Explore Stout Grove via the Howland Hill Road
California › Howland Hill Road
Added by Joshua Contois
Scenic DrivePristine old-growth redwoodsWildflower blooms in springOne of the healthiest watersheds on the west coastSwimming accessTrail accessHandicap 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.
- Sturdy shoes
- Water bottle
- Sunscreen and insect repellent
- Sense of adventure
- Reminder: Leave your dog in the car. Pets are prohibited on trail.
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
Spring, Summer, Autumn
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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
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