Howland Hill Road, Redwoods and America’s Cathedral
I’m pretty sure it’s not something you’ve thought of ever doing, but imagine for a moment driving down an old stage coach trail with Redwood trees both towering above you and standing so closely to you they almost touch the sides of your vehicle.
What if I told you such a place exists where you can do exactly that?
In the far northwest corner of California, near the small town of Crescent City, population 6,700, rests Howland Hill Road.
If you really want to see the Redwoods, really want to see them, you have to get off the main highways. Even the National Park Service (NPS) site backs me up on that.
There is absolutely no better place to do that than Howland Hill Road.
Better yet, if you want to lace up your hiking shoes and really get out amongst those towering trees, the trailhead for Boy Scout Trail, located right along the road, is a perfect place for it.
Howland Hill Road
Technically speaking, Howland Hill is situated in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, but that park runs into the national park and they’re kind of one and the same. The NPS even lists Howland Hill on its site.
The narrow single-wide stretch of dirt road begins right on the outskirts of Crescent City.
If you’re not a hiker, there is no more perfect place for you to drive and still get lost amongst the trees in the middle of a Redwood forest.
Despite how narrow it is, the road is not one-way, with frequent curves making it difficult to see vehicles coming your direction.
Fear not, thanks to the narrowness of the path, the close proximity of the trees that are a whole lot bigger than you and your car, as well as the curving path, you’ll seldom find yourself driving more than 10 or, at most, 15 mph, so there’s no need to worry about running into an oncoming vehicle.
Also, frequent carved-out areas along the way provide places for you to pull over to let others drive by.
Those areas are also great spots to park the car for a couple of minutes to get out and take a few photos. Just don’t park there for long periods of time, you might block up traffic a bit if other cars happen to meet each other in that same spot.
Even though it’s only 10 miles long, this is no 10-minute drive. Plan an hour to get from one end to the other and, if you’re driving a large truck, camper or similar vehicle, sorry, it’s just too narrow for you to get through.
Boy Scout Trail
I was happy the old Boy Scout in me, really, I was a Boy Scout, was prepared when I drove by the entrance to Boy Scout Trail, the hiking path along Howland Hill Road. For those of you missing that lame reference, the Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared”.
Get It? I was prepared, be prepared, never mind.
I didn’t know the trail was there until I spotted the signage. Fortunately, I had my hiking boots on, my backpack was in the car with a trail bar or two and I’d picked up a couple of bottles of water at the gas station as I was leaving town. I had everything I needed for the roughly 5.5 mile out-and-back route.
Boy Scout Trail winds directly through the forest to a small waterfall. If you ever wanted to be a tree hugger, this is a place you can do that.
It’s difficult to describe the feelings washing over you hiking down the trail, through these magnificent trees. You walk so far into the trees you feel as if you’re the only one there, that you have the entire forest to yourself. That’s especially true in the morning when there aren’t many hikers on the trail.
Rising 300 feet or more toward the sky, mere man is nothing but a small speck beneath these towering giants.
The trail can be a bit challenging in many areas due to the amount of tree roots overtaking them, making it difficult to find a flat spot to step. There can be some slippery spots as well. Even so, it’s well worth the journey.
One of the really fun things is the forest changes as you hike through. There are spots where trees have fallen over or near the paths. You get a real sense of how big these trees are, standing beside the base of one that has fallen.
There’s also a wonderful section that looks so much like a rain forest I thought I’d walked into Ferngully.
The waterfall at the end of the trail is small but is the perfect marker to let you know you’ve reached the turnaround point. It’s almost as if it were put there intentionally by some Disney Imagineer.
Whether hiking the trail, or simply driving through via Howland Hill Road, you can’t help but feel you’re so close to nature it’s almost spiritual, that you’ve entered a cathedral, America’s cathedral.
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