The Boy Scout Tree trail is located in Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park, one of four parks that make up the Redwoods National and State Parks of Northern California. Jedidiah Smith is the northernmost of the park and the least developed, containing some of the most pristine and dense old-growth forest. This area is unique and important ecologically, with the park system protecting nearly half of the remaining old growth redwoods. It has been named a World Heritage Site and international Biosphere Reserve. This park, because it is not situated right on the coast, is best visited on a sunny day, where the sunlight filtering through the trees is breathtaking.
The Boy Scout Tree trail begins from a small parking area on the northwest side of Howland Hill Road. This road can be as much of an experience as the hike itself, as it winds its way through six miles of spectacular old growth redwoods. The trail dives into the forest of these huge trees right away. Be careful or you will get a strain in your neck trying to look up and see the tops of them, oftentimes 300 feet above the forest floor.
The trail climbs a ridge which is located right in the middle of the hike, gaining over 300 feet on the way in, and about 350 feet on the way out. As you climb the ridge, the forest seems to open up, with nothing but the endless redwood stems laid out before you. While not as big as some of the trees towards the beginning of the trail, the open forest with nothing but these giant trunks visible as you look out through it (the branches don’t even start until your 100 feet or so up the tree), is once in a lifetime. You almost expect to see a dinosaur strolling through the trees.
As you head down the far side of the ridge, you will find a mixture of redwood and spruce trees. As you continue down into the Jordan Creek Valley, the redwoods become sparser, but again get absolutely huge. They seem to grow in clumps, but the remainder of the forest canopy is fairly open, allowing you to again strain your neck trying catch a glimpse of their tops.
At the 2.1 mile mark, you will encounter a small side trail with a sign directing you to the Boy Scout Tree. Be sure to take it. The scramble up the hill side is short, but steep. You may have to use your hands. But sitting up there is one of the biggest damn trees in the world. You could probably build a house inside that thing. The tree is over 23 feet wide and 240 feet tall.
If you would like to continue your hike from here, a further half mile down the trail is Fern Falls. As the trail continues, it leaves the redwoods and enters a more traditional coastal forest. The falls itself is pretty small and depending on the time of year, may not have much flow over it. The highlights of the hike have definitely already been seen.
The Boy Scout Tree Trailhead is located on the beautiful Howland Hills Road. This road is mostly gravel and is generally suitable for passage vehicles, but during certain times of the year, can get fairly rutted. If your worried, check with the park rangers before beginning. The total six miles of the Howland Hills Road generally takes about an hour to drive. There are also no trailers allowed on this narrow and windy road.
If you are coming from the north, head east onto South Fork Road at the signs marking the way for the Howland Hills Scenic Drive. You will pass over bridges of both the Smith River and the South Fork Smith River and then make a right onto Douglas Park Drive. This road quickly narrows down and will turn to gravel in a little more than a mile. Once it turns to gravel, the trailhead will be 3.3 miles ahead on your right.
If you are arriving at the trailhead from Crescent City, turn east off of Highway 101 onto Elk Valley Road, about a mile south of town. Follow this road for another mile before making a right onto Howland Hill Road. Again, the road will narrow down to about one lane and begin going through a very windy section as you climb into the park. The road will turn to gravel after about a mile and a half from Elk Valley Road and the trailhead will be on your left about two miles following that.
Passes: No passes required.
Dogs: Allowed but must be on leash under 6 feet long.
Open Season: Trail is open all year