If you are planning a trip to California’s north coast, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is not to be missed! Located on the north end of a string of Redwood National and State Parks, it is home to some of the most scenic redwood groves in the world. These ancient trees are not quite as old or tall as redwoods to the south. However, the park’s 10,000 acres contain 7% of the old-growth redwoods left in the world AND more old-growth redwoods per acre than any other park in California!
Compared to other redwood parks, Jedediah Smith Redwoods is the least developed, which is part of what makes a visit to this park so special. Most of the interior of the park has no roads or trails and is virtually inaccessible due to the challenging terrain and thick undergrowth. However, an amazing scenic drive (on a largely unpaved road) plus 20 miles of hiking and nature trails provide opportunities for visitors of all abilities to experience the magic of California’s giant redwoods.
JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK HISTORY
Gold discovery in northwestern California in the 1850s brought thousands of people to the region. As soon as gold fever subsided, redwood fever replaced it and large-scale logging was underway. Decades of logging caused once immense stands of redwoods to disappear.
Thankfully, a group of paleontologists saw scientific value in preserving the last remaining stands of old-growth redwoods. In 1918, the Save the Redwoods League was established, and the state of California began buying land to preserve some of the groves. This resulted in the establishment of three California redwoods state parks: Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek, and Del Norte Coast. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park was established in 1929 when Clara Stout donated a parcel of land to the Save the Redwoods League in memory of her late husband and lumberman, Frank Stout. Stout Grove became the park’s first dedicated grove. Additional acres were purchased with League funds or donated over the years.
In 1968, the federal government purchased some of the few remaining stands of old-growth redwoods and created Redwoods National Park. in 1994, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, and Redwood National Park joined together in a unique partnership—forming Redwood National and State Parks, a cooperative management effort. Redwood National and State Parks, a World Heritage Site, manages 132,000 acres across the four parks and protects 45% of California’s remaining old-growth redwood forest.
***The state park gets its name from Jedediah Strong Smith—a fur trapper who first explored the remote forests of northern California in the 1820s.
See About the Trees to learn more about these ancient coastal redwoods.
VISITING JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park map, courtesy of National Park Service
With miles of hiking and nature trails plus the crystal-clear Smith River running through the park, you will want AT LEAST a full day to explore the beauty of Jedediah Smith Redwoods. We wished we had been able to camp in such a beautiful area and had some time to kayak down the Smith River. Here are some of our recommendations:
Visitor Centers. The visitor center is always a good place to start!
- The Hiouchi Visitor Center is open year-round and located on US 199 near the east side of the park. If you are approaching the string of national and state parks from the north, we recommend first stopping at this visitor center. Trail maps are available here as well as exhibits, information, park film, passport stamps, restrooms, and a picnic area. Junior Ranger Programs and ranger-led activities are available in the summer.
- The Jedediah Smith Visitor Center is in Jedediah Smith Campground on the east side of the park. Interpretive exhibits, information, passport stamps, restrooms, and a picnic area are available at this visitor center. Ranger-led activities and programs are offered in the summer.
- Howland Hill Road. A visit to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park isn’t complete without a drive on at least part of Howland Hill Road--one of the best redwoods drives in California! Beginning a couple miles east of Crescent City, a narrow, unpaved stretch of this scenic road travels through a forest of towering old-growth redwoods. It follows Mill Creek through the heart of the park and then becomes Douglas Park Road (paved) as you near Hiouchi. Enjoy numerous pull-outs along the way plus access to Boy Scout Tree Trail and Stout Grove. Plan for about 30-45 minutes for the 10-mile drive but be sure to allow extra time for hiking! NOTE: RVs and trailers are not advised on this narrow dirt road. We had our side view mirror clipped by a passing truck on one very narrow section when the driver thought he had room to squeeze by!
- Walker Road. This short scenic drive, located just off Highway 199, passes through a redwood forest and dead ends at the Smith River. There are pull-outs along the way as well as parking to access the Simpson-Reed Grove, the Peterson Memorial Trail and the Leiffer-Ellsworth Loop Trail. NOTE: This road is only recommended for cars since there is no space for large vehicles or trailers to turn around.
For visitors wanting to explore Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park on foot and hike among old-growth redwoods, there are several great trails from which to choose. The trails are all well-marked and most are easy, with just a few rated as moderate.
