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A Guide to Calaveras Big Trees State Park
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A Guide to Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Here's everything you need to know about Calaveras Big Trees State Park, undoubtedly one of the most underrated state parks in California.

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8 min read

December 20, 2020

“The king of all the conifers in the world, the noblest of the noble race.” —John Muir, when writing about sequoia trees.

Ever dreamt of being transported to the land of giants? Calaveras Big Trees State Park can make your dream come true. Home to two imposing groves of giant sequoias, the state park was established in 1931 to preserve the glorious stand of towering trees. Calaveras State Park is the main attraction of Calaveras County, where beautiful landmarks, rolling hills, and giant valleys dominate the area. 

Walking among the sequoias at the state park reminds us of the chapter in Alice in Wonderland when Alice drinks the potion and shrinks—next to these mighty sequoias, you too will feel smaller and smaller until at last, you’re just the size of a little doll. Undoubtedly one of the most underrated state parks in California, Calaveras Big Trees State Park is definitely worth the visit.

Everything You Need To Know About Calaveras Big Trees

Augustus T. Dowd is credited for the discovery of the North Calaveras Grove in 1852 when he was tracking down a bear. But this wasn’t the first discovery of the giant trees. In 1833, a group of hunters made a reference to the sequoias without any mention of the locality; the reference was found in explorer J.K. Leonard’s diary but wasn’t publicized. John M. Wooster, another person who discovered the North Grove, carved his initials in the bark of the Hercules tree in 1850. However, he also didn’t receive any publicity. 

The old sequoia discovered by Dowd was dubbed the “Discovery Tree.” This giant sequoia was felled in order to take it on a tour around the world. Before long, the Discovery Tree became a worldwide sensation. Measuring 25 feet in diameter at its base, the sequoia was estimated to be 1,244 years old at the time of its felling. The giant stump left was turned into a dance floor—this was highly criticized by the Father of National Parks, John Muir.   

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The second tree to be felled was the Mother of the Forest. This ancient and colossal sequoia met its demise in 1854 when the 2,520-year-old tree was stripped of its first 100 feet of bark. By 1861, the Mother of the Forest shed its entire canopy; its dead remains are found at Calaveras Big Trees Park, where visitors can easily view the saw marks on the trunk. 

Back in the day, the towering sequoias were a great source of lumber. Multiple lumber companies had plans to cut down the remaining trees in the area. The destruction of the sequoias was met with public outcry—locals and conservationists had had enough. They strongly expressed their disapproval and anger regarding the trees' treatment, and in 1931, Calaveras Big Trees State Park was finally established in order to protect and conserve the remaining sequoias in the area. Now, the state park encompasses 6,498 acres in Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties.

Soak up the ancient wisdom of the giants when at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

 

Calaveras Grove

There are two groves at the state park: North and South Calaveras Groves. There are approximately 100 mature trees in the North Grove and around 1,000 trees in the South Grove. 

The Discovery Tree and the Mother of the Forest were both located in the North Grove. Now, all you see is the stump where the largest tree in the park once stood and the Mother of the Forest’s fire-blackened snag. 

Pioneer Cabin Tree, another giant sequoia located in North Calaveras Grove, also met its demise on January 8, 2017. Known as the “Tunnel Tree,” it was only one of the two living giant sequoia tunnel trees that still stood. Pioneer Cabin Tree collapsed during a storm—the tree had already been weakened due to the severe damage caused by hollowing out its trunk. Now, the largest tree of North Calaveras Grove is the Empire State, which measures 30 feet at ground level. 

South Calaveras Grove includes Louis Agassiz, the 37th largest sequoia in the world. As the largest living tree of the Calaveras Groves, Lous Agassiz measures 250 feet tall and over 25 feet in diameter. Another noteworthy giant in South Grove is the Palace Hotel Tree, the second-largest living tree in the groves. Palace Hotel Tree has a large and deep burn scar at its bottom, which you can easily walk into. 

Step underneath the magnificent sequoias and inhale the fresh scent. Photo courtesy of Heritage-futures.org.

Calaveras Big Trees Hours

The state park itself is open from sunrise to sunset for day use. The Calaveras Big Trees Visitor Center’s hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Friday to Saturday.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park Fees

The Calaveras Big Trees entrance fee is $4. The camping fees differ at each campground, ranging from $25 to $250 depending on how big the group is and where you’re camping.

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and connect with these stunning trees. You'll definitely feel as though you're in paradise.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park Camping

A Calaveras Big Trees State Park camping experience is a must when you’re visiting. It’s undoubtedly one of the best California state parks for camping. Calaveras Big Trees houses two main developed campgrounds—the North Grove and Oak Hollow Campgrounds—with a total of 129 campsites that make for an unparalleled camping adventure amongst the giant sequoias. Motorhomes up to 30 feet are permitted to enter the area. There are also group and environmental campgrounds in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

North Grove Campground

Location: Highway 4, about 30 miles east of Angels Camp and 4 miles east of Arnold

Amenities: Picnic tables, water spigot, metal firepit, grill, bear-proof lockers, nearby flush toilets, pay showers, dump station

Fees: $35, plus $8 reservation fee

Number of sites: 58

Dogs allowed: Yes, on-leash

Reservation required: Yes

Located in the heart of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the North Grove Campground is a relatively flat area close to the park’s visitor center. This state park campground accommodates tents, RVs, and trailers. However, about one-third of the campsites are tent-only sites. The North Grove Campground includes four more campgrounds—Upper, Lower, and two small group campgrounds. Spend the evenings roasting marshmallows while listening to your camping playlist by the crackling fire. 

