Northern Redwoods: Revisiting the Boy Scout Tree

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April of last year was a really big month for us. We took the Alpha Uno on its first bona fide journey. We decided to quit our jobs and run away in an RV. And, finally, we decided to get married. That’s a lot to pack into one month!

It all began with a trip to the redwoods with our friends Cody and Jaz. We had never seen the redwoods before and we had never driven the Alpha Uno more than a couple of hours from home. It was a big trip for us, but at the time we didn’t realize that it was going to completely change the course of our lives. But in fact, this entire plan, the whole grand adventure, the idea was hatched while hiking back from the Boy Scout Tree in Jedediah Smith State Park. We were surrounded by the biggest living things we had ever seen, completely amazed that a place like this could exist, when one of us said to the other, “What if we just kept going?” We could drive around the entire country. See everything. Of course, we both try to take credit for that statement and can’t actually remember who said it.

From there, things snowballed pretty quickly. Before we knew it we were sending out wedding invitations and resignation letters. And we still think this was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We know it seems strange to give so much credit to a tree (even a really big tree) but we felt like this trip wouldn’t be complete unless we went back to the Boy Scout Tree to say thank you. 

Before we left for the redwoods last April we each had multiple co-workers try to talk us out of driving the RV down Highway 199 from Grants Pass, Oregon to the northern redwoods in California. They told us that it was too winding, narrow, and treacherous to drive in an RV. We would never make it. We did own research and decided it looked perfectly safe. A little exciting maybe, but totally safe. We were right in the end. It is a beautiful drive and we didn’t have any problems in the little 27 foot Alpha Uno. While planning this trip, now in the 37 foot Alpha 1, we talked about what we remembered from that first trip and whether we should reconsider taking Hwy 199. But we both remembered being passed by semi-trucks, which is generally a sign that we’ll be just fine going ahead. Again, we had no problems driving a 37 foot motor home (with tow vehicle attached) down Hwy 199.

The only difference was that this time it was raining and there was extensive road construction going on. We were stopped by flaggers and lights at a number of one lane sections and at one point we encountered some recently fallen rock. Brandon put the RV in  park and began trying to clear the rocks out of the roadway. Within minutes a construction truck arrived with a shovel and together they worked at clearing the road. A few minutes later a road sweeper truck was on the scene and had the road cleared with a few quick passes. We were actually really impressed with the efficiency of the California highway workers. Even with road construction and a rock fall we hardly felt slowed down. Well done guys!

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We couldn’t relive that first trip exactly because our current rig is too long for the Jedediah Smith Campground where we stayed before. Instead we stayed just up the road at Panther Flat Campground, a Forest Service campground that is big rig friendly. Panther Flat does not have any hookups but there are bathrooms with quarter showers, drinking water taps, and trash and recycling disposal. Like the Jedediah Campground, it is right on the Smith River and during a weekday in the off-season we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. Camping is only $15 a night, but bring cash. The park is first-come first-serve and there is no gate attendant to run your credit card.

We were only going to stay for two nights and our only plan was to hike the trail to the Boy Scout Tree. When we arrived at camp it had been raining all day and the weather report was for even more rain the following day. With about five hours of daylight left, we decided we should do the hike right away in case the weather was even worse the following day.

The sign for the Boy Scout Tree Trail lists the trail length as 2.8 miles. This would be 2.8 miles each way, for a total of less than 6 miles. We think this sign is off by at least a mile each direction. We tracked the trail on our GPS and came up with 4.2 miles to the tree and even farther to Fern Falls (we didn’t continue on past the tree because it was getting dark). So in reality, this is an 8.5 + mile hike depending on whether you go all the way to the falls. We 100% recommend doing this hike, but be cognizant of your own abilities, budget enough time before dark, and don’t be tricked by the sign. This is not a short 2.8 mile loop.

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It rained for much of the hike so we left the big camera safely tucked away in a waterproof bag. As a result, most of the hike went undocumented or was only captured through iPhone photos.

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To see additional photos of the hike to the Boy Scout Tree and to read about our first trip to the redwoods, check out the original post from last April, Big Damn Trees.

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The entire hike is beautiful and full of humongous redwoods but the Boy Scout Tree itself is a bit hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. The tree is a short ways off the trail and not clearly visible until you are right next to it. According to our GPS, the tree is exactly 4.2 miles down the trail. There will be a small side trail on your right that leads back to the tree. If you don’t have a GPS to track the distance, count the bridges. There are four bridges before the Boy Scout Tree. The first, second, and fourth bridges have railings. The third bridge does not. The tree is very soon after the fourth bridge.

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When you finally see it, you’ll know you’re in the right place.

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We didn’t waste any time on the hike back. It was getting dark and these big trees start to look really creepy after dark. They’ll make you a Sasquatch believer in no time. About a mile and a half from the parking area we passed a group of guys, one of which appeared to have some type of disability. He was wearing noise protection ear muffs and was being led by one of the other guys. One stopped us to ask us if the trail looped back to the parking area. We told him it was not a loop and that it was a much longer hike than the sign suggests. We also suggested that they might want to turn back before it got much darker. They decided to keep going and we continued on to the parking lot. We saw their car and really hoped they were coming along right behind us.

After hiking nearly 9 miles in the rain we were both starving. We had dinner at the Good Harvest Cafe in Crescent City and devoured every morsel. After dinner we decided to take the forest road (Howland Hills Road) back to camp, partially because we wanted to see how creepy the forest looked in the dead of night and partially because we wanted to make sure those four hikers had made it back to their car. We were both very relieved to find an empty parking lot in front of the Boy Scout Trail.

Having already accomplished our goal of visiting our favorite tree, we spent the next day exploring the nearby town of Crescent City and borrowing some wifi from a local motel. For what it’s worth, we thought Crescent City was a sad little town (and just a wee bit sketchy). If you have a choice when visiting this area, camp at one of the many campgrounds along Hwy 199 or rent a cabin in the forest. Crescent City does have nice views of the Pacific coastline but it would be my last choice for lodging when visiting the redwoods.

We hope you love the redwood trees as much as we do because we’re planning a much more extensive tour of these giants this time around. Up next we’ll be stopping to say hi to  Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox at the Trees of Mystery and then on to the Avenue of Giants!

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