- Stout Memorial Grove, which lies on the edge of the beautiful Smith River, is certainly one of the most stunning redwood groves in California. A signed access road, off Howland Hill Road, leads to the trailhead for the Stout Memorial Grove on the east side of the state park. This easy, half-mile walk reveals colossal 300-foot coast redwoods thriving in the Smith River flood plain. With little understory growth, aside from a carpet of low-lying ferns and sorrel, the trees appear even more impressive as they rise towards the sky. A short, spur trail leads down to the edge of the Smith River. In the summer, the hikers’ bridge provides access to/from the campground across the river. Allow 30 minutes to 1 hour for the ½ mile hike plus time to explore along the Smith River. Access to Stout Memorial Grove Trail Loop: The trailhead/parking lot is accessible year-round from the eastern section of Howland Hill Road; however, the road is not recommended for large vehicles and there is no parking for RVs and trailers at the trailhead. During the summer, any vehicle can park at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground Day Use area (fee required). Hikers follow the River Trail upstream to the summer hikers’ bridge and cross over to Stout Memorial Grove.
- With easy access just off US 199, the Simpson-Reed Grove Trail is a popular stop. However, you don’t want to miss this quick, 0.8-mile loop! The lush undergrowth beneath ancient giants gives the Simpson-Reed Trail a jungle-like feel--unlike other trails in the park. Allow 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete this hike. Access to the Simpson-Reed Grove Trail:
The trailhead is accessible year-round from Walker Road, just off US 199. Proceed north 0.1 mile on Walker Rd. to locate the trailhead on the right side of the road. Limited parking is available on the side of Walker Road. There is no parking for RVs or trailers. This easy and level trail is wheelchair accessible.
- If you are looking for a less traveled hike and don’t mind some elevation change, the 2.6-mile Leiffer-Ellsworth Loop is located further down Walker Road. Access to the Leiffer-Ellsworth Loop Trail: Trailhead is located on Walker Road, 0.4 miles from the junction with US 199. Parking is limited. There is no parking for RVs or vehicles towing trailers.
- If you want to swim in the Smith River, the 1-mile out and back River Trail provides great views and easy access to the river. River Trail access: Trailhead is located off Howland Hill Road, across from the Little Bald Hills Trail access road. Parking is limited.
- Another popular wooded trail that travels along the Smith River is the Hiouchi Trail. This out and back hike is perfect for the whole family. Access to the Hiouchi Trail: The main trailhead is located just off HWY 199 before the west end of the Hiouchi Bridge (parking is limited here). During the summer, the seasonal footbridge across the Smith River provides access to the southern end of the Hiouchi Trail from the Jedediah Smith Campground. NOTE: A portion of the trail was impassible as of 2021 due to a large tree across the trail. Check in at the Hiouchi Visitor Center for the status of the trail.
- For those seeking a more challenging and remote hike in the redwoods, the 5.5-mile Boy Scout Tree Trail is a great choice. Located just a few miles down the road from Stout Grove, this moderate out-and-back hike proceeds through a variety of redwood environments and is one of the most pristine old-growth redwoods trails in existence. An unmarked side trail leads to the Boy Scout Tree and the main trail ends abruptly at Fern Falls, a small cascade near the west edge of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Allow 3-5 hours for the 5.5-mile round-trip hike. Parking for Boy Scout Tree Trail: From Crescent City, drive to Elk Valley Road and then drive 3.5 miles east on Howland Hill Road. From Stout Grove, drive 2.3 miles west on Howland Hill Road. Parking is limited and the road is not suitable for RVs or trailers.
- At the time the blog was written the restoration and realignment of the 3-mile Mill Creek Trail was underway. The first mile of the Mill Creek Trail is now open from Howland Hill Road through the Grove of Titans boardwalk, forming a 2-mile out and back trail. The other two miles of the Mill Creek Trail, from the new boardwalk to the Smith River, will remain closed for construction and repairs (projected completion is early summer 2022). Parking for Mill Creek Trail: From Crescent City, drive to Elk Valley Road and then drive 4.4 miles east on Howland Hill Road. Parking is limited and Howland Hill Road is not recommended for RVS and trailers.
