Escaping into silence on the Boy Scout Trail
Deep in the redwoods, it’s beyond quiet, as if the tallest trees in the world somehow suck the sound out of their surroundings. And nowhere is the silence deader than on Boy Scout Trail. Strike out from the trailhead and it envelops you immediately.
Maybe it’s because, as David Baselt writes at redwoodhikes.com, “there are only about three other trails in the world where you can walk through old-growth redwoods for five miles or more without hearing traffic noise or seeing any sign of development.”
If the wind blows just right, you might catch the foghorn from Crescent City. Other than that and the occasional buzz of a fly, the lack of auditory stimuli is almost post-apocalyptic.
Ironically, Laura and I experienced all this silence last Saturday, when traffic on Howland Hill Road was the busiest we’ve seen. The dirt road that allows total immersion in old-growth redwoods without leaving your vehicle was hopping, relatively speaking. We must have pulled over for oncoming cars four times before we’d covered the 3 miles or so from Crescent City to the trailhead on the left side.
Most of the climbing — there’s only about 200 feet of altitude to be gained — comes early, and it didn’t take long for us to realize Boy Scout Trail was not in mid-season form. More like spring training, with some kinks still to be worked out. Among our gentle complaints:
• They may have been blooming elsewhere in redwood country, but rhododendron flowers were a complete no-show.
• Some stretches were water-logged and mushy.
• The spiders of spring are surprisingly adept at stringing webs right at eye level.
• A few trees have fallen across the path. Mostly they were perpendicular obstacles easily scaled. But a little more than 2 miles in, a tree had fallen smack-dab atop the trail, blocking it for 20 feet or so. This required some stooped-over cross-country improvisation not recommended for the especially young or old. (It’ll be cleared as soon as parks officials get clearance for chain-saw work that isn’t normally allowed in the redwoods this time of year)
If you turned around at this point, you’d still log a 4-mile round-trip through stunning old-growth. But you’d miss two of the trail’s signature features: the Boy Scout Tree and Fern Falls.
By the time we regained the trail, we weren’t far from the first of those attractions. There’s no sign, but the side-path to the right is the only one you’ll encounter on the trail. Take it, and you’ll soon be able to go right or left on a short loop leading to Boy Scout Tree (how could you not see that coming?). This is a particularly enormous redwood, double-trunked and almost moldy with its great age. Its gnarly bark sports patches of green and red, and you wouldn’t be able to read the small wooden sign hammered into it if you didn’t already intimate that it’s the name of the giant.
A spectacle, although not an especially good-looking one. We turned our backs to it as we spread out our picnic lunch, preferring a vista of smaller redwoods, one sporting a long-nosed burl.
With summer’s approach, the bugs were awakening in the woods. We weren’t moved to apply repellent, but we didn’t tarry.
Back on the main trail, we crisscrossed Jordan Creek on a couple of quaint wooden bridges and the silence finally gave way to the sound of cascading water. As if this trek through a redwood wonderland wasn’t enough of a reward, a lush waterfall awaited at the end point. Shortly after we started hearing it, Fern Falls came into view. It’s not a high-rise, but it is picturesquely ensconced amid greenery and fallen logs.
A heckuva turn-around.
The return trip on an out-and-back hike is always intriguing because the route is familiar while the sights are mostly new. Especially so on Boy Scout Trail, where you seem to encounter different manifestations of old-growth redwoods around every bend. Does any other tree offer as many variations in wood color and texture?
The noon rush hour was kicking in. We’d been alone all the way to the falls, but passed six fellow hikers on our way back.
Our greetings briefly interrupted the silence, but there was no breaking it.
THE HIKE: A 5.6-mile round-trip deep into old-growth redwoods on Boy Scout Trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
HIGHLIGHTS: The trees themselves, in myriad manifestations. A side-path leads to Boy Scout Tree, a double-trunked brute of a redwood. Fern Falls awaits at the turn-around point.
SWEAT LEVEL: An easy trek with only about 200 feet of total altitude fluctuation.
GETTING THERE: From Crescent City, go east on Elk Valley Road, then south on Howland Hill Road. Watch for the trailhead on the left side about three miles after the road turns to dirt.