Jack London State Historic Park has some of the best trails in Sonoma County! Vineyards, history, redwoods, wildlife and views for days will definitely inspire you to put on your hiking shoes and get out on the trails…and maybe even write a book! Or a blog post! 😉
It has been a while since we have been to the summit of Jack London and wanting a hike close to home we decided to take advantage of the cloudy morning and head on up! The 7.8 miles and 1,788 feet elevation gain were just what we needed to end our weekend!
Jack London State Historic Park
Jack London State Historic Park has over 29 miles of back country trails to explore on the beautiful Sonoma Mountain! It now links up with Sonoma County Regional Parks North Sonoma Mountain and you can do a 8.5 mile through hike and catch the SugarShuttle. Or you can explore more of the Bay Area Ridge trail and enjoy some amazing views on the Sonoma Ridge Trail. There’s also the House of Happy Walls museum, the historic Wolf House, Jack’s grave, the old winery and barns as well as a pig palace and acres of vineyards. This park really does have a lot to enjoy and it takes a few visits to see it all! The volunteers are amazing and so helpful! They also have shows during the summer and almost every weekend something lined up to hike or learn about. Jack London SHP is a must visit while in Sonoma County!
Start off parking in the upper ranch parking lot. Head toward the smell of the eucalyptus trees and follow the path past the stone barns (check out the informational signs if it is your first time there!) and head toward the winery ruins. Take your time here and enjoy the old stone buildings with the vineyards and tree lined mountains as the backdrop. There’s a koi pond behind the cottage and beautiful gardens!
For this hike we passed all of this historical beauty and vineyards and followed the nice wide fire road toward the silos.
Mountain Trail starts off skirting the vineyards and becomes completely shaded by the many trees, including redwoods, that become dense as you follow the fire road up. The trail gently climbs and winds around small redwood groves. As you ascend, listen for the hawks soaring above and squirrels jumping from one tree branch to another. There had been a mountain lion sighting on the property not too long before we were there so every little sound caused us to look as we were on high alert.
Mountain Trail becomes slightly steeper as you reach London Lake. This lake used to be a swimming hole for Jack London and his guests. It is more of a drinking hole for deer (we saw 3 here!) and a spot for birds to hide in the dense reeds. London Lake has a rock dam that has been repaired, picnic tables, a pit toilet and is lined with towering trees. Walk around the lake and stay to the right on Mountain Trail. The other trails lead to the ancient redwood and historic orchards.
After passing the lake, the trail remains wide and the trees thin out a little and let more light in. As you wind your way around you will soon come to May’s Clearing. There’s a bench and a picnic table here. Take a moment at the bench and look out toward San Pablo Bay and look for Mount Diablo in the distance. On a clear day you can see all of it! At 1,100 feet it is a pretty spectacular view! Continue on Mountain Trail from here.
Mountain Trail stays nice and wide as you gently, but constantly, ascend in the shade of oaks and bays. The occasional madrone and redwoods appear as well! During the wet season, there are small stream crossings to cross.
At Deer Camp there is a beautiful small grove of large redwoods! It is a favorite spot to enjoy one last forested part of the trail before you step out into the meadow and the real climbing begins. Say goodbye to the shade and hello to sunshine, grasses and butterflies! Oh and don’t forget to hydrate and keep your breathing steady…your legs will thank you for it!
You know you are almost to the turn off for the summit when you reach the bench at the top of a steep portion of Mountain Trail. We like to pause here and catch our breath while enjoying the views of Sonoma Valley below and San Pablo Bay in the distance!
Once you are ready and have soaked in the views, head on up the trail to Hayfields Trail. It will be oh so tempting to take the trail that goes straight up to what looks like the summit but don’t do it! What you see is not the summit! Hang a left on Hayfields Trail and take the nice easy ascent that loops wide around and has a final steep push to the bench at the top of the summit. Trust us, you will want to go up this way!
While at the summit you can see the entire Sonoma Valley lined with houses and vineyards. With almost 360 degree views (park boundary doesn’t allow for the true summit) you can see Mt St Helena to your left, Sonoma Valley below, San Pablo Bay and Mount Diablo in front of you and the rest of Sonoma Mountain to your right. It is SPECTACULAR up there! Congratulations you made it to the summit of Jack London State Historic Park!
We unloaded our backpacks, grabbed our snacks and relaxed for a bit while enjoying the views. After a nice rest we headed straight down the super steep and narrow trail back to Mountain Trail and retraced our steps back.
As usual, more people were on the trails when we were going back than when we started. We definitely like it this way. Getting out in nature without too many other people around is what helps us deal with daily life stress. So worth the alarm going off in the morning!
If you have time, head over to the museum and down to the Wolf House if you haven’t yet explored it then go grab a picnic lunch at the Glen Ellen Market and check out the wineries in town! Glen Ellen is a super cute town to spend the day!
Parking fee is $10, museum is free with entry, lots of parking available! Portable potties in the upper ranch parking lot and pit toilets at London Lake. Hike is moderate with 7.8 miles and 1,788 feet elevation gain, mostly shaded but the last mile or so up is completely in the sun. No dogs past the vineyards. Nearest town is Glen Ellen, nearest winery is Benziger.
Things We Love:
Hydration, hydration, hydration! This is the key to a successful hike! If your body is dehydrated it doesn’t perform as well. Even on cloudy cool days your body will need good hydration. Replenishing the lost salt from sweating, adding in some natural sugar for energy and flavor along with some magnesium and potassium and you have yourself a great combo to keep hiking! The bosslady, as we have mentioned before, is allergic to so many things so finding a natural and gluten free electrolyte was challenging. Skratch Labs has some really tasty and effective options! She uses the Lemon Lime Hydration Mix in her water bladder and we share a pack of the Skratch Labs Energy Chews as we hike up. We do this on more strenuous hikes or ones where we are dripping with sweat. It gives us the extra boost we need to keep our bodies hydrated while we push them to hike further.
