In the spring of 1852, Augustus T. Dowd was tracking a wounded grizzly bear through unfamiliar territory when he came upon a forest of enormous trees. The tree that first caught his attention—known today as the Discovery Tree—was the largest in what is now the Calaveras North Grove. At first Dowd’s description of what he had seen was considered a “tall tale” until he led a group of men to the grove. The word spread rapidly. Newspapers picked up the story, bringing curious visitors and entrepreneurs eager to make their fortunes.
The largest redwood in Calaveras Big Trees State Park is the Louis Agassiz tree. It is located in the South Grove. This tree is "only" 250 feet tall, but it is over 25 feet in diameter six feet above the ground! The largest tree in the North Grove is probably the Empire State Tree, which is 18 feet in diameter six feet above the ground.
Calaveras Big Trees became a California State Park in 1931 to preserve the North Grove of giant sequoias. The Calaveras Big Trees State Park is considered the longest continuously operated tourist facility in California. Over the years, other parcels of mixed conifer forests have been added to the Park.
The Park includes two main campgrounds with a total of 129 campsites, six picnic areas and several miles of established trails. During the winter you can cross-country ski or snowshoe along the trails, and in the summer the campgrounds hosts evening ranger talks, numerous interpretive programs, environmental educational programs, junior ranger programs, hiking, mountain biking, bird watching and activities for school children.
Other attractions in the Park include the Stanislaus River, Beaver Creek, the Lava Bluff Trail and Bradley Trail.
In addition to the popular North Grove, the Park features South Grove, a five mile hiking trip through a spectacular grove of giant sequoias in their natural setting. The interpretive trail will lead you through a pristine stand of Sierra redwoods. The South Grove contains about 1,000 large Sierra redwoods—also known as Giant Sequoias—about 10 times as many as the North Grove. The largest redwoods in the park are found here in the remote tranquil South Grove.
South Grove Trails: Depending on your route, you may hike 3.5 to 5 miles (5.6 to 8.1 km) on this trail. The first 1.5 miles ( 2.4 km) of trail is a moderate, steady climb from the parking lot to the start of the loop trail, with a gain of 260 feet (79 m) in elevation. The loop trail passes through a representative portion of the lower part of the grove. Just over one mile (1.6 km) in length, this section of trail first climbs 200 feet (61 m), then gently descends back to the start of the loop.
Halfway around the loop, you will find a side trail leasing to the upper grove and the largest
tree in the park—the Agassiz Tree. At about 0.6 miles (1 km) in each direction, this trail gently
climbs 100 feet (30 m).
• Allow 1 to 3 hours for the 3.5 mile (5.6 km) hike form the parking lot around the loop trail.
• Allow 2 to 4 hours for the 5 mile (8.1 km) hike to the Agassiz Tree.
North Grove Trail: The trail through the North Grove is a gentle, well-marked loop about 1.5 miles
(2.4 km) long. Look for the numbered trail markers that correspond to the numbers in this guide. Allow one to two hours for your walk through this magnificent, historically significant grove.
Lava Bluff Trail: This moderately difficult trail will take you through diverse forest environments,
across a volcanic formation, and along a historic water ditch, The park’s most colorful display of spring wildflowers occurs along this trail, as well as excellent opportunities for birdwatching. There are many steep sections along the 2.5 mile (4 km) loop, including some with difficult footing. Starting at 4,000 feet (1,219 m), the trail ranges from 3,700 (1,127 m) to 4,200 (1,280 m) feet in elevation. Allow at least two hours. Following the south-facing slope of the North Fork Stanislaus River Canyon, this trail has some areas with no shade and can be quite hot during the summer. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and insect repellent, wear supportive hiking boots and
hike during the cooler part of the day or season.
The Calaveras Big Trees State Park is northeast of Stockton, four miles northeast of Arnold on Highway 4.
Open year round.
$8 per vehicle; Camping around $35 per night
ADA Accessibility Notes
Camping: North Grove Campground: Four sites designated accessible may be usable. Sites have accessible tables and tent pads with firm surfaces, but sloped terrain may require assistance. Restrooms with showers: The unisex restroom by site #19 is generally accessible. Camping, Oak Hollow Campground: Site number 80 includes accessible furnishings and firm surfaces, but some users may need help with sloped areas. The unisex restroom/shower combination building by the accessible site is generally accessible. A parking space adjacent to the restroom is designated accessible.
The campfire center has two spaces for wheelchair seating, and there is amplified sound. A designated accessible parking space is about 300 feet from the campfire center on an accessible route.
Picnic Area: North Grove: Accessible picnic sites are now available with nearby accessible parking and restroom.
The Three Senses Trail is accessible for 0.13 mile in a forest setting and includes rest stops, guide ropes and interpretive panels in English and Braille. The trailhead and two accessible parking spaces are located in North Grove parking lot. Accessible restroom in North Grove Campground or off North Grove lot near warming hut. The North Grove Trail is currently barrier-free, and the intent is to eventually make it accessible.
Exhibits/Programs, Visitor Center: A small visitor center includes an audio-visual room and some exhibits. The AV room has movable seats and can be arranged to accommodate wheelchairs. Most of the exhibits are at least generally accessible, but assistance may be required at the entry ramp or threshold. Parking. Three spaces are designated accessible. The route of travel from the parking area to the entry ramp is generally accessible.
Other Information: A restroom off the North Grove Parking Lot near the warming hut has been modified to permit front and side transfers and is generally accessible. Two adjacent parking spaces are designated accessible, but the asphalt path of travel has some rough areas.
Pet Friendly Notes
Dogs are welcome in the Park on leash in developed areas like picnic sites, campgrounds, roads and fire roads (dirt). Dogs are not allowed on the designated trails, nor in the woods in general.