With gentle climbs and descents, no roadside noise, the hike’s setting is a silent, green, dense and towering redwood forest.
This is one of the most rewarding hikes in the redwoods, with vast stands of old growth redwoods as well as a dense understory of fern and sorrel. So impressed with the trail’s variety of plant life, one blogger wrote “the Boy Scout Tree Trail is not so much a hike as a showcase of the world’s best redwood scenery.” And that it is.
Plan on three hours of hiking to do the complete trail at a modestly brisk pace, longer if you like to doddle or take lots of photos.
The trail starts out with a bang, albeit a silent one. Just a few steps in on the trail and you are convinced you’ve left the modern world behind. Utterly silent, no movement save for the occasional suggestion of a breeze which might gently rustle some fern.
For the first half of the trail you’ll be on a gentle incline toward a ridgetop. You’ll pass the muddy stump of a tree that fell last winter and another massive trunk that overhangs the trail as well as endless views of large, complex redwoods, both near to the trail and off in the distance. One you crest the ridge, which you’ll hardly notice save for the way the viewpoints now have the hiker looking mostly down, sometimes over the tops of redwoods, the views start to really impress. The trail zig-zags and suggests one photo-op after another. Stop and take it all in because the view of redwoods from a top-down vantage point are rare in the Jed Smith forest. This contrasting high and low perspective is what, in part, gives the Boy Scout Tree Trail its unique quality.
Hikers then descend to a redwood-free zone, with mostly maple and assorted other shrubs hugging Jordan Creek for a while. But then the redwoods return, including a massive, spectacular giant that sits at a dogleg in the trail (really, you can hardly miss this one) and soon after you’ll come to an unmarked spur trail off to the right. A short scramble up that trail and you’ll come face-to-face with the Boy Scout Tree. And it’s a beauty. Not the tallest, but still, a massive trunk that splits into two about 50 feet up from grade. Maybe it’s the perspective when looking at the tree but the Boy Scout tree truly towers. Walk around the base of the trunk and descend back to the main trail from a lesser-used trail you’ll see behind the tree. No matter how you get to the tree or come back from it, do not miss it. (I walked the trail twice before realizing I needed to take that spur trail to get to the tree…it looks steep but it’s not, and only 50 feet in before seeing the tree).
Then, back on the trail and it’s just a few minutes of walking along Jordan Creek to the trail’s end at Fern Falls. I read that the trail once went up over the ridge and met up with Elk Valley Road — as the crow flies not far at all — but that way is now overgrown with vegetation and used only by locals.
Don’t expect a huge water falls, by the way. Not giant by any standard, but Fern Falls is still picturesque, with fallen trees that crisscross the falling water and a feint (and steep) trail leading up on the opposite bank. Careful if you choose to scramble up a portion of the falls.
The falls makes for a great spot to rest, have a drink of water or break out sandwiches or other snacks you might have packed in. Before heading back to the trail head, have some fun by walking on a downed, almost 200 feet tall, tree on the other side of the creek.
Be sure to take a flashlight or time your afternoon hike on this trail intelligently. When daylight fades to evening the light gets sucked from the sky on this trail. I recently started at the trailhead at 5:30 pm and was breathing hard and walking to the light of my cellphone on my return.
At any time, in any light, this is one of the park’s most excellent trails.
Directions from the bnb: Follow the directions to Stout Grove (up Monument to 199, right on 199 then right again in about a mile, follow the signs to Stout Grove) but instead of turning into the parking area for Stout, continue another three miles or so to the Boy Scout Tree Trail trail head which is on your right.
Boy Scout Tree Trail
Length: 5.8 miles roundtrip
Trail Type: one-way in, one-way out
Difficulty: moderate, some grades, some switchbacks
Change in elevation/climbing: 750 ft.
Location, distance from bnb~hiouchi: trailhead and parking on Howland Hill Road, 20 minutes by car
Snapshot description: Immerse yourself in a primeval redwood forest with unrivaled vistas of virgin redwood set in fields of fern and sorrel. A vest pocket waterfalls marks the trail’s end. The massive Boy Scout Tree is on an unmarked side trail, just before the end of the trail and Fern Falls. If you miss the trail and tree on your way in, figure on it being 15 minutes into the return hike from the falls (this time the spur trail will be off to your left).