Explore Stout Grove via the Howland Hill Road

Howland Hill Road, Crescent City, California, United States

  • Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Forest
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River
Scenic
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

Scenic Drive. Pristine old-growth redwoods. Wildflower blooms in spring. One of the healthiest watersheds on the west coast. Swimming access. Trail access. Handicap accessible.

The Howland Hill Road is the premier drive through Redwood National and State Parks. Approximately 6 miles long, the hard-packed gravel road varies in surface durability depending on season and when the road was last graded. Expect plenty of dust in the dry summer months and keep an eye out for potholes. On the whole, the road is suitable for all standard passenger vehicles. Please keep in mind though that the road is narrow so buses, motor homes, and RV's are prohibited. The road was originally constructed as a plank road between Crescent City and the Gasquet Toll Road during the mid-nineteenth century. Today, it serves as the primary thoroughfare for travelers seeking to experience an old-growth redwood forest.

When driving the road, be sure to stop at Stout Grove, perhaps the world's most scenic stand of redwoods. At only 44 acres, it's not the largest grove, nor does it have the biggest trees, but for sheer photogenic beauty nothing beats this extraordinary grove on a sunny afternoon. The trail is a 0.5 mile loop, handicap accessible, and completely level after a brief descent on a paved walkway. Bear in mind that parking is limited, especially during peak hours.

Located on a small floodplain at the junction of Mill Creek and the Smith River, Stout Grove in unique in the sense that it is an almost monoculture stand of redwoods. Aside from a couple tanoak and Port Orford cedars, there is no real understory to obscure the view. The resulting openness combined with a lush, lawn-like ground cover of ferns and redwood sorrel creates a cathedral-like majesty that beckons to be explored. The trees here are well over 300 feet tall, but it is the aptly named Stout Tree, recognizable as the largest, most visually distinct in the grove, that draws the most attention. Windstorms have toppled many of these titans in recent years, but emerging basal sprouts signal that the millennium long regenerative process is already underway.

What makes this grove particularly special is that even during the busiest times, the grove has a remarkably hushed and serene environment. Visitors are so in awe of the majesty of the trees that words fail them. When sound does escape it is quietly dampened out by the thick, spongy layer of needles on the ground. What's more, the grove is hidden away from the busy interstate tourist route of Highway 101, ensuring a more intimate encounter. Because it’s rarely crowded, it is not uncommon to spot banana slugs, chipmunks, or winter wrens hiding among the shrubbery. Be warned, however: mosquitos are plentiful here in the summer, so be sure to bring bug repellent.

The best time to see the grove is in the late afternoon. By 4 pm the sun begins to slant into the grove and the foliage becomes backlit with rich, brilliant golds and greens, like a stained-glass window in a cathedral. Alternatively, visitors arriving in the early morning have the opportunity to witness sunbeams pierce layers of morning fog as if to illuminate a single location on the forest floor.

For explorers seeking a more in-depth redwood experience, be sure to cross the Mill Creek footbridge (summer only) to visit another redwood grove that's much smaller and not quite as impressive, but still exceptionally nice. From here, the hiker has the option to continue north along the Hiouchi Trail towards Highway 199, or to venture southwest along the Mill Creek Trail back towards Howland Hill Road. Each trail is approximately 2 miles in length (one way) and highlights some of the best scenery the park has to offer.

Pack List

  • Sturdy shoes
  • Camera
  • Water bottle
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
  • Sense of adventure
  • Reminder: Leave your dog in the car. Pets are prohibited on trail.
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Redwood groves are nothing short of breath taking, and this one is no exception. This trail is quite short so if you're looking for an all day activity, this may not be what your looking for. Great for families and those looking for a quick stroll through some amazing redwoods.

about 2 months ago
about 2 months ago

My favorite drive in all the redwood parks. The dirt road means you'll see fewer cars, especially in the off-season, and get closer to the big trees. The forest looks best after a recent rain or with misty fog. http://jasonjhatfield.com/travel/er5ghh519hxhhrtuzgpkv5c9tbfqvu

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Joshua Contois Explorer

Park Ranger currently working for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Restless by nature, Josh has traveled across the American west in search of new adventures. When not out exploring new trails or sleeping under the stars, you can find him in your local brewery.

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