on the last page.
For a deeper dive into an enchanted forest, the Boy Scout Tree Trail is two and a half miles (one way) of quiet old-growth bliss within Jesse H. Metcalf Memorial Grove. The trail is set back away from the bumpy but busy Howland Hill Road of Jedediah Smith State Park. The serene surroundings and thick ferns make the hike almost like a walk through a garden. A short side-trail leads you to the Boy Scout Tree, a giant double redwood that looks a bit like a two-fingered Boy Scout salute. The trailhead has a large turnout where several cars can park.
One last honorable mention in Jedediah Smith State Park is the Simpson-Reed Trail, a one-mile loop that feels more like a jungle than a grove. The trailhead moved off the main highway several years ago, so it’s quiet and a little less populated. This grove contains a variety of life beyond towering redwoods including hemlocks, maples and heavy moss. It’s a quick jaunt that offers spectacular diversity. The trailhead has a parking lot including accessible spots.
For a dynamic redwood canyon hike, head south to join the Ten Taypo and Hope Creek Trails in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. One of the groves within this hike is named for poet John Glascock Baldwin, who wrote:
You shall walk where only the wind has walked before
And when all music is stilled
You shall hear the singing of the stream
And enter the living shelter of the forest
The combined trails make a three and a half mile loop that climbs 700 feet. If you like to save the descent for the second part, start clockwise to get the steep part out of the way. This also means that the landscape gets better and better throughout the hike. In either direction, you’ll start with a dramatic canyon of hearty redwoods. You’ll walk through an understory of huckleberry and rhododendrons plus you will meander over fairytale-like footbridge.
Driving Directions to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
To get there, take Newton B. Drury Scenic Highway to about mile marker 132. The trailhead is marked and features a turnout for parking.
An epic collection
Also within Jedediah Smith State Park is the Grove of Titans. Only just discovered in 1998, it contains 10 of the largest redwood trees known in existence. The largest is named Lost Monarch, standing at 320 feet and 26 feet in diameter. Other rivaling Titans in the grove include Del Norte Titan, El Viejo del Norte and Screaming Titans — a very unique redwood that is actually two trees fused together at the trunk.
With some coast redwoods living as long as 1,500 to 2,000 years, it wouldn’t be surprising if some of the trees in this grove were around at the time of the Roman Empire.
The Grove of Titans does not have an official trailhead. Its location was kept secret for at least a decade after its discovery. Since then, unofficial trails have been cut by curious novices, resulting in crushed understory, exposed tree roots, and the beginning of soil erosion.
California State Parks, Save the Redwoods League, National Park Service, and Redwood Parks Conservancy are working together to create official visitor access that will protect the grove while allowing future generations to enjoy ‘The Titans.’ According to Save the Redwoods League, the grove is closed until improvements can be made for visit access.
There are many opportunities to see these inspiring trees for yourself. Remember, there are over 1,000 groves throughout California, so plan your visit to see some of our gargantuan redwood beauties right here in Del Norte County.