Big Trees Camping and North Grove Hike
Guess who had a birthday recently? This girl! It was hard to compete with last year’s birthday – in which I both completed my first half marathon (& only so far… I should fix that!) and had a fantastic Easter Sunday – but birthdays are not supposed to be a competition. If they were a competition then I would have stalled out after that time in which Jacquie made me that realistic ox birthday cake… Or earlier when all my Key Club & NHS friends attended an Easter volunteer day & Taco Bell party in Ypsilanti for my 18th Birthday… or even earlier when my mom threw me the best birthday party ever in the 1st grade! All amazing birthdays in their own ways – just like this year’s adventure where Curtis and I camped and hiked at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Originally Curtis and I were thinking of making the trek out to Sequoia National Park on this first weekend in April, but after looking into how long the drive is and knowing the that many of the hikes we would want to try would be blocked by snow conditions we decided to wait until summer. Not to be discouraged we continued with the plan to walk among the big trees, just closer to home at Big Trees State Park. Unbelievably we have not visited Big Trees State Park before this visit – It is less then 90 minutes away from Groveland, and Wikipedia calls it “the longest continuously operated tourist facility in California” meaning the park combines my two great loves: The Outdoors & Cheesy Tourist Attractions.
Hiking North Grove at Calaveras State Park
Trailhead: Calaveras Big Trees State Park is up Hwy 4, three miles past Arnold, CA on the right. Once in the state park ($15 fee, unless you are camping) park at one of the many lots near the visitors center. Stop into the visitor center to pick up an interpretive guide (50 cents) or start the trail next to the Discovery Tree to pick one up from a covered storage alcove. See on a Google Map
Distance: The trail map states that this trail is 1.5 miles long, but my GPS claims we walked 3.4 miles – which did include walking from the parking lot, to and from the visitor center and bathrooms, and circling around some trees a few times. The true length is probably in the middle, slightly over 2 miles of flat trail. See Trail info here
The North Grove trail is one of the best interpretive trails I have been on in recent memory. The guide pamphlet includes 26 different stops along the trail, most of which go beyond basic information about sequoias and explores the local history of exploitation of conservation of these trees. The sequoias here have been cut down for shows on the East coast, been transformed into a bar and bowling alley, removed of bark for traveling expeditions, and cut through to allow visitors to pass and take pictures. Someday when I start my own conservation themed mini-golf course I will find inspiration in the North Grove to build my Sequoia par 2, where you will putt through a miniature replica of one of these trees.
The remnants of this eco-exploitative tourism does make the North Grove Trail uniquely interactive. Normally you do not want to stand next to a giant Sequoia for fear of trampling it’s shallow root system, but because a tree like the massive Discovery tree has already been chopped down in the past you can now climb stairs up the stump. Standing on top of the massive stump of the cut down Discovery Tree really does give a unique perspective on how enormous these trees are compared us humans. It’s just too bad that we cannot bring back the living growing tree to stand besides a fiberglass or concrete display to pose on and learn from.
In addition to the North Grove loop we walked up the steeper “Grove Overlook Trail” adjacent to the loop. The name to the trail implies (to me) more views then it actually provides, and in the summer months the branches that blocked our view would become even more opaque with the addition of leaves. Perhaps if the Dogwood were blooming you could get a couple nice framed shots of sequoias from the trail, but if you want to pick one or the other I suggest to hike the North Grove trail first!
Camp Calaveras Big Tree State Park
On Saturday night we camped at in the North Grove Campground after spending an enjoyable afternoon at the the Bear Valley Ski Resort – for a wine and music benefit event, not skiing (the cross-country course is closed, and I don’t downhill). Although the warm weather and lack of snow are not helping with ski pass sales it does make for great camping weather!
Currently only the North Grove group campsite is open, the road down to the South Grove and the other campground is closed until late April / early May, and all the current campsites are walk-up only (no reservations – still a steep $35 fee though). We came into the campground around 5pm on a Saturday and found that there were still many sites to choose from. Every site we saw had it’s own water faucet, a good amount of flat ground to rest a tent (or more) on, an unmovable picnic table, and the standard California State Park knee height fire rings.
Overall I had an awesome little birthday weekend adventure. If we happen to make it back before the road to the South Grove opens I would love to bike down to main road to check it out – the volunteers at the visitors center said that bikes are allowed on the roads there even if cars are not. But, until then you can check out more pictures from our North Grove hike below.