California Parks


Calaveras Big Trees State Park, California

CALAVERAS COUNTY, CA -- When visiting the BIG TREES in the Big Trees State Park, don't be surprised to see some tree huggers--they are everywhere! During my first visit to this unbelievable forest a nurse told me to try it. "Give the tree a hug, " she said. I though she was little loopy but what the heck. It couldn't hurt.

The Big Trees State Park is located in the Sierra Mountain State Parks region.

Though I didn't feel any warmth emanating from the giant, I did realize that my arms could only reach and touch just a tiny portion of the base as I look over at her hugging her tree space and beaming ear to ear.

If you can imagine a time without skyscrapers in California, it all makes sense to hear about Augustus T. Dowd's adventure when he came upon the Calaveras Big Trees in 1852. He could hardly believe his eyes! And first reaction when he took his discovery back to the mining camp town of Murphys was pure skepticism. Stories of discoveries in Gold Country were always taken with a grain of salt.

The news spread fast when people began checking it out, and soon some local businessmen built lodgings so people could see the grove of 100 giant sequoias. Welcome to California--land of the biggest trees in the world, they proclaimed. And actually, they were correct.

Giant Sequoia trees are, in reality, the largest living things on the surface of the earth! Usually taller than 250 feet known to routinely live up to 3,000 years, they only grow naturally on the west side of the Sierra Nevada mountains in a few surviving groves. Three millennia are just a blip in the timeline of the Earth, but if you think about something that has actually lived that long, then what is going to hurt to give a tree a hug?

The biggest redwood in Calaveras Big Trees State Park is called Louis Agassiz tree and it is located in one of two groves-- the South Grove. Over 25 feet in diameter six feet above the ground, its massive proportions can only be realized when you stand next to the giant.

The other grove is called the North Grove in Big Trees park and its largest tree is the Empire State Tree, which is 18 feet in diameter six feet above ground. Neither of the trees in Calaveras Big Trees State Park are the biggest in the world, but they are among them.

Some 230 miles away and about a 4.5 hour drive south, General Sherman tree in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park is considered the biggest in the world. It stands nearly 275 feet tall and is 36.5 feet diameter at its base. Another tree in that park south of Big Trees park is the Nation's Christmas Tree, General Grant, which stands 271 feet tall and is 28 feet in diameter at six feet above the ground. You can't hug those trees, however. The root systems and trees' health have been compromised by year's of human trampling and hugging, so they are fenced and signs are posted asking visitors not to touch.

There may have been bigger trees in these forests. 35% were cut down and used for timber during the 19th and 20th centuries till someone finally realized that there may be greater value in letting the giants live and protecting them for future generations to see and experience. Giant Sequoias can only reproduce from seeds, unlike their cousin, coast redwoods, which more
commonly reproduce from stump sprouts.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park includes two Giant Sequoia groves with a total of more than 1,000 Giant Sequoia trees. South Grove features a five mile hiking trip through a spectacular grove of giant sequoias in their natural setting. There is a fee for parking and wandering the grounds, and guests can also stay at the campgrounds, that are often booked to capacity because of the popularity of this attraction.

There miles of hiking trails, Stanislaus River, Beaver Creek, the Lava Bluff Trail and Bradley Trail. The park entrance is four miles east of Arnold, on State Highway 4. Latitude/Longitude: 38.2719 / -120.2867

You've heard of the Jumping Frog Jubilee in Calaveras County where some claim their frogs jumped a mile. It is held each spring during the annual fair. If you go there, the bigger story in this neck of the woods is a tale about the Big Trees.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

More Info

State Parks