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Calaveras Big Trees State Park Guide — Hiking, Wildlife, and More 

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Amar Hussain

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Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a breathtaking natural wonderland famous for its colossal sequoias, rich history, and ancient volcanic formations. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including wildlife observation, hiking, and camping. Each year, the park attracts over 200,000 visitors who come to stand in awe of the natural beauty of this California treasure.

How To Get to Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Where Is Calaveras Big Trees State Park?

This beautiful state park is in Arnold, California, at the mid-elevation level of the western Sierra Nevada. The closest major cities to the park are Stockton, California, and Modesto, California, each approximately 77 miles away. The park stretches over 6,000 acres and is composed of 2 groves of giant sequoias, rivers, creeks, natural meadows, and ancient volcanic formations.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park Opening Hours and Seasons

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is open year-round, but some activities, like camping, are only available during specific parts of the year. The park hours are from 6 a.m. to sunset each day, and camping is available from March through November.

Nearest Airports to Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Several airports are frequently used by park visitors. No matter which you choose, it will take a bit of a drive to get to the park. However, the sights and scenery along the way make the trip pleasant and enjoyable.

Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

Sacramento International Airport is the closest major airport to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It is 117 miles from the park and takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get there. Even though it is quite a drive, it is an excellent option for travelers flying into this area of California.

This airport offers nonstop and direct flights to hundreds of destinations around the world. Many well-known airlines service this airport, including Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United. Once you arrive at this airport, you can easily rent a car from one of the many car rental kiosks to make the final leg of your journey to the park.

Stockton Metropolitan Airport (SCK)

The closest airport to Calaveras Big Trees State Park is Stockton Metropolitan Airport, an hour and a half drive away. Allegiant exclusively services this airport and offers nonstop flights from Las Vegas (LAS) and Phoenix (PHX). While this airport doesn’t serve as many airlines and destinations, it is the best option for getting you the closest to the park.

Driving to Calaveras Big Trees State Park

The drive to Calaveras Big Trees State Park is simply stunning and straightforward. Take I-580 East to I-205 toward Manteca, and then U.S. 99 North. Use the exit for State Highway 4 Eastbound (known as Angel’s Camp), and you will arrive at the park entrance