Check out the Amazon links below and leave a comment on what you use to keep your hydration up and energy going!
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Giant sequoias, the Stanislaus river, hiking, camping and star gazing with a side stop to climb 165 feet down into the earth…that was our weekend adventure in Calaveras! Camping at Calaveras Big Trees State Park gives you the advantage of being inside this amazing playground any time of day! The first night was spent watching the sun set behind the trees as the river rushed by us. The second day was filled with hiking the South and North Grove’s, exploring the visitor center, watching the sun set over the trees and the stars above. On our way home we stopped by Moaning Cavern to walk down a spiral staircase 165 feet into the earth…we were surrounded by amazing sights of nature that aren’t found near home!
Calaveras Big Trees Camping
We reached Calaveras Big Trees SPjust before 5 pm to check in for camping. We headed straight to the visitor center to pick up interpretive guides for our Saturday hikes and to ask the people that know the park the best what we should see while there. Love chatting with the people that work/volunteer at visitor centers because they know all the best spots and are so passionate about the park.
The Oak Hollow campground, that we were in, is sort of in the middle of the park and definitely away from the road noise. The North Grove campground is right along the highway which probably helps with lessening the chance of a bear encounter but we opted to be in the quieter part of the park. A little side note about the Oak Hollow Campground, the campsites are close to each other with little privacy or sound barriers. Some of the campers here were a little louder and rowdier than we have previously experienced at other campgrounds. The 10 pm rule of being quiet didn’t work on everyone which was ok with us since we were enjoying the fire and playing Uno until late in the night but other campers weren’t so happy. Oh and the stargazing at night here is AMAZING! We left the top cover off our tent and just had the netting and fell asleep watching the stars.
The showers and restrooms are a bit far apart. We were next to a set of restrooms that didn’t have showers and had to walk a ways to take a shower, thankfully they were warm ones! Our bear box was great since we could access it from both sides and the fire ring and picnic table were just fine. There are a lot of mosquitoes during the summer so go prepared!
We woke up in the middle of the night to rustling in the bushes near our tent and we moved and must have scared the critter. We heard running of little feet (thankful not bear feet!) and then loud screaming. Have you heard a fox scream? Google it. It’s creepy! We weren’t sure what it was until we got home and Googled it. Mystery solved! Did you Google it yet?
The North Fork of the Stanislaus River flows from the Sierra Foothills through the forest and around large outcroppings of granite rocks. While cruising through the park for our perfect spot to watch the sunset we picked the river to explore.
There’s a small parking lot with a short trail to the river or there’s another parking area along the river near the bridge. We explored both and loved being out of the mosquito’s path down on the large granite rocks under the bridge. There are stairs to access the river on both sides or a small path to get down to the large flat outcroppings of the granite. Because the bosslady deals with FOMO (fear of missing out) she often encourages exploring all angles. 🙂
We had the river all to ourselves…and a few birds. It was amazing!!! The river was rushing over the boulders in one spot and rapidly moving in another. The sound of the river flowing and nothing else was so relaxing. The rocks we sat on acted sort of like our own private beach. The tops of the trees started turning golden as the sun went down. We climbed back up to the bridge and as we were walking back to the truck the sky turned a bright shade of pink. Lovely start to our camping weekend!
We arrived at the south grove trail around 8 am on Saturday and were 1 of 3 cars in the parking lot. We didn’t go early for parking, there is plenty, we went early to try and enjoy the hike without the huge crowds that come to Calaveras Big Trees SP during the summer. There are said to be over 1,000 giant sequoias in this grove and we wanted to spot them all! 🙂
The trail starts off at Beaver Creek. Cross over the bridge and continue along the trail. The trail to the South Grove begins to climb and you can see the tops of the trees down below that follow the creek. A large sugar pine pine cone had dropped on the trail. These are huge! Giant sequoias live in a mixed conifer forest and aren’t the dominant species like their relatives the coastal redwoods. It was great to see so many other types of trees! It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference in the trees because they are so tall, knowing what their cones look like helps identify them!
Cross the old logging road and continue on the trail.
South Grove Loop
At approximately 1.7 miles we turned onto the South Grove loop trail. Highly recommend taking this little loop! It was full of giant sequoias!! We first one we came across was right on the trail! Wondering how there could be a bigger one than this, we paused to take photos and admire this giant that is older than our country.
The trail was wide in spots where you could walk around the giant sequoia and narrow in others as it went back downhill a bit. Some giants were standing tall off the trail but we were able to get up close and personal with several along the loop.
After dipping down into the creek where there was a large fallen sequoia that was hollow in the middle, then trail starts to head back up a little. Careful here as there are a ton of blood sucking buzzing little flying vampires that attack any human with or without deet on. When you reach a trail junction, head right to see the largest tree in the park or head left to return back to the parking lot. We chose to go to the right!
Still cruising through a mixed forest dotted with giant sequoias along the trail we made our way to the largest tree in the park. Stopping at a tree with the middle of the bottom completely burned through while the top is still growing and healthy we paused to enjoy the beauty and remind ourselves that life still goes on even after a major tragedy like this. It’s very humbling to be in nature and see that she still moves forward and continues to grow.
The Palace tree was named after the San Francisco Palace Hotel because it also has a nice wide entrance. This tree had also been burned but was still thriving. We could live in this one it was so big! Not far after this we reached the Agassiz tree.
In awe of the sheer size, 25 feet around and 250 feet tall, we took our time here to enjoy this very old giant sequoia. You can walk all the way around it and see on the back side there are signs of fire. There are also a lot of mosquitoes back there since a small creek flows through. From here, you can continue on the trail to find more giants.