- Other trails at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park include the Hatton Trail (which can be connected with the Hiouchi Trail) and the Nickerson Ranch Trail (loop trail across to the road from the Boy Scout Tree Trail).
- Enjoy the emerald, green waters of the Smith River! The Jedediah Smith Redwoods Day Use Area provides easy access to the Smith River, the longest free-flowing river system in California. It is a great jumping off point for recreational activities--including swimming, kayaking, fishing, picnicking, and walking along the river. Access the day use area from the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Campground. There is an $8 per vehicle day-use fee.
- Kayak tours. When summer conditions allow, Redwood National and State Parks offer free ranger-led kayak tours of the Smith River. Tours are only offered a few days a week and a limited number of participants can be accommodated on a first come-first serve basis. Sign-ups must be done in person at the Hiouchi Visitor Center--no sooner than one week before a scheduled tour. NOTE: Some years, these tours can be cancelled due to low water conditions, so be sure to check the NPS site for more information.
HOW TO GET TO JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK AND OTHER TRAVEL INFORMATION
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is in northern California, about 10 miles from the Oregon border. The Jedediah Smith Redwoods Visitor Center is located about 10 miles east of Crescent City just off Highway 199.
- If you are traveling from San Francisco, it is about a 7-hour drive north; however, most of this route is on beautiful Highway 101. Directions from San Francisco International Airport to Hiouchi Information Center.
- Be sure to allow extra time for stops and perhaps an overnight or two along the way. There are so many great coastal towns, beaches, state parks and scenic overlooks just off Highway 101!
- For directions from other areas of California and Oregon, see the directions to various locations in Redwoods National and State Parks on the NPS website.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK
Camping at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park: Jedediah Smith Campground, the only campground inside the state park, is situated in an old-growth redwood grove on the banks of the Smith River. It is open year-round and offers 89 tent or RV sites (no hook-ups) and four rustic cabins. Details on the Jedediah Smith Campground (and other campground in Redwood National and State Parks) can be found here. Campsite fee: $35 per night; Cabin rental fee: $100 per night. Reservations are strongly recommended since these campgrounds are extremely popular (especially between Memorial and Labor Day).
Lodging near Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park: There is no lodging inside the park. We recommend staying in nearby Crescent City or further south in Klamath (if you prefer more centrally located lodging when visiting other redwood parks). If you also plan to explore the southern Oregon coast, Brookings, Oregon is a great option for lodging only a half hour north.
BEST TIME TO VISIT JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK
Due to the temperate climate, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is open year-round. Summer months bring warmer temperatures, and it is a great time to enjoy swimming and kayaking in the Smith River. Temperatures generally range from 45-85 degrees. However, summer is also the most crowded season at the park.
The other seasons tend to be cooler and wetter but much less crowded. Winter temperatures typically range from 30-65 degrees. Snow is rare, but expect lots of rain. Between November and May, annual rainfall in some parts of the forest can reach up to 100 inches! Use the link for checking Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park weather before your visit.
TIPS FOR A VISIT TO JEDEDIAH SMITH REDWOODS STATE PARK
- Regardless of the season, bring layers and be prepared for rain.
- Learn how to identify poison oak so you can avoid it. Poison oak grows in long vines or as a low shrub in clumps throughout the Redwood National and State Parks.
- Follow Leave No Trace principles. Respect the forest and stay on established trails. Dispose of waste properly and don’t feed the wildlife. Leave what you find (unless it is trash)—all natural and cultural park features are protected by law and should not be disturbed.
- Pets are not allowed on any park trails or at ranger-led programs. They are allowed in the campground but must always be kept on a leash no more than six feet long.
- Howland Hill Road is mostly gravel and very narrow in spots. Motorhomes/RVs and trailers are not advised.
- In the summer, various ranger-led activities are offered. Check the park bulletin board for a schedule of interpretive programs.
- Be sure to check the California State Parks website for other information on Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and current restrictions/closures in the park.
RELATED INFORMATION ON REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- While visiting this part of California, you are going to want to visit some of the other great park sites and hikes. Check out our blogs on Fern Canyon Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Tall Trees Grove in Redwoods National Park. You can also check out the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail.
- If you are looking for a great way to preserve a memory from your trip, we can turn a photo that you send to us into a custom vintage-style travel poster.