Hike the Boy Scout Tree Trail
California › Boy Scout Tree Trail
Added by Joshua Contois
One of the most picturesque and iconic trails in all of the redwood parksHike for miles among pristine old-growth redwoodsWildflower blooms during spring and summerTrailhead Coordinates: 41.7683030, -124.1104030Difficulty: Easy to ModerateDistance: 5.5 miles round-trip (out-and-back)Time: 3-4 hoursElevation Change: 425 feet
With a profusion of titanic trees and an ever expanding landscape, the extraordinary Boy Scout Tree Trail is not so much a hike as it is a showcase of the world's most scenic old growth redwoods. Located within Redwood National and State Parks, this pristine trail feels wonderfully remote. Hardly anywhere is it possible to hike through old growth redwoods for over five miles without hearing any traffic noise or seeing any sign of development. Aside from the occasional hiker passing by, the only sounds encountered are the raucous call of the Steller’s Jay or the wind rustling high in the canopy.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Boy Scout Tree Trail is simply the drive to the trailhead. Approaching from the west, the unpaved Howland Hill Road bumps and winds for two miles through truly dramatic old growth. The trailhead, marked by a wooden sign, is located next to a well-worn and easily recognizable pullout where a vehicle or two is probably already parked. Be advised that this is an extremely popular trail, and that during the summer months the few available parking spaces fill quickly. Expect lots of crowding during the first mile, where the “drive through” tourists tend to congregate. This section also has more noticeable wear and can get slightly muddy. For a hike with more solitude, consider getting on the trail before 8am or after 5pm.
Beginning at the trailhead on Howland Hill Road, the trail quickly progresses through a majestic lowland redwood forest. The trees, which grow out of a plush carpet of ferns, are gigantic. Storms from previous seasons have toppled a couple of these behemoths throughout this section of trail, and their prostrate forms provide a stark visual reminder to their immense size. The trail crosses a stream and then meanders pleasantly up a gently-sloped hillside. As the trail climbs, the forest quickly opens up, and the hillside offers a superb vantage point of the huge trees all around. Breaks in the forest canopy allow light to penetrate from different angles, which creates a golden luminescence during the late afternoon. A solid carpet of ferns covers the ground, unbroken except for the redwoods.
As the trail reaches the ridge and levels out, the forest composition changes to that of the more typical spacious redwood upland. The trees become smaller and further apart, and an abundance of smaller herbaceous plants compete to fill the gap. In alternating seasons, salmonberry and huckleberry bushes line the trail, offering an instant snack to every hiker to pass by.
About a mile in, the trail begins to descend from the ridge and enters a dense, but surprisingly open stand of upland redwoods. This distinctive cathedral-like hillside grove is almost pure redwood, with several burly, iconic specimens that stand out immediately. This spot offers unique complementary views as the hiker can look uphill at the enormous trunks perched just overhead, or look downhill at a veritable sea of ferns. During late afternoon, the fading light accentuates the streaks of red among the trees’ deeply furrowed bark.
Continuing its descent, the trail leaves this idyllic grove and enters lush, diverse woodland. Trees that are spaced further apart allow more light in, which gives the landscape a uniquely brilliant and colorful appeal. Somehow, the forest seems smaller and more intimate here. This section is even better during the return trip, when the sun backlights the foliage. On foggy days the distant hooting of a foghorn drifts over from Crescent City.
After crossing Jordan Creek, the nearly-pure redwood forest briefly gives way to dark and lush mixed-species woodland dominated by lichen-draped spruce trees. Douglas firs as large redwoods juxtapose the previously uniform landscape. At this point, the redwoods become sparse, growing in isolation or in small groups of two or three. What they lack in numbers they account for in size. The trees here are immense. Looking up in this valley of giants, clouds scrape their canopies. The only sound is the trickling of the creek as it fills the forest.
Leaving the monster trees behind, the trail descends to the valley bottom, where redwoods are naturally absent. Instead, streamside maples beautify the trail. A short, unmarked and easily overlooked side trail leads to the Boy Scout Tree, a giant double tree resembling the two-fingered Boy Scout salute. Local history tells that this tree was actually discovered by a troop of boy scouts as they blazed the trail during a scavenger hunt. Photos of the troop on the day of discovery can be seen in nearby visitor centers.
The trail ends, somewhat anticlimactically, at Fern Falls, a small cascade at the edge of the redwoods. The falls are more of a steep creek, but they’re aesthetically appealing just the same, and make for an excellent spot to snap a few photos and take a break before the return trip.
- Sturdy Footwear
- Trekking Poles or Hiking Stick
- Camera & Tripod
- Water Bottle
- Insect Repellent
- Extra Clothing Layers (for rain/sun)
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
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