We had more of the park to explore so we headed back out. On the way out, people were coming in by the group-ful! Some were prepared and some had no water. PSA: you are at elevation and need to hydrate more and it can get very hot even in the shade so be prepared with plenty of water!
North Grove Loop
After a shower and a nap we headed up to the North Grove to walk through the museum in the visitor center. Yes, we shower and nap while camping…sometimes. 😉 The parking lot at the North Grove was packed but the trails were not. The 1.7 mile stroll through the North Grove helps to spread people out.
We had our handy interpretive guide with us that went through all 26 numbered stops. The first part was a bit crowded as that area was the highlight of the trail. The 1,254 year old Discovery Tree, the tree that was first discovered in the park, was cut down using plumbing augers over multiple days to kill the tree which then fell. The large stump was then used as a dance floor. Another tree in the park, the Mother of the forest, is one of the several trees in the park harmed by human activity. She had her bark stripped for show which then made her more susceptible to fire. A fire occurred in 1908 and burned her.
The native Miwok and Washoe Indians lived in this area in peace with nature and each other until the gold rush in the mid 1800’s when they were pushed out. They cared for the trees and the land until we took over with greed and the need for a circus show of the trees. Thankfully groups of concerned citizens and the state of California declared this a preserve in 1931 and saved the rest of the trees from human harm. It was very difficult for us to learn of what happened to the trees in this park. Hopeful that we have learned our lesson and will not repeat we continued along the trails.
At stop #11, there is a great bench that is reclined so you have a great view of the Mother and Son trees. They believe these two trees started life at about the same time but one grew much bigger than the other over time. This is a great little stop with a wonderful way of view the giant sequoias.
By the end of the loop you will have learned about sequoias, the critters that live in the forest and the history of the area. The sun was just going down behind the trees as we ended this hike. One of the rangers here suggested heading up to the overlook parking lot to watch the sunset so off we went!
Getting to the overlook about an hour before sunset, we walked around the parking lot and down the road to the environmental campsite. This dirt road (blocked by a gate) takes you in a loop around and back to the overlook parking lot. While the sun sets in the opposite direction of what we can see from the overlook, it does (on a good day) light up the western Sierras and the top of Yosemite with pinks and purples! This would also be an amazing spot to watch the sun rise over the mountains!
A ranger was getting set up for an astronomy class that was free and open to the public. We thought about staying until she mentioned we would be there at least 1 more hour, sitting on the ground with mosquitoes flying all around us. We didn’t bring our chairs with us (note to self to do that next time!) so we headed out before the festivities got started. Check the calendar at the park for astronomy nights and take a blanket, chairs and spray down with bug spray!
The next morning we took our time packing up and headed back toward home. We had a reservation at Moaning Caverns Adventure Park in between Murphy’s and Angels Camp to explore the cavern.
Moaning Caverns Adventure Park
When we pulled up to the Moaning Caverns Adventure Park it was very unassuming. We knew we were going to be going underground but you wouldn’t know there was this giant cavern underground that is large enough to house the Statue of Liberty! They also offer ziplining and a 3 hour long expedition tour. We just did the Spiral Tour.
The spiral tour at Moaning Caverns Adventure Park was approximately 45 minutes. They take you into the gift shop to start and end the tour. Smart! The first part is a narrow steep stair case that takes you down the first 65 feet. Reaching the platform at 65 feet below the surface the space opens up to this enormous cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites. This is the largest single cave chamber in California per their website.
Our guide was amazing! He totally made us feel at ease as we stood on this platform looking down into the cavern. Then we started climbing down the 100 year old, 100 foot tall metal spiral staircase. Going down was more difficult with regards to balance than going up. We got to walk around a bit and then the guide told us about each of the formations we were looking at. This would be a geologists playground! It was so incredible to see! Neither of us have been in a cavern this big or with so many interesting formations! Highly, highly recommend making this a stop on your way along Highway 4! It’s great for kids too!
Happy with our weekend adventures with this spectacular ending, we hopped back in the truck hoping to beat some of the weekend traffic back home.
Did we miss seeing something? Leave a comment with suggestions! Oh and if you are going to suggest going into the town of Arnold to eat and check out the couple of cute shops, we did that too! It was just before our shower and nap 😉
South Grove: 6.5 miles with 817 ft elevation gain. Easy to moderate hike mostly shaded, take bug spray! Plenty of parking with pit toilets in the parking lot. Parking is free with your entrance into the park. Dogs were seen on leash. Recommend the interpretive guide.
North Grove: 1.7 miles with little elevation gain. Easy hike, wheelchair accessible, mostly shaded, take bug spray! Plenty of parking with toilets int he parking lot. Parking is free with your entrance into the park. Recommend the interpretive guide for this one as well!
Things We Love:
Bug spray! Oh and also our Hydroflask 10oz wine tumbler with lid. On a hot summer day, this keeps your rosé cold all day! It’s like a sippy cup for wine lovers! The fit in your hand is perfect. Not too big, not too small. We each have a different color so we don’t get them mixed up and always take them camping or to outdoor concerts in the park! They are BPA free and insulated just like the Hydroflask water bottles! If you haven’t checked them out, click on the Amazon link below and pick out your favorite color!
Where else can you find us?
Check out our video of the South Grove trail on our YouTube channel or click below!
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Lassen Volcanic National Park’s 166 square miles are a geologist and hiker’s dream! The volcano had a large eruption in 1914 and you can visit the site of the lava path as well as find volcano bombs all over the park. Love hiking? There are so many trails to explore in this park and neighboring parks! This was our first trip to Lassen and most definitely won’t be the last! We thought we would go in June to beat the heat and the crowds but in all of our planning forgot about the snow pack. It was big this year and not all of the roads to the trails were open so we were limited on hiking options. Not to worry! We had an amazing weekend there full of Lassen’s beauty and wonder at Manzanita Lake, Cinder Cone, Burney Falls and Subway Caves!
Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins
Camping cabins? Yes please! We stayed in the new camping cabins at Manzanita Lake as a treat and loved it! They are adorable bedroom size log cabins with a small porch out front with chairs and picnic table and fire ring outside. No bathrooms inside, just a platform bed and dining table for 2. Perfect! We could have stayed there an entire week and would have been so comfortable.
Receiving the code to get into the key lockbox from the park’s service meant we could show up anytime after the store closed and get into the cabin. It was just after 6 pm when we arrived and still had plenty of daylight. We unpacked, found the restrooms (did not want to search in the dark!), grabbed our cameras and went out to explore Manzanita Lake.
Just a short walk from our camping cabin was Manzanita Lake. When we drove in, it looked pretty but didn’t look impressive from the road. Do not let that fool you! This is a gorgeous lake with amazing views! To walk all the way around Manzanita Lake it is approximately 1.6 miles and mostly flat. We walked clockwise from the camping cabins. The trail started off through smaller pines with intermittent views of the lake. The sun was just starting to go to sleep which made the light shine through the trees just perfect! As we walked around we came upon a great spot where the trail was next to the lake. We watched mama duck lead her baby ducklings around the fallen logs on the lake and got to see the little ducklings dive under with their little feet popping up!
Thinking this was an amazing spot and wondering if we should turn around and head back before sunset we ran into another camper who had been up here several times. He gave us some tips on the area, what to see and such and then told us we could get an even better view of the lake just around another corner. Oh man was he right! A snow-capped Mount Lassen with the full moon rising next to it was reflecting in Manzanita Lake!! It was gorgeous!
Standing in awe of the site before us we stayed there until the sky started turning pinks and purples. Fish were jumping in the lake and kayakers were heading toward the shore. We decided to walk the remainder of the lake as the sun was going down. The trail leads away from the lake a bit to a creek that flows from the lake out. We passed the entrance kiosk to the park and followed the trail all the way back to the campground having to use our phone flashlights the last bit of the way back.
By the time we reached the camping cabin, it was mostly dark so we turned on our lanterns and built our fire for the night. We enjoyed our burger and veggies with a bottle of Merlot by the fire and took a little time to relax.
The next morning we decided to go to Cinder Cone first which was about a 45 minute drive from Manzanita Lake, partly due to the slow going on 6 miles of a gravel road. Hiking Cinder Cone we were in awe of the snow on the lava beds, completely blown away by painted dunes, challenged by the hike up and thankful for the reward at the top…THE BEST VIEWS!!! The hike started off at Butte Lake which was gorgeous and much bigger than expected. People were just putting their kayaks in when we got to the parking lot. From here you hike through a pine forest that meets the Fantastic Lava Beds. So crazy that life is thriving right next to lava beds…lava beds that were partially covered in snow in June!
Be sure to make a donation and grab a park leaflet that tells the history of the park and what you are looking at. Cinder Cone was formed in the 1650’s and is made of basaltic lava. The fantastic lava beds are similar to the basaltic lava that erupted form the top of the volcano as cinder and ash. We sound like we know what we are talking about right? It’s all in the leaflet! 😉
As we walked along the nice wide trail, we were shaded in spots by the Ponderosa Pines and Jeffrey Pines. They are gorgeous trees! A deer cruised behind us for a while not really caring we were there. She was in search of some much needed food. Cinder Cone is always in the distance from here and looks amazing! We were anxious to get there but let the few groups of people pass us up because we knew it would be a bit of a climb. Hahahaha, a bit of a climb.
Before we reached the base of the trail up Cinder Cone we caught our first glimpse of the Painted Dunes. This was so amazing to see! It looked like the old bottles of colored sand that you would layer and display (back in the 80’s when color was a big deal). The Painted Dunes are pumice fields that formed from layers of oxidized volcanic ash. Mother Nature was having a creative moment here and painted these in different hues of pinks, purples, and oranges. Take a moment to enjoy the beauty from here and maybe stretch your legs a bit before you start the strenuous climb up Cinder Cone.
Hiking Cinder Cone
Have you climbed sand dunes at the beach? Imagine doing that climbing 670 feet in .5 mile with a 40% grade at high elevation and in full sun…10 steps up, pause for the views (and to catch our breath), then 10 steps up and repeat. That’s how we got to the top! So happy we kept going!
The views on the way up were stunning! We could see Lassen Peak and Butte Lake and everything in between! People on the way down kept encouraging all of us heading up. Lovely souls!
Reaching the top of Cinder Cone you might wonder if you landed on Mars. Seriously. There were very few forms of life except us crazy humans up there. We found a windswept tree with a rock next to it to have our snacks and enjoy the shade and cool breeze coming off a lake. Some groups hiked down into Cinder Cone but we stayed up top admiring their endurance. The views of Painted Dunes and Lassen’s peak were way too inviting to leave this spot!
After a good rest and a ton of photos we headed back down. Oh man was that easy! Your feet just sink into the lava sand and just keep going. At the bottom we dumped all of it out of our shoes and headed back to the truck. We encouraged people that were on their way up and told them to hug the side to make it easier and that it does get better and the views at the top are totally worth it! If you are thinking of doing this hike, you totally should! Just know that it won’t be a piece of cake but the reward will be ALL worth it!
With limited time in Lassen Volcanic National Park, we tried to make the most of it and headed over to Burney Falls. This is a state park that has a ton of visitors to what was once called the 8th wonder of the world. It’s an incredible 129 ft waterfall that is just a short 1 mile walk from the parking lot. It’s totally worth stopping here to see this amazing place!
