Once one of the area’s best kept secrets, Stout Grove in California’s Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is now one of California’s most popular redwood groves. Even the crowds cannot ruin the beauty, however, of this cathedral-like forest, a dense cluster of towering sentinels that casts a dark shadow over a lush understory. In late afternoon, the sun’s rays peer through the trees at a beautiful angle, making this one of the most photogenic redwood stands in the world.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, encompassed by Redwood National Park, is situated just northeast of Crescent City, California, not far from the California-Oregon border. The Stout Grove Trail, named for lumberman Frank D. Stout, begins at the end of a spur off the gravel Howland Hill Road, a 10-mile track running through the heart of the park. The unpaved drive once concealed Stout Grove from heavy crowds…no more, as the allure of one of the world’s best redwood groves now draws visitors from far and wide.
Park at the Stout Grove Trailhead—which is sure to fill up with cars in the summer—and proceed to the trail sign/map. (Note: Alternatively, campers at the Jedediah Smith Campground can cross a bridge over Smith River to reach the grove.) From the trailhead, the paved trail descends steeply into the grove before leveling off at a trail junction after 175 yards.
This is the start of the loop portion, and the end of the pavement. Heading right at the fork, hikers are immediately immersed in an awe-inspiring landscape. Vermilion-hued trunks, reaching for the sky, cluster together to form a dense canopy; the ground is laced with verdant ferns and abundant pine needles. Other, smaller trees are rare, allowing for unvarnished views of the redwood giants.
The grove was made possible by its proximity to Smith River and Mill Creek; the low floodplain is rich in moisture, a boon to the redwoods’ deep and interconnected roots. Different looks bring different light, making each perspective unique. Pictures and words, however, cannot replicate the cool, damp environment or frequent mist that gives the woods an inimitable character.
Wide and flat, the trail bears northeast through the grove, bending and weaving amid the titans of the forest. Lightning and windstorms have felled a number of the trees, but their remains give life to mosses and fungi and shelter for iconic, yellow banana slugs, ubiquitous creatures along the California coast.
At 3/10 mile, bear left at the trail junction; the River Trail bears right to the edge of the park. Some of thickest and most accessible trees lie just beyond, many cutting right into the trail itself. Pass a massive, fallen tree on the right just before the trail forks again at the ½-mile mark, where the Hiouchi Trail bears off to the right toward Smith River (and the bridge over to Jedediah Smith Campground). Continue left , heading south toward the beginning of the circuit.
Back at the loop’s start, bear right and climb the steep hillside back to the parking area. Allot at least a half-hour for this scenic hike; spending an hour or more allows for the full experience: strolling slowly through the grove, breathing in the fresh air, and admiring the wonder of these living fossils, monumental trees that have stood the test of time.