Calaveras Big Trees: A California State Park
What Is Special About Calaveras Big Trees Park?
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a beautiful state park and campground nestled in the shade of the mountain redwoods. It is also a historic site. Before we learned to appreciate these trees, and realized that they could not be replaced within our lifetimes, there was a huge logging industry in many of the groves of redwood trees statewide.
These giant trees do provide a very durable wood that is resistant to rot, so redwood is in high demand in the construction industry. Unfortunately, redwood trees grow extremely slowly, and the most massive trees that still exist are ancient. Some of the specimens that were cut down in the past were dated to one or two hundred years BCE. Now that we have finally wised up, many hundreds of acres have been protected for future generations to enjoy.
Calaveras Big Trees was an area used for some of this logging, but it was stopped and the area preserved before it could be clear cut and laid waste. Within the park are many fine specimens of these gigantic trees, and also a few sad reminders of the area's past.
The saddest of all are the trees that were cut down merely for the sensationalism they provided. Sections of the trees were in many cases shipped around the country in traveling exhibits. This was a completely irresponsible use of the trees, for they had not even served a purpose in providing shelter or infrastructure.
The Big Stump
What Is There to See?
The name of the park itself tells you all you need to know about the sights. Here is a preserved, historic area of giant redwood trees (sequoiadendron giganteum). There are many trails through various groves which not only provide awe-inspiring views of these massive trees, but also history lessons about what the uneducated folks in the past did.
One such sad memorial is the Big Stump, or Discovery Stump. This massive tree was chopped down, and its stump used as a dance floor, complete with a pavilion on top. I can only imagine how much bigger that tree would be today, if only they'd had the foresight to leave it be.
This small photo of a downed redwood tree illustrates very well the absolutely massive size these trees can reach. In front of the log are approximately twenty horses, shoulder-to-shoulder; on top of it are another dozen or so, nose-to-tail. There is still tree showing on either end of the lines of horses!
The park features two camping areas: the North Grove, where the main campgrounds are, and Oak Hollow. The campgrounds are open from April to November, but parts of the North Grove are open in winter for snow play such as sledding, snow-shoeing, and general fun, such as snowball fights. During winter, some North Grove campgrounds may be open, depending on weather and roads. Note that this will be 'dry camping' only; all water is shut off, and campers must be self-contained.
The North Grove's campground is self-named; 4 miles further into the park is the Oak Hollow campground, which is a bit more rugged and hilly than the North Grove site.
Yes, there is water nearby in the form of the Stanislaus River. It runs through the park boundaries, but not through any camping area. There are, however, a few hiking trails that will take you do the river, or you can drive a short way up the road from the park proper, to a very popular swimming hole. There is a highway bridge over the river above the swimming hole, and parking is available.
Be warned: this water is largely Sierra snow melt, and is very cold. Unless you are acclimated to such temperatures, or are a highly-active teenager generating your own heat, then ankle-deep-only wading will probably be your limit unless you own a wet suit.
There is a huge boulder upon which folks like to sit in the sun, or the adventurous use to jump into the water. It is pretty deep at that point, but as a safety warning, it is not really smart to jump from rocks into rivers if you cannot see to the bottom, which you cannot at this location.
There is no jumping, diving or other means of water-entry allowed from the bridge.
Jumping into rivers or other bodies of water where the bottom is not visible is not a safe thing to do.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is located in the High Sierra part of North-Central California. It is one of very few remaining areas where the giant Redwoods still survive. The nearest town, should you have forgotten anything, is Arnold, just 4 miles from the park entrance. It is not a huge town, but it is in ski country, so they are tourist-oriented, and boast a supermarket, motels, restaurants, banks, and even a microbrewery restaurant, the Snowshoe Brewery.
The famous "Pioneer Cabin Tree" lost its battle with the ages and fell during a heavy storm on January 8, 2017.
Pioneer Cabin Tree: Before the Storm
Pioneer Cabin Tree: Downed by Mother Nature
Other Things to Do From Calaveras Big Trees
Using your campground at Big Trees as a home base, you can take in several other attractions in the general area, none are more than an hour away.
Columbia, another state park, preserved in Gold Rush days fashion, is about a 45-minute drive from Big Trees. You can tour a working replica of a gold-rush days town, including watching a blacksmith make horseshoes; or try your hand at panning for gold in a set-up sluice box.
Moaning Caverns is also nearby, (it's actually on the way to Columbia), where you can climb down 180 spiral stairs to the bottom, or take the option to rappel down--keeping in mind you must climb all those stairs to return topside.
That is, unless you take the guided cave tour that begins from the bottom level, and exits at a different area.
Since I was last there, they've added a zip-line adventure.
In Jamestown, an old town that has been "gussied up," but not overly so, is the historic 1897 Railway Museum. The official name is Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Jamestown is located about 3 miles down Route 108 from Sonora.
If money is no object for you, there is the option to play train engineer for a day; but it is very expensive: $500 for one, or $750 for two.
Or Maybe Frogs?
Calaveras County is also home to the famous Jumping Frog of Calaveras County story by Mark Twain.
My daughters and I had the times of our lives when we visited this area, and I have no doubt the fun remains—all you have to do is go for it.
Samuel Clemens' (a.k.a. Mark Twain) story about the celebrated jumping frog.
It's a funny story told in Mark Twain's typical subtle humor.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Other Area Attractions
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
Columbia State Historic Park
Snowshoe Brewery; a nice little restaurant and micro-brewery in Arnold, not far from the park
If You're Going:
Hours of Operation:
Day Use: Sunrise to Sunset
Camping: All Hours, March through November
Park Office Telephone
Visitor Center Telephone
During the spring and summer seasons (May 24th - Sept. 1st), reservations are made via http://www.reserveamerica.com, or call Reserve America at: 1-800-444-7275 . The California State Parks do not take reservations directly.
© 2012 Liz Elias