Saturday, August 1, 2020

Stout Grove

Massive redwoods of Stout Grove
0.6 miles loop, 50 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Bumpy gravel road to trailhead, no entrance fee required

Stout Grove in California's Redwood National and State Parks is frequently lauded as one of the most impressive and beautiful of all redwood forests and I can't disagree. Part of Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, the northernmost portion of Redwood National and State Parks, Stout Grove houses a collection of soaring redwoods on a flat plain along the Smith River that has an airy, cathedral-like feel. The hike through the grove is easy, utilizing a wide dirt path with little elevation gain that will be doable for most visitors. The drive to the trailhead does require following a stretch of the narrow, unpaved, and potholed Howland Hill Road.

I hiked Stout Grove during a road trip from California to Seattle with Anna. We camped the previous night at the Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park; Redwood National Park is far from any major city, though the coastal Northern California city of Eureka is just over an hour to the south and Crescent City is a town close to the northern part of the park. Crescent City is a small town that in 1964 was the site of the deadliest tsunami in recorded history in the contiguous United States. When the Good Friday Earthquake rocked Alaska, the resulting tsunami traveled down the Pacific Coast and inundated Crescent City.

From Crescent City, we reached Stout Grove by taking US 101 north for a few miles and then exiting onto US 199 east towards Grants Pass. We followed US 199 over a redwood-covered hill and across the Smith River through the town of Hiouchi, turning right at a junction with South Fork Road a mile past the town. We crossed two forks of the Smith River by bridge and then turned right after the second bridge to take Douglas Park Road towards Stout Grove. We followed Douglas Park Road along the Smith River past a small covered bridge until it turned into the unpaved, single-lane Howland Hill Road, which we followed for another bumpy two miles into Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park. We turned right at a sign for Stout Grove and quickly came to the parking area, which was full- this is an understandably popular spot.

From the parking lot, a wide trail led briefly downhill into the grove. At the bottom of the hill, we came to the split for the loop; we took the left fork first and spent the next hour wandering through in wonder at these enormous and skyscraping trees. The trail directions for the hike are very straightforward: After making an initial left, we took the right fork at the next two intersections (the loop intersects with the River Trail) before making a left again at the conclusion of the loop to return to the parking lot. The Stout Tree, which has a platform built at its base, is most quickly reached by taking the left fork of the loop when coming from the parking lot. The trail was flat throughout besides the descent at the start and ascent at the end.

Coast redwoods- or Sequoia sempervirens- are the tallest trees in the world. Their range is limited to the California coast from Big Sur to the Oregon border; only a few groves are found in southern Oregon. Redwood forests once covered the mountains along the coast near San Francisco and throughout Humboldt and Del Norte counties in the northernmost part of the state. However, the arrival of European American settlers in the region meant that the trees became viewed as a valuable source of timber. The timber industry in the early twentieth century downed large swaths of redwood forests, leveling many of the tall trees of the Bay Area and destroying much of the pristine redwood forests in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Efforts to protect these trees began with Big Basin Redwoods State Park in 1902 in the Bay Area but when a group of California conservationists traveled to the northern California Coast in 1918, they found unrestricted logging of these old growth giants. In response, they founded the Save the Redwoods League, which has successfully advocated on behalf of preserving the trees, leading to the creation of Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Redwood National and State Parks, which today preserve some of the most magnificent remaining redwood forests.

Redwood forests of Stout Grove
Coast redwoods can reach up to 379 feet tall, making them the tallest trees on Earth. By volume, only their cousins, the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada, are larger. The moist California coast with its frequent fog is the species' only native habitat. The trees reach up to 2000 years old and many of the tallest trees fall at the very northern end of the species' range. Many individual trees here top 300 feet, each taller than either the Statue of Liberty or the US Capitol dome. The nearby Titan Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park contains many of the largest redwoods by volume; the tallest tree is in Redwood National Park but its location and identity are kept secret to protect the tree.

Soaring redwoods of Jedidiah Smith State Park, person for scale
Stout Grove was an extraordinarily beautiful and impressive grove. Many trees were well over 15 feet in diameter and soared over 300 feet above the forest floor. A few felled trees near the river gave us an idea of just how tall the trees were as we walked the full length of their toppled trunks. The relatively open understory, which was mainly populated by ferns, gave the forest a cathedral-like feel.

Trail through the Stout Grove redwoods
There were a good number of other visitors on the trail as this is one of the star attractions of Redwood National and State Parks. Still, the grove did not feel overly crowded on a summer Sunday at noon and the dirt path was wide enough to accomodate passing hikers. This is an extraordinary hike through a mighty redwood forest and a must visit for anyone traveling to see these majestic trees in Redwood National Park.

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