Conveniently located a three-hour drive from the Bay Area, between Sierra ski resorts and the California gold country, Calaveras Big Trees is understandably a popular park.
The park has two groves, of which the most popular by far is the North Grove, located just inside the park entrance. The larger and more remote South Grove requires a fairly long drive into the park. Both groves are at a relatively low elevation and have a low concentration of sequoias among a dense understory, mostly of dogwood. But the groves are of decent size and have some impressive trees.
Outside the sequoia groves, the park's other trails — the Lava Bluffs Trail, the North Grove Overlook Trail, and the many dirt roads — are pretty dull.
The drive up to Calaveras Big Trees is exceptionally easy; the road is mostly straight all the way up, except for some twists and turns in the foothills. On the way it's worth a short detour to drive through the gold rush town of Angels Camp. A few minutes further up, the road passes the overcrowded and touristy but admittedly very attractive gold rush town of Murphys. Soon after, the oak-dotted foothills gives way to pine forest and the road, climbing a surprisingly gentle incline, passes through the mountain resort town of Arnold before reaching Calaveras Big Trees.
The park has two campgrounds. The main campground is built around an alpine meadow just outside the North Grove. Since it's right off Highway 4 it gets some traffic noise. The Squaw Hollow campground is perhaps less scenic but is wonderfully peaceful and woodsy. There are also some walk-in primitive campsites on the ridge between the two campgrounds.
** North Calaveras Grove (1.6 miles, 70 feet)
This popular nature walk just off Route 4 is the park's main attraction. It passes a series of large sequoias, mostly near the beginning of the loop, growing among a dense understory. Open all year.
** South Calaveras Grove (5.4 miles, 610 feet)
The quiet South Grove is much more remote than the North Grove and also requires more hiking. The sequoias are widely-scattered among a dense understory. It's not quite as impressive as the North Grove but it gets fewer visitors and doesn't seem as touristy. Closed in winter.
© 2012 David Baselt