We spent about an hour here admiring the natural beauty and then hiked back up to escape the crowds.
Ever wonder what it would be like to walk through a lava tube? On your way back to Manzanita Lake stop off at Subway Cave and cool off in this completely dark 1/3 mile lava tube! We had our headlamps and our phone flashlights and those weren’t enough to light up the area. You can’t get lost in these which is good because it is literally pitch black in there and you can only see right in front of you. The ground is uneven and the top of the lava tube dripped at times. There are interpretive signs you can read that tells you what you are looking at. It was creepy and interesting all at the same time in there! Reaching the end, we felt a slight sense of relief seeing sunlight and fresh air. The bosslady isn’t a fan of confined spaces so she was extra relieved!
Back at the campground after a full day of exploring we started the fire, cooked and played cards until we were too tired to yell Uno anymore and went to bed. The next morning we packed everything up after breakfast and decided to have one last adventure in Lassen and drove up until the road was closed. The furthest we could go was Devastated Area. We walked the short .5 mile interpretive walk and learned about when Lassen last erupted and were able to see the path of the lava. So great to see the land recovering after about 100 years and also to see that the lava path did not take everything out. The Visitor Center has a great gift shop and rangers available to answer all of your questions. Highly recommend stopping in here at some point during your visit!
Things We Love:
One thing we don’t love are mosquitoes! We had stopped in at our local natural foods store and asked what would be good to use on our camping trip. We didn’t want to have to wear deet the entire time and were hoping to find something natural to repel the little blood suckers. They recommended the Para Kito Mosquito repellent that clipped onto our pants or backpacks that uses essential oils to mask our smell. Weird…we smell? We think it worked. There were a ton of flying bugs everywhere and they mostly stayed away from us! When we walked around Manzanita Lake we had this hooked to our jeans belt loop and when we hiked it was hooked to our backpacks. The bosslady is not a fan of chemicals or smells so this worked great! Check out the link below to get some for your next outdoor adventure!
Cinder Cone had free parking at Butte Lake, restrooms in the parking lot, the hike up Cinder Cone was 4 miles with 856 elevation gain/loss. The toughest part of the hike is fully exposed to sun and wind. We would rate it as moderate to strenuous.
All Trails Stats:
Where else can you find us?
Don’t forget to check out the video of the hike on our Hike Then Wine YouTube channel!
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Jedediah Smith State Park offers camping among the redwoods along the Smith River with miles of hiking in old growth redwoods and is just a 20 minute drive to the ocean. The 106 camp sites are mostly private and the restrooms are heated in the morning! Watching the sun set along Smith River was incredible! So many hiking choices make it difficult to pick just a few to do in one weekend. Any of the trails you choose will take you through some of the most beautiful redwood forests you will ever experience. Standing next to these redwood giants reminds you of your place in the world…humble and thankful. With the ocean near by, you can leave the comfort of the redwood forest and enjoy the windswept beaches along Crescent City.
Jedediah Smith State Park Campground
Arriving at Jedediah Smith SP campground in the late evening on a Friday we quickly set up camp, got lost finding the bathrooms, then headed down to the Smith River to catch the sun setting. We walked along the rocky shoreline in complete awe of where we were. The campground is forested which keeps out most of the light but along the Smith River it is completely open to the blue sky above. The rocks were all different colors including orange which was not a common color we are used to seeing. We just kept walking and admiring the deep green of the river with the deep green of the redwoods reflecting off it. Then the sky lit up orange above us as the sun went down. Magical.
While we headed back to our campsite, the smells of campfires and food filled the air. We started our fire, got out our pre-made dinners (we like to do that on the first night so we don’t have to cook after a long drive) and enjoyed a bottle of wine by the fire. The park ranger had warned us we were in bear country and to not have any food smelling products inside our sleeping accommodations. Everything went into the bear box provided after we were done with it. Neither of us wanted a visit from a bear! The first night at Jed-Smith we stayed in the back of the truck and felt pretty safe from the bears.
Waking early Saturday morning, the bosslady went to shower off the campfire smell and get ready for the day. Much to her surprise the shower rooms were heated!! This was a welcome surprise for sure! It’s always hard to be cold from sleeping outside all night and then have the ambition to go shower in a cold place. This was a game changer!
The forecast was showing rain Saturday evening so we set up our tent before we went out on our first of many adventures. It’s much easier to play cards and eat dinner in the tent versus the back of the truck!
The Boy Scout Tree Trail
We had a list of hikes we wanted to do while visiting Jedediah Smith State Park. Highly recommend chatting with the ranger when you get there to see which ones they like and have tips for or if there are any trail closures to be aware of. The Boy Scout Tree Trail was on the top of our list because it ended at a waterfall. Hint, it is also high on A LOT of other people’s lists! Get there early!
The drive to the Boy Scout Tree trail is about 20 very scenic minutes. Howland Hill Road is a super bumpy, completely dirt, gorgeous road! This is your first glimpse into what you will experience on your hike! The Rhododendrons were in bloom all along the road and the trails giving off pops of pink/purple in an otherwise green and brown forest environment. We saw several people walking along the road an people driving were trying to avoid the large holes in the road. About 2 miles in, you will reach a small sign for the Boy Scout Tree trail. Parking is very limited here and if you don’t get there early (before 10 am) you might have to park down a little in one of the turnouts. We snagged one of the last spots at 10 am.
The wide trail started off with lush ferns growing around tall giant redwoods. It seemed as if the redwoods kept getting taller and taller as we hiked along uphill. Take your time and enjoy all the little sounds and smells of the forest as you hike. Some of the sounds might be other people chatting but they pass and it becomes quiet again. So peaceful! As the trail gently sloped down we came into this amazing grove of very tall, very straight redwoods almost perfectly spaced apart. More light is let through giving it a bright and open feel. It’s breathtaking to walk through this part of the trail.
