Calaveras Big Trees State Park, CA--Reveling Among the Giants
Jul 4, 2000 (Updated Aug 21, 2001)
Review by Eric Goldman
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:beautiful Sequoia redwoods, easy to reach, Stanislaus river access
Cons:crowded, limited number of trails
The Bottom Line: Go revel among the Big Trees!
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a great and convenient place to see giant Sequoia redwoods—the largest living things.
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Sequoia redwoods are cousins of the coastal redwoods. The coastal redwoods tend to grow a bit taller, but the Sequoias distinguish themselves with their girth. We saw several 300 foot tall trees with diameters of 30 feet—massive cylinders of red-barked wood towering to the sky. The trees often have no branches below 100 feet and are topped with reasonably short gnarled branches (which can be 6 feet wide in their own right) and a bushy crown.
Sequoias really are Big Trees. They are an awesome sight.
Interestingly, Sequoia groves are neither as lush or as green as coastal redwood forests. In a Sequoia grove, there tends to be a lot of spaces between trees, and the ground cover isn’t as dense either. But Sequoia groves have that heavenly, indescribable “duff” smell even stronger than coastal redwood forests.
The Big Trees state park has many exemplars of the species grouped into 2 primary groves—the North and South.
The North Grove is hiked in a one-mile interpretative loop trail. Due to the short trail length, the grove’s proximity to Highway 4 and a number of in-park campgrounds, this trail tends to be oppressively crowded. Although some of the trees are incredible, I recommend that solitude-lovers skip the trail altogether or go very early or very late.
The South Grove can be done in a 3.5 mile interpretative loop or a 5 mile loop plus spur to the Agassi tree (worth doing). Either way, this loop is significantly less crowded than the North Grove but the grove is a little sparser than the North Grove. Nevertheless, it’s a fabulous hike—as you round each bend, you see lots of green and brown and a single massive, imposing column of red. Each Sequoia is stunning and breath-taking, and it usually stops me dead in my tracks.
From the South Grove trail, you can also hike an extra 2.5 miles round-trip to the Bradley grove, which I’ve not done. Other trails in the park include the Lava Bluffs trail and a trail between the headquarters and the Stanislaus river which mostly parallels the road. We hiked the Lava Bluffs trail, which gets significantly fewer visitors than the 2 groves. The trail had some fine views of the Stanislaus river valley and had some flowers, but the lava bluffs weren’t that interesting and the trail overall was so-so.
There are several campgrounds in the park with hundreds of spaces. All of them were filled on the busy 4-day Fourth of July weekend 2000. Plan ahead!
The park is at about 5,000 feet and is located right off Highway 4 about 5 minutes east of Arnold. Note that it takes another 15-20 minutes to drive within the park to the South Grove. Road conditions are excellent (although both on Highway 4 and in the park, some roads are a little bumpy/twisty).
Overall, I’m surprised that such a large park has such a limited number of trails. But it’s quality that matters, not quantity. Hike out to a Sequoia of your choosing away from the crowds, lie under its canopy and gaze towards the heavens. While doing so, the quality v. quantity debate—and the crowds—won’t be on your mind.
For more information, see the official (but seemingly out of date) website at http://www.sierra.parks.state.ca.us/cbt/cbt.htm. For a more up-to-date site, see http://www.bigtrees.org/.
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