It is said that tourism in California began here, Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It makes sense as California became the 31st state in the union in 1850.
1850-1870 saw the growth of the Railroad into California bringing in the first waves of tourists with California's first railroad, the Sacramento Valley Railroad.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
In 1852, a hunter in the gold mining camp of Murphys California, Augustus T. Dowd, was in unfamiliar territory chasing after a wounded grizzly. He stumbled across something that completely caught him by surprise, the discovery tree! The tree he had just run across was the size of which he had never seen before, a giant sequoia tree placed in the middle of a mixed conifer forest.
Dowd was so enamored that he forgot about the hunt and spent the day exploring the grove of giant sequoia trees, the largest trees in the world by volume. Dowd told locals of what he had found and at first, people laughed him off but Dowd managed to get a group of men to follow him to the giant trees and showed them his discovery.
Almost immediately, visitors began traveling to Calaveras County becoming a major tourist attraction; Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Dowd had introduced the rest of the world to groves of giant sequioas creating a worldwide fascination.
As you can imagine, a hotel was built shortly after the discovery to meet the demands of tourism and was a place for gatherings and famous people. The hotel eventually burnt in 1943. The State of California purchased the North Grove in 1931 creating Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Saving the Redoows/Giant Sequoia Trees
Did you know that John Muir said that these trees were the survivors of the Great Ice Age and the ravages of time but were also falling to fire and steel of man?
This area was auctioned off in 1878 and then sold to a lumberman which created protests in the area.
This led to a long-term fight to save this area. This resulted in the Calaveras Grove Association.
It was inspired by the Sierra Club, and Save the Redwoods League who were leading the movement for the creation of the California State Park System.
In 1928, Californians voted to create a State Park System.
The North Grove of Giant Sequoias was acquired by a combination of private donations from John D. Rockefeller Jr., and Mrs. William C. Crocker, the Calaveras Grove Association, and the Save the Redwoods League.
Soon afterward, the Great Depression hit the United States and the South Grove would not be added for two decades. Finally, the South Grove was purchased and became part of Calaveras Big Trees State Park on April 16, 1954.
Calaveras Big Trees Visitor Center
The park entrance is easily located off of California Highway 4 in Arnold, California. The visitor center and parking area is right off the highway and makes for a great first stop for first-time visitors.
Park staff and volunteers are eager to help you plan your trip, find a hiking trail, and lead you to a campsite. The visitor center also has a bookstore and museum.
Visitor Center Operating Hours
- May, Seven days a week 10 AM- 5 PM
- Memorial Day Weekend 5/24, 5/25, 5/26, and 5/27 10 AM-6 PM
- June to August, Sun-Thur 10 AM-5 PM, Friday & Saturday 10 AM-6 PM
There are eight trails in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Each trail varies greatly but I do highly recommend taking at least the North Grove Trail for first-time visitors.
Four of these trails are amongst the groves of giant sequoia trees:
- North Grove Trail - The North Grove Trail starts off by the visitor center and passes by many of the park's well-known features including the Discovery Stump, the Empire State Tree, Mother of the Forest, Father of the Forest, the Abraham Lincoln Tree, the Pioneer Cabin Tree, and the warming hut. The trail has a gentle slope, is 1.5 miles long and takes approximately 1 hour.
- South Grove Trail - The remote south grove trail is located at the end of the walter w. smith memorial parkway which closes in the winter due to snow. This provides the perfect opportunity to cross-country ski to this trail and see these gentle giants amongst the snow, a truly magical experience! The South Grove is a stand of pristine of giant sequoia trees and the largest trees found in the park. Some of the highlights include the Kansas Group, the Palace Hotel Tree, and the Agassiz Tree. This is a moderate hike and is 3.5 to 5 miles long averaging anywhere from 2-4.5 hours to complete.
- Three Senses Trail - The three senses trail is located next to the Big Stump. This is the opportunity through interpretative panels, visitors can experience the forest through three senses. The trail is a few hundred yards and takes approximately 20 minutes.
- Grove Overlook Trail - The Grove Overlook Trail is a trail that branches off the North Grove Trail between Markers #2 and #13 and climbs above the Giant Sequoias giving you a different perspective of these giants
Trails without Giant Sequoia Trees include:
- River Canyon Trail - This is an 8-mile very strenuous trail with over 1,000 feet if elevation gain in and out hike. It is also on a south-facing slope making it very hot, especially in the summer. This hike takes you to the Stanislaus River Canyon and takes 4-6 hours to complete.