The Boy Scout Tree trail meanders up and down and around the forest. Walk under a fallen tree with ferns growing on top then down into a lush more rainforest-like environment where giant maples fill in the spaces between the redwoods. Keep heading down and look for a small spur trail, there’s a sign with an arrow, and take that up about 50 feet to a double redwood tree. It’s one of the larger redwoods on this trail. Take a moment to look up and see how wide and tall he really is!
About a half mile past this, you will end at Fern Falls. Due to the late May rain the falls were flowing pretty good still! AND there were a ton of Boy Scouts picnicking and checking out the falls. We opted not to climb up to the top as it didn’t look like there was an actual trail but one created by people wanting to get “the shot” so we took a moment to enjoy our turnaround spot and then headed back.
The lighting of the redwood forest had changed and was brighter which allowed us to notice different parts of the trail we didn’t catch on the way in. Always amazing what the lighting can do to showcase different parts of the forest!
The Boy Scout Tree Trail was a moderate 7.8 miles with 1,145 elevation gain. Plan on spending some time stopping and checking out nature along the way and also having a lot of people on the trails with you. There are no restrooms, the closest one is at the Stout Grove parking lot.
After an amazing hike and with several hours of daylight left we opted to head into Crescent City and grab lunch and check out the beaches. The Battery Point Lighthouse was our first destination. The tide was low so we could actually walk across to the little “island” the historic lighthouse was on. You can only reach it by foot during low tide! Crazy to think you have to time your visit on and off by the tide and the caretakers that live at the lighthouse do too! With a storm coming in the wind was crazy and there weren’t too many people at the beaches. Just us crazy ones willing to get out all bundled up to check out the lighthouse!
Nearly getting blown away we hopped back in the truck and took the scenic waterfront drive up toward Point Saint George enjoying the views of the rocky coastline from the warmth of the truck. Noting we would like to head back to Point Saint George the next day we headed back to camp. The rain was to start at about 7 pm so we lit the campfire and cooked dinner while it was still dry out. When it started to rain and we headed inside the shelter of the tent, then it started pouring and didn’t let up until the wee hours of the morning.
With all the rain the night before we were hoping to explore Stout Grove before everyone else was out and about. Once again we snagged one of the last actual parking spots! The trail down to Stout Grove is the only steep part and lasts just a short bit. Once on the valley floor you have an option to turn right or left to hike the .6 mile loop. We went the opposite direction of everyone else. THESE REDWOODS ARE HUGE! The trails are wide and well maintained and the forest almost has a groomed look to it but it has been left natural with fallen trees crossing parts of the trails and back in the forest. This is definitely one of the more picturesque trails we were on this weekend. If you only have an hour in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, drive down Howland Hill Road, stop at Stout Grove and enjoy the views, then get back on Howland Hill Road and head through the park. Totally worth it!
Following the loop trail there was a little spur that went to where a footbridge is put up when the Smith River is lower and you can get across to the campground. The river was still pretty high so there wasn’t a footbridge yet. Walking under brightly lit maples we turned a corner and were walking between the giants again. The feeling one has when standing next to such an old majestic redwood is amazing. It reminds us of our place in the world…to be stewards of this special place and respect it so future generations can enjoy what we have been fortunate enough to see.
Mill Creek Trail
After the Boy Scout Tree trail and Stout Grove we weren’t expecting to be blown away by the beauty surrounding us. 🙂 Nature has a way of surprising you! The trail head off Howland Hill Road is marked with just a sign and no immediate parking. There are some spots just down the way from the trail. Mill Creek starts off gently ascending through lichen covered trees lining the narrow trail. Then it winds around smaller redwoods with bright green ferns lining the trail. The light was just right to make the ferns appear to be glowing and lighting the path. So pretty! We had followed the Mill Creek trail description so we knew were going to see some mighty big redwoods!
The Grove of Titans are just off the Mill Creek trail, you can see them but can’t get up close and personal. Several signs warn you when you are close to one because people have tried to go off trail to get a better look. Please stick to the main trail to preserve this amazing place!
Winding around the hillside on a narrow trail keep an eye out for the giants in the distance. Chesty Puller was the first ‘landmark’ to show we were nearing the Grove of Titans. You get to get up close and personal to him! He’s massive! There’s a fallen tree next to him covered in ferns that you get to walk through and end up in jungle like atmosphere with dense ferns and large maples. Cruise through this area for a bit and you reach Mill Creek and the sun shines down on you. We ran into a couple coming from the opposite direction who told us there was a baby bear just up the way along the creek. Thankful for the warning, we proceeded with caution and excitement! We had wanted to see a bear but from the truck, not on foot. We forgot our bear bell to attach to our backpack so we got out the keys to jingle. Nothing worse than scaring a bear!
We hiked along the creek and saw the baby bear up ahead on a sandbar munching on grasses. Whew! He wasn’t going to be hungry for us! Pausing a good distance away and snapping a ton of pics we watched him hang there all by himself. We were more concerned with mama bear watching us so we spoke loudly letting them know we were nearby. Not sure if we wanted to keep going on the trail another couple came up behind us and we showed them the bear. We opted to hike together, safety in numbers right? The trail led us just above where the baby bear was eating. We stopped super quick, took a few pictures, and when he looked up at us with a curious look we quickly kept going on the trail. Hearts beating fast and still on the lookout for mama bear we almost missed the Grove of Titans…ok we did miss them. 🙂 We hiked along with this other couple that were also looking for them and were chatting and felt a little more safe the further we got from the baby bear.
