Stephens Grove is the southernmost of the really impressive alluvial-flat lowland groves along the Avenue of the Giants. A short, level trail, the Governor William D. Stephens Loop Trail, winds through this cathedral-like grove. The first part of the loop has a lush and somewhat dense understory and a groundcover of ferns and sorrel. The main attraction, though, is the final third of the loop. Here the trail runs near the edge of the woods, which is much more spectacular and has some exceptionally large trees in an open area with a striking absence of groundcover. This walk is best in the late afternoon, when the sunlight slants through the break in the canopy over the Eel River and illuminates the grove with brilliant yellow light.
Highway 101 is across the Eel River from Stephens Grove and on a still day the constant hum of traffic fills the grove. The grove also adjoins the Avenue of the Giants, which runs on an embankment above a portion of the loop trail.
While it’s not exceptionally busy, there always seem to a few cars parked in the little trailhead pullout, even in the middle of winter. Most of the visitors seem to be locals from the town of Miranda. The trail is in excellent condition and is easy to follow.
If you’re headed north, the grove is just past Miranda. Immediately after passing though the town, the road descends slightly. Just as it bottoms out, look for a small pullout to the left. There’s a hard-to-notice "Stephens Grove" sign on the Avenue of the Giants a hundred yards before you reach the trailhead.
From the trailhead, which is elevated a few feet above the grove, there’s a good view of the big trees around the pullout. Other than a few sprays of redwood sorrel there’s little or no groundcover. This is actually the most impressive part of the loop; the trees get smaller further into the grove.
Just a few yards from the trailhead is a Y intersection. Oddly, two redwoods, one huge and one small, have been cut down and left lying on the forest floor; the trail passes through breaks sawed into the fallen trees. Turn left at the Y intersection. The trail passes through fairly lush and attractive redwood forest with some good-sized trees, a dense understory, and the typical groundcover of ferns and sorrel. There are some big fallen trees to duck under and some creeks to cross over on small footbridges. Cars whiz by on the Avenue, just a few yards up the embankment to your left.
At the southernmost tip of the loop, the trail briefly passes through a logged area where the big trees are replaced with stumps. To your left, an unmarked dirt road climbs the embankment into the tiny town of Miranda. Ahead, the trail passes a huge redwood just as it curves back into the old growth.
After the trail crosses a dry gully, it begins to approach the edge of the forest and the wide gravel bed of the Eel River. Perhaps because this part of the grove gets more light, the trees get a lot bigger here, the woods open up, and the groundcover disappears. There seems to be an unusual amount of fallen branches and other debris on the ground.
© 2007, 2011, 2016, 2021 David Baselt