- Old friends are best. John Selden
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
The two groves of giant sequoia (also known as Sierra redwoods) contained within Calaveras Big Trees State Park are nearly the northernmost in California, second only to a tiny group next to the American River 60 miles further north. Calaveras has well over 1,000 mature sequoias, tucked into two moist, sheltered valleys on the west face of the northern Sierra Nevada, either side of the North Fork of the Stanislaus River. Visitors have been traveling to the North Grove at Calaveras since the 1850s, making this perhaps the longest established tourist facility in California; it became a state park in 1932. The groves are subtly different to the more famous sites to the south in the Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks as the forest is more varied, home to several other types of trees as well as bushes, grasses and wildflowers; the southerly groves tend to be more uniform in tree composition and have less secondary growth. In this respect, Calaveras is more similar to the redwood forests of the far northwest. The state park is reached by Highway 4, a wide, quite busy route from Angels Camp in the west, though this narrows and becomes very steep and bendy further east, once past Bear Valley, as it crosses the Sierra crest at Ebbetts Pass then descends towards Carson Valley.
The entrance to Calaveras Big Trees State Park is on the south side of the highway 4 miles from the little town of Arnold, along a paved road that splits just after the toll booth; the left fork (closed by snow during the winter) passes one of the two campgrounds (Oak Hollow) and reaches the South Grove after 9 miles while the right road leads directly to the parking area for the North Grove, by far the most visited section. The main park campground is also located here, comprising 74 sites spread out along a loop through a mixed forest of sequoia and other trees, together with a collection of administrative buildings including a visitor center and a ranger station. The principal footpath is the level, wheelchair-accessible North Grove Trail (see below); there is also a very short interpretive nature trail, the elevated Grove Overlook Trail and the 4 mile River Trail which reaches the Stanislaus River after a steep descent of over 1,000 feet. As an alternative to the paid camp sites in the park (fees very high, at $35 per night in 2011), free camping places can be found along dirt tracks into the surrounding Stanislaus National Forest, a few miles east along Hwy 4.