Realizing we had gone too far, we turned around and followed the trail description and found El Viejo del Norte. He’s a gnarly dude that you might not pay too much attention to if you weren’t looking for him! Just to the left is the Lost Monarch tree which is one of the largest in the park. She’s a beauty and you can see her from the official trail. No need to go off trail!
We kept hiking with the other couple passed where we saw the baby bear, which was not too far from the Grove of Titans, said our farewells and stood by the creek to enjoy the sunshine and a snack. Just standing there quietly enjoying the views…then all of a sudden the bosslady turned around and a fellow hiker was right behind her. You guessed it, she screamed! Probably scared the other hiker as much as she was scared. A little jumpy from the bear sighting she apologized and carried on.
The hike back to Howland Hill Road was just as gorgeous as when we went out. Mill Creek runs parallel to Howland Hill Road so you could hike all the way back to Stout Grove but we opted for a shorter hike to explore a few more places. Our hike along Mill Creek trail was 4.6 miles with 384 elevation gain/loss. Please don’t ask which hike we would rather do, the Boy Scout Tree or Mill Creek, we couldn’t decide if there was only 1! If we do get the opportunity to go back in the fall when the leaves are changing we definitely want to check out both!
Howland Hill Road is the scenic route back into Crescent City so we went that way and got the truck extra dirty. 🙂
Point Saint George
Crescent City doesn’t have a ton of restaurants so we picked one near the beach and sat outside to enjoy the sunshine and fresh salt air. After lunch we headed back up the scenic drive to Point Saint George. The parking lot is large so parking wasn’t an issue but there are no restrooms here. Just a heads up! We walked down the semi-paved path through the sand dunes to reach the beach. The lighthouse is offshore and the lighthouse keeper’s home is near the parking lot. It’s a great historical spot to stop!
Along the wide sandy beach there were hundreds of “by-the-wind-sailors” or Velella, blue jellyfish that had washed ashore. We had seen this on the news a while ago near us but hadn’t witnessed it in person. It was crazy to see! Careful not to touch them, they can sting.
We kept going toward the tide pools and had to walk across a massive accumulation of small pieces of driftwood layered on top of the the tide pools. Some people were digging through the driftwood, not sure what they were looking for. There wasn’t a ton of sea life here as it seems the tide goes out this far quite often so we headed back and walked along the beach. Going from the redwoods to the beach was a great combination for the weekend!
Back at camp we walked along the Smith River until sunset again and then lit the campfire, cooked, drank good wine and played cards. The hubs might have won this weekend’s card game! 😉
Highway 101 Scenic Stops
On the way up we passed by all of the scenic stops so we could get to the campground and settle in before dark. On the way home we chose to stop at as many of them as we could! The first one was the famous Trees of Mystery! If you have children, this is a great stop for them! Plan on about an hour for the entire tour. In the parking lot you can see a large Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe…and Paul talks and waves! He’ll even answer questions! Pay the fee and head up the interpretive trails. There was much more to see in this roadside attraction than we thought! Our intent was to ride the Sky Trail but we got so much more out of it!
The Sky Trail was a see through gondola that took you up through and above the redwood forest to a landing at the top that had views west to the ocean and east to more valleys and trees! Heading back down was gorgeous! They do have a strenuous trail you can take back down but we opted for the ease of flying through the redwoods instead.
Back in the truck we headed south on Highway 101. We stopped at ALL of the shops. We are looking for a slab for our outdoor seating and we were in the perfect area to shop for this! There was a tree house we got to go in and see so many things made out of redwood! It was nice to support the smaller shops and we found a souvenir at each place.
Leaving the redwoods was a little difficult. The terrain along Highway 101 becomes more familiar with the hills covered in vineyards and more traffic. If you are wanting a peaceful place to recharge, head up to the redwoods. It brings so much joy and peace to our lives which is why we keep trying to surround ourselves with these mighty giants!
Campsites at Jedediah Smith State Park are $35 / night. There are 106 campsites and as mentioned above the restrooms are heated in the morning! Each site gets a picnic table, fire ring and a bear box. We were at campsite #89 and had bear proof trash bins and the water spigot. The site was large enough for a very large tent as well as room to roam. The restrooms were a bit far so we got lots of steps in! Amazingly, we had good cell reception in the campground.
Boy Scout Tree Trail was was a moderate 7.8 miles with 1,145 elevation gain.
Mill Creek trail was an easy 4.6 miles with 384 elevation gain/loss.
Things We Love:
So the things we really loved on this trip were the redwoods! But, if we had to choose a camping item that helped us through the weekend we would have to say it was our new GSI halulite tea kettle! This 1 quart tea kettle has a low profile so it fits nicely in our bin for kitchen items. It doesn’t whistle at you waking up other campers which is great but you do have to pay attention as the water boils fast! We use this for the instant Starbucks Via coffee for the hubs, tea and powdered bone broth for the bosslady. You could also boil water to use to clean up your dishes. It fits perfectly on our Coleman stove and barely weighs anything! Click on the Amazon link below to see more details!
Where else can you find us?
Don’t forget to check out the video of the hike on our Hike Then Wine YouTube channel!
Are you a Pinterest-a-holic too? Feel free to use the pin below!
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Fall Creek Unit is a beautifully rugged second growth redwood forest with lush trails following the curves of Fall Creek as you hike through history. On our 10.2 mile hike we followed Fall Creek to the lime kilns that were active in the early 1900’s and up to Big Ben to see the largest redwood in this forest and back down to Fall Creek. Climbing over and under downed trees, balancing across fallen logs to cross the creek all while enjoying the sounds of birds singing and lush fern lined trails. Definitely a hike to help you recharge!