- Lava Bluffs Trail - This is a 2.5-mile lollipop trail that has excellent wildflowers in the spring and great birdwatching. Just be aware that there is plenty of Poison Oak around and it is a south-facing slope with tons of afternoon sun. This means the spring and fall will be much more enjoyable and not feel like you are hiking on the sun.
- Meadow Walk - Simply take the boardwalk across for easy access to a lush meadow filled with wildflowers, birds, bees, and dragonflies.
- Fire/Dirt Roads - Park visitors are welcome to hike, bike, and even take their leashed pet on any of the park's fire/dirt roads.
trails not to miss in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Both will leave you wanting to see more of this magnificent part of the world.
My favorite hike was the:
CALAVERAS NORTH GROVE TRAIL
A 1.5-mile easy loop trail, less than 100 feet of elevation gain
The Calaveras North Grove Trail is by far the park's most popular trail and is located right next to the park's visitor center.
Here you are going to see several of the most popular named trees in the park as well as several other verities of trees and dogwood in the understory is spectacular in the spring when it blooms, and again in the fall when the leaves start turning colors.
My second favorite hike was:
Calaveras South Groves Trail
A 3.5-mile moderate loop-only trail, 460' elevation gain. Allow 1.5 to 3 Hrs.
5-mile moderate Loop trail plus the side trail that takes you up to the upper grove and the Agassiz Tree, 560' elevation gain, allow 2.5-4.5 hrs. to complete.
The Calaveras South Grove Trail contains a pristine stand of 1000 Sequoia trees! That's 10 times the sequoias found on the North Grove Trail. What makes this even more special is that most groves in the area have been disturbed by settlers in the late 1800s but the South Grove gives you the opportunity to explore an ancient Sequoia forest ecosystem!
The Trailhead is located at the south end of the park. Simply take the Walter W. Smith Memorial Parkway past the visitor center and continue to the trailhead towards the end of the road. Here you will also find the Beaver Creek Accessible Trail, the Beaver Creek picnic sites, and campground.
There are 120 campsites between the North Grove Campground and Oak Hollow Campground in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Throughout the summer the park offers campfire programs along with additional interpretive programs.
You may make camping reservations by calling (800) 444-7275 (TTY 800-274-7275).
To make online reservations, visit our website at www.parks.ca.gov
The North Grove Campground is located near the visitor center and the North Grove Trail. The Oak Hollow Campground is located near the South Grove and does close in the winter when it starts to snow.
Trailer: 30 Feet
Camper/Motorhome: 30 Feet
Campsites and restrooms with showers at the North Grove Campground are accessible. One campsite and the restroom with showers at the Oak Hollow Campground.
The park has 4 cabins for rent. Each cabin has two bedrooms, running water, electricity, and semi-furnished.
One thing to remember is the park does not provide any linens or towels for the cabins.
There are several picnic areas located in the park. including the North Fork Stanislaus River and Beaver Creek.
Visiting the park in the Winter
Many parts of the park are closed in the winter including the campgrounds, visitor center, and the Parkway to the South Grove will close for the season around mid-November and remain closed until late April, but the North Grove area remains accessible.
Park visitors will find a warming hut at the end of the main parking lot that is open on weekends from November to March. Complimentary hot chocolate, cider, and coffee are served around a large open fire pit (Donations accepted).
Make sure to bring your snowshoes in the winter and snowshoe amongst the Giant Sequoias. If you don't have any snowshoes, you can find some to rent in Arnold.
Travel Tips for Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Park Address - 1170 East Highway 4, Arnold, CA 95223
Park Phone Number - (209) 795-2334
Pets - Dogs allowed only in campgrounds and on fire roads.
Interested in seeing more big trees? Check out these great parks for Giant Sequoia and Redwood Trees.
General Grant Tree- Kings Canyon National Park -Worlds Second Largest Tree by volume!
Things to do in Sequoia National Park -Visit the General Sherman Tree- The Worlds Largest Tree by volume!
Things to do in Redwood National Park -Visit the amazing Redwood Trees in Ladybird Johnson Grove or take the 17-mile scenic Bald Hills Road Drive.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Muir Woods National Monument -Amazing Redwood Trees just north of San Francisco and Oakland!
Interested in Railroading in the area? Visit Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, California.
Nearby California State Parks
• Columbia State Historic Park - 11255 Jackson Street, Columbia
• Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park - 14881 Pine Grove-Volcano Road. Pine Grove
• Railtown 1897 State Historic Park on 5th Avenue, off Hwy. 108, Jamestown