Northern California January 19, 2017
The Hidden Park That Will Make You Feel Like You’ve Discovered Northern California’s Best Kept Secret
Nestled in the foothills of Calaveras and Tuolomne Counties is the Calaveras Big Tree State Park. Its name is pretty spot on, there are some tremendously huge trees that grow here. You would expect the size of these giants at places like the Redwoods State and National Parks, Sequoia National Park, or Kings Canyon National Park, but this smaller and less visited state park is a true gem of the Sierra.
The Calaveras Big Tree State Park preserves two groves of giant sequoia trees. It is located about 4 miles northeast of Arnold.
The park has been a major tourist attraction since 1852, when the existence of the trees was first widely reported, and is considered the longest continuously operated tourist facility in California.
The North Grove of the Park includes the "Discovery Tree," also known as the "Big Stump," the first Sierra redwood noted by Augustus T. Dowd in 1852. Over the years, other parcels of mixed conifer forests have been added to the park. This amazing park has a huge variety of habitats and recreational opportunities to explore.
Until earlier this month, it was home to the one and only Pioneer Cabin Tree, which a car could drive through. Sadly, recent storms were too much for this gentle giant, which toppled in early January.
There is a magnitude of other interesting tree anomalies here, however, still making this hidden park a rare treat. Despite the fact that Northern California is the land of large trees, we don't often see them tower to heights like this in the drier, lower elevations in this part of the Sierra.
The area was declared a state park in 1931 and now encompasses 6,498 acres (2,630 ha) in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.
According to the famous Naturalist John Muir, the forest protected by the park is: "A flowering glade in the very heart of the woods, forming a fine center for the student, and a delicious resting place for the weary."
There's plenty to do here, including cross-country skiing, evening ranger talks, numerous interpretive programs, environmental educational programs, junior ranger programs, hiking, mountain biking, bird watching and summer school activities for school children.
Despite all these worthy activities, there really is nothing like just sitting and taking in the magnitude of this forest.
One of the best parts of the park is the interpretive trails that run through it and highlight impressive trees that are either still alive or have fallen decades ago.
Are you planning your trip there this summer yet? If you feel like camping out, the park has two main campgrounds with a total of 129 campsites, six picnic areas and several miles of established trails.
If you are an animal lover, good news. Dogs are welcome in the park on leash in developed areas like picnic sites, campgrounds, paved roads and fire roads. Dogs are not allowed on the designated trails, however, nor in the woods in general. There are several miles of fire roads for you and your dog to enjoy but you won't be able to see any of the giant sequoias from these roads.
If you see smoke in the park, don't be alarmed. The Calaveras Big Tree State Park is currently conducting prescribed burns to keep the forest healthy.
There are a lot of threats that face our public lands, like wildfire, development, and harsh winter storms, but I for one am extremely glad the State of California chose to protect this small parcel so many years ago and are doing what they can to ensure it's around for generations to come.
If you want to know more about this historic forest, check out our
article on the Pioneer Cabin Tree. We wish it was still around today! Visitors to the park can access the fallen tree when weather permits. Be sure to wear waterproof clothing this time of year.