In need of some forest time to recharge from the chaos that is life, we drove 2.5 hours to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Fall Creek Unit. It was a perfect spring day for a hike and we were so ready to breathe in the fresh air! The parking lot for Fall Creek holds about 20 cars and fills up quickly! We got one of the last actual parking spots. While there were quite a few cars there, we didn’t see many people after we passed the lime kilns.
Fall Creek trail starts off going downhill from the parking lot and immediately greets you with a flowing creek and a forest canopy above. Even if you have to cut this hike short, like we did last time, it is still absolutely worth going for the beauty of this park! Follow the creek and enjoy the sounds of water flowing over boulders and around fallen logs. Don’t forget to look up and admire the young giants towering above you!
Everything was gorgeous and we kept pausing to snap a few photos then keep going. The ferns were so happy and the redwood sorrel were in bloom making it all seem so much more alive. There were quite a few people on this part of the hike. They were all quietly hiking along enjoying the environment they were in. At about 1 mile into the hike you reach the first bridge where there is a fork in the trail, we went left and up toward the lime kilns on the South Fork Trail.
Hiking along South Fork trail for about .5 miles with just under 200 feet elevation gain it was a gentle climb to our next destination, the lime kilns. In the late 1800’s early 1900’s these lime kilns were fully functional. Most of the redwoods in the park were cut down to fuel the fires for the kilns and to move the chunks of lime to the train station and shipped up to San Francisco. Now, Henry Cowell is a State Park and mother nature is beginning to take back her land.
The lime kiln structures are still there. They are covered in moss and ferns with wildflowers and bushes growing all around. Love that the historical structures remain! They can remind us of how we rebuilt San Francisco as well as what happens to an old forest when left to recover. If all you want is a short hike with a little history and lots of beauty, you could turn around here and head back enjoying the creek along the way.
Sill in need of mother nature’s natural stress reduction, we headed up Cape Horn trail to Lost Empire trail to see Big Ben.
The switchback Cape Horn trail was just under a mile before we reached the grueling incline of Lost Empire trail. Not sure how this trail got its name, maybe because not all of the empire could climb the 1,000 feet in 2.5 miles? Parts of this trail were steep 30% grades with some dropping off to almost level giving us a break from climbing on uneven ground. There were a couple twists and turns in the trails and a wonderful mix of trees.
On the forest floor we were mostly surrounded by redwoods and ground cover. Up on Lost Empire trail, madrones and bays provided shelter until we got higher up and redwoods started becoming the dominant tree. We ran into very few people along this part of the hike which was great for us but a bummer because there was so much beauty up there!
The trail was perfectly lined with dense ground cover of redwood sorrel with trees reaching high up to the sky. Then a last push up on a rocky, uneven, steep trail to reach Big Ben. He is the largest of the redwoods in the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell State Park that still remains. Big Ben is about 6 feet in diameter and a perfect resting stop! We hung out with Big Ben for a few minutes while he posed for pictures with us before we began our 1.5 mile with 600 feet elevation loss hike back down to Fall Creek via Big Ben Trail. The switchbacks were nice but were a tad bit narrow in some spots!
Once we reached Fall Creek trail again we noticed as we were looking down that we needed to cross the creek on either a group of smaller logs bunched together or one large log that had fallen across the creek. Option 2 it was! We carefully climbed on top of the large log and balanced our way across the creek. It wasn’t too bad! We weren’t high up in the air and the creek wasn’t rushing too much so the fear of falling wasn’t too bad. 😉
From here it was a nice gentle descent as we followed Fall Creek again. The water flowed over boulders in the creek, under downed trees and over logs stuck in the creek. There were a few more creek crossings to do, some with seasonal bridges and some finding your way across the fallen logs. It felt good to have a few obstacles along the way! Playing limbo on the trail with the trees that were blocking the trail or climbing over them. Definitely was not boring!
One part of Fall Creek trail looked like there had been a small landslide where the trail used to be. This was one of the more challenging parts to navigate! Over trees that reached out over the creek, along a log balanced on another log and back down to solid ground.
We also came across the remains of the Barrel Mill site. Seriously thank you to California State Parks for keeping all of these historical sites for us to see!
Most of the seasonal bridges were placed along the wider parts of Fall Creek. These gave perfect views from the middle of the creek without the fear of falling in while balancing. We began to see more and more people. We knew we were getting close to the end of the hike. Reaching the intersection with South Fork trail again we retraced our steps on Fall Creek trail to the parking lot.
Seeing this same trail from the other direction in different light still made us pause to admire the forest that enveloped us the entire way. It’s like getting a hug from a tree. 🙂
Parking is free but limited. There are no facilities so don’t drink too much coffee before you start the drive! Moderate hike with some steep parts. 90% shade but can still be hot. Dogs on leash ok. 10.2 miles with 1,903 feet elevation gain/loss. Closest town is Felton, we stopped at the grocery store to get snacks for the drive home.
Things We Love:
With a 2.5 hour drive to the 10.2 mile hike and a 3 hour drive home, one’s back and legs can get stiff! When we got back home we both got out of the car a little hunched over and sore. After showering we each took turns using the foam roller on our backs, massage stick for our legs and foot roller. Those are heavenly!! They massage out your tired sore muscles and help relax them. We both roll out our backs daily (sucks getting older!) and use the stick and foot one after longer hikes. This helps with recovery so much! It hurts at first but you get used to it knowing that it’s like having a masseuse available any time! When you check out these products, don’t forget to watch the ‘how-to’ videos they have to use them properly. If you are ready for some muscle relaxation and faster recovery time, click on the Amazon links below and check it out!
Where else can you find us?
Don’t forget to check out the video of the hike on our Hike Then Wine YouTube channel!
Are you a Pinterest-a-holic too? Feel free to pin the image below!