North Grove Large-Group Campgrounds

What better way to spend your weekend than by camping amongst the sequoias with your closest friends.

Upper Campground

Location: North Grove Campground

Amenities: Picnic tables, water spigot, metal firepit, grill, bear-proof lockers, nearby flush toilets, pay showers, dump station.

Minimum number of people allowed: Nine

Fees: $135 per night, $185 on holiday weekends

Reservation required: Yes

The Upper Campground is located within the North Grove Campground and can accommodate up to 40 people and 15 vehicles.

Lower Campground

Location: North Grove Campground

Amenities: Picnic tables, water spigot, metal firepit, grill, bear-proof lockers, nearby flush toilets, pay showers, dump station.

Minimum number of people allowed: Nine people

Fees: $200 per night, $250 on holiday weekends

Reservation required: Yes

The Lower Campground is also situated in the North Grove Campground. It can accommodate up to 60 people and 20 vehicles.

North Grove Small-Group Campgrounds

Location: North Grove Campground

Amenities: Picnic tables, water spigot, metal firepit, grill, bear-proof lockers, nearby flush toilets, pay showers, dump station

Fees: $75 per night, $80 on holiday weekends

Reservation required: Yes

Both small-group campgrounds can accommodate up to 16 people and four vehicles. One of the campgrounds is designated for tents, RVs, and trailers; the other campground is tent-only. 

Oak Hollow Campground

Location: Highway 4, about 30 miles east of Angels Camp and 4 miles east of Arnold

Amenities: Picnic tables, water spigot, metal firepit, grill, bear-proof lockers, nearby flush toilets, pay showers

Fees: $35, plus $8 reservation fee

Number of sites: 51

Dogs allowed: No

Reservation required: Yes

Elevate your Calaveras Big Trees camping experience by staying the night at Oak Hollow Campground. Situated off the main park road, partly down into the Stanislaus River canyon, the campground offers miles of hiking trails and plenty of shade thanks to the mature conifer forest surrounding it. 

Environmental Walk-In Campground

Location: Highway 4, about 30 miles east of Angels Camp and 4 miles east of Arnold

Amenities: Picnic tables, metal firepit, bear-proof lockers, pit toilets

Fees: $25, plus $8 reservation fee

Number of sites: 5

Dogs allowed: No

Reservation required: Yes

There are five environmental campsites in Calaveras Big Trees State Park—Sugar, Lone Snag, Stanislaus, Beaver, and White Fur. Unlike the other Calaveras Big Trees campgrounds, these are more primitive tent-only sites. Each site accommodates a maximum of eight people. Campers have to bring their own water because there isn’t any available at the campsite. Two of the campsites are located across from the Stanislaus River near Beaver Creek. The other three are found on the northern end of Calaveras Big Trees


Calaveras Big Trees Hikes

There are multiple maintained trails that guide you to the hidden corners of the state park. Besides the preserved trails, there are countless more off-the-beaten-path hiking trails that are unnamed—getting lost and losing track of time in the state park may be one of the best things you'll ever experience. There are several Calaveras Big Trees hikes to choose from; we know these trails will get your attention. 

Who wouldn't want to go hiking in the majestic Calaveras Big Trees State Park? Lose track of time as you explore this breathtaking destination.

 

Calaveras South Grove Trail

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Parking: Available

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 5 miles 

Time: 3–4 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

The Calaveras South Grove Trail offers a peaceful hike with little to no foot traffic. As you’re making your way on the path, you’ll be engulfed in deciduous trees and towering conifers that create a visual delight, especially when combined with blue skies. The sound of the flowing creek on this Calaveras Big Trees hike calmly welcomes you to the grove of giant sequoias. 

Calaveras North Grove Trail

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Parking: Available

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.7 miles

Time: 1–2 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

Perhaps the most popular trail in the state park is the Calaveras North Grove Trail. This short and gentle hike takes you to the Pioneer Cabin Tree, Discovery Tree’s Big Stump, and the Mother of the Forest. The Calaveras North Grove Trail is also stroller-friendly. 

Follow the path to discover the majestic scenery at this spectacular state park.

River Canyon Trail

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Parking: Available

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 8 miles 

Time: 4–6 hours

Route: Out and back

Dogs allowed: No

Unlike the Calaveras North Grove Trail, the River Canyon Trail is neither a short nor gentle hike. With an elevation gain of 1,000 feet, the trail takes you through the Scenic Overlook and Stanislaus River canyon. The strenuous trek is by far the hardest in Calaveras Big Trees, but it’s not as difficult as people make it up to be. As long as you’re hydrated, all is good. 

Lava Bluffs Trail

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Parking: Available

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.5 miles 

Time: 2–3 hours

Route: Loop

Dogs allowed: No

The Lava Bluffs Trail just may be the most scenic hike in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The spectacular trail guides hikers through colorful spring wildflowers across a volcanic formation along a historic water ditch. Be careful when hiking here—it’s the only trail in the state park that has poison oak.

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