Arnold Ca, May 2016 – Calaveras Big Tree State Park in Arnold CA, off HWY 4 is a great place to visit year round. However, the spring brings about a delicate beauty that is worth the visit. If your looking for the a nice Mother’s Day location to get out and explore this weekend, you might consider a trip to Calaveras County and the Big Tree State Park.
The Dogwoods are blooming, the North and South Grove are open for visitors.
On Saturdays at 1:00pm the park offers a guided hike through the North Grove area of the park. Come enjoy the beauty and grandeur of the park while learning about why this place is so special. The hike is approximately 1.5 hours long and is open to all family members (except dogs).
In the event we have enough snow in the park the hike will be a snowshoe hike. Some snowshoes are available for use on a first come, first served basis. Snowshoes are available for rent in the town of Arnold located three miles west on Highway 4.
The cost of the hike is free with paid admission to the park; meet at the Visitor Center and wear appropriate footwear. For more information, please call the Visitor Center at (209) 795-3840 or (209) 795-7980.
Calaveras became a State Park in 1931 to preserve the North Grove of giant sequoias. This grove includes the “Discovery Tree”, also known as the “Big Stump”, the first Sierra redwood noted by Augustus T. Dowd in 1852. This area has been a major tourist attraction ever since, and is considered the longest continuously operated tourist facility in California.
The park is northeast of Stockton, four miles northeast of Arnold on Highway 4.
In addition to the popular North Grove, the Park features the South Grove, a five-mile hiking trip through a spectacular grove of giant sequoias in their natural setting.
Other attractions in the Park include the Stanislaus River, Beaver Creek, the Lava Bluff Trail and Bradley Trail.
Dogs: Dogs are welcome in the park on leash in developed areas like picnic sites, campgrounds, paved roads and fire roads (dirt). Dogs are not allowed on the designated trails, nor in the woods in general. We have several miles of fire roads for you and your dog to enjoy; however, you will not be able to see any of the giant sequoias from these roads.
There are seven maintained hiking trails in the park as well as many miles of fire roads. They offer a range of difficulty and highlight the varied features of the park, including the Giant Sequoias, the rushing Stanislaus River, and the Lava Bluffs formation. For your safety and the enjoyment of others, dogs and bicycles are only allowed on fire roads and paved roads. Dogs must be on leash at all times in all California State Parks. Check the park map for locations of trails and roads. Trail guides are available for the North Grove, South Grove, Bradley Grove, and Lava Bluffs trails and can be purchased at the Visitor Center or picked up at the trailhead. Please stay on the trails when hiking, to protect the plant and animal life of the park. When the park road closes for winter, the only trail that can be accessed is the North Grove.
The following is a brief description of each trail and its prominent features.
North Grove Area North Grove Trail: This gentle 1.7-mile loop will take you through the historic grove of Giant Sequoias discovered in 1852. The Big Stump, Mother and Father of the Forest, and the Pioneer Cabin Tree (at one time a “drive–through” tree) are all located along this trail, as well as about 100 very large Giant Sequoias. The trail begins and ends at the far end of the North Grove parking lot. This trail is “stroller–friendly” when dry. Allow 1–2 hours.
Three Senses Trail: Located next to the Big Stump, this is a very short loop of just a few hundred yards, intended to help visitors enjoy a sensory experience of the forest. Trail markers display both printed words and Braille. Allow 20 minutes.
Grove Overlook Trail: This trail begins a short distance beyond the Big Stump, branching off of the North Grove Trail just past the #2 marker. It climbs the ridge above the grove and parallels the North Grove Trail for about ½ mile to provide views of the upper parts of the Big Trees. It rejoins the North Grove Trail near the Father of the Forest and trail marker #13. From there you can walk either right or left on the North Grove Trail to return to the trailhead. Allow 1–2 hours.
South Grove Area South Grove Trail: This trail travels through the South Grove Natural Preserve, home to about 1,000 mature Giant Sequoias, and the largest trees in the park. This moderately difficult trail consists of a 3.5-mile loop through the lower part of the grove, with a 3/4 mile–long spur trail leading to the Agassiz Tree—the largest in the park—for a total of 5 miles. The South Grove Trailhead parking area is located nine miles past the park entrance station on the main park road. There are restrooms at the trailhead, but no drinking water. Allow 2.5 to 4 hours for this hike, and be sure to bring water and wear sturdy shoes.
Bradley Grove Trail: This 2.5 mile round–trip moderate loop trail travels to a grove of young Giant Sequoias that were planted in the 1950s by summer park caretakers and conservationists Owen and Adrienne Bradley. To access the trail, start hiking on the South Grove Trail. Just after crossing the bridge over Beaver Creek (about 600 yards), look for a trail sign and box with trail guides and follow the trail to the left. The Bradleys were concerned about the danger of wildfire to the Giant Sequoias in the newly acquired South Grove, so they decided to collect seedlings and replant them in this location as a safeguard. This is a nice area for wildflowers in the late spring. Allow 1–2 hours and bring drinking water.
River Canyon Trail: This is NOT a gentle stroll along the river, but a very strenuous hike into and out of the Stanislaus River Canyon. The hike is 8 miles round–trip, with an elevation change of over 1,000 feet. On summer afternoons this south–facing slope can be very warm. To access the trail, start hiking on the North Grove Trail. Just past marker #2, take the trail to the right and follow it up to the Scenic Overlook (not the Grove Overlook trail). At the far end of the Scenic Overlook parking lot, you will find a restroom, a display describing the trail, and access to the rest of the trail. From here, you will descend 1,000 feet over 3 miles to the Stanislaus River. From there, you will retrace your steps, traveling 3 miles and ascending 1,000 feet back up again to the Scenic Overlook. Be sure you are physically able to do this hike and carry plenty of drinking water. There is no trail guide for this trail, but it is shown on the park map. If you decide to walk back along the park road, be aware that it is a lot longer and just as hot. Allow 4–6 hours.
Lava Bluffs Trail: This 2.5 mile loop trail will take you through varied environments, across a volcanic formation, and along a historic water ditch. This diverse area hosts the park’s most colorful spring wildflower displays and excellent birdwatching. There are many steep sections along this trail, including some with difficult footing. Because the trail follows a south–facing slope, it can be enjoyed more in the spring or fall rather than on hot summer afternoons. This is the only trail in the park with poison oak, butit is easy to avoid if you are careful. The trail begins at the Lava Bluffs parking area, about 5 miles from the park entrance on the main park road. Allow 2–3 hours, and bring plenty of water.
Photos courtesy of California State Parks, Calaveras Big Trees Association Facebook page and Alan Beymer