The giant sequoia, which now only grows on the west slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is one of California’s natural icons. When you walk among these giants, you are in the presence of the oldest living things on the planet.
At least one sequoia was known to be 3200 years old! The Calaveras Big Trees State Park is designed to preserve these giant trees as well as to allow people to experience and learn about them.
Calaveras Big Trees is about three hours away from South Lake Tahoe and San Francisco and two hours from Sacramento.
For those who prefer to stay longer, camping facilities are available between May and September. Considered the longest continuously operated tourist facility in the state of California, people have been coming to the forest since the mid-1800s.
The park is designed to be a park for all seasons and is operated year-round. Some portions of the park’s facilities are closed at certain seasons of the year, especially at winter. However, even in winter there are adventures to be found.
When you arrive at the park, especially if you are a first-time visitor, take some time first to go the visitor center, where you will find interpretative exhibits about the sequoias and other fauna and the wildlife in the area. Schedules for the many activities within the park are also available.
Weekend Activities Guide
In the summer, there are special activities for children ages 3-6 most days at 10, which last around an hour, as well as special activities for the 7-12-year-old junior rangers crew.
Guided walks of the North Grove of sequoias are offered every day beginning at 1. Another program focuses on life in the creeks within the park. Called “Creek Critters,” it takes place one or two times a week. If you want to stay over, evening events include campfire programs, night walks and astronomy viewing’s.
In the spring, when the dogwoods and wildflowers bloom, and the fall, when the leaves turn, the park is at its most beautiful. Because the exact timing of either event is highly dependent on weather conditions, the park, as a courtesy, will let you leave a postcard with the rangers at the Visitor Center, and they will mail it to you when the spring and fall nature shows begin.
In the winter, the park is at its most challenging. Because of its location in the Sierra Nevada’s, snow is often present. Even though the main park road is closed, as well as many of the trails, the North Grove trail still is open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, as is the park road that loops through the campground.
On Saturdays at 1, the park rangers offer a guided snowshoe walk through the North Grove. If you don’t have your own pair of snowshoes, there are some available at the park for you to use.
Because weather in the winter is highly changeable and the cold is often deadly to those who are ill-prepared, the park employees are concerned that people be aware that they need cars capable of driving on the snow.
Visitors in the wintertime should carry chains for their tires with them. A clear, sunny morning does not guarantee a clear afternoon – it is equally likely that your day will end with a rising snowpack over the road that has already reached 3 feet. The park website offers clothing advice for the cold weather, also.
One winter amenity in the park is the “warming hut,” open on weekends and holidays from Thanksgiving to late March. The warming hut sits at the end of the North Grove parking lot and provides a fire where people can warm themselves, and free hot drinks.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park has seven hiking trails, three in the North Grove area of the park, two in the South Grove, one that hikes into and out of the Stanislaus River Canyon the most difficult hike in the park.
One of the most popular trails is called the “Lara Bluffs Trail,” which takes you through volcanic formations and meadows with wildflowers.
As a general rule, the North Grove trails are easier while the South Grove trails are more vigorous. However, the extra effort to hike a South Grove trail is well worth the effort – because the South Grove is less developed, the largest sequoias are found there.
Winter, spring, summer, fall – any season is a good time to take a day trip to the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The trees have been waiting for you for thousands of years.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park 147 campsites including 47 for tents only. Calaveras Big Trees State Park 1170 California 4, Arnold, CA 95223 Phone: (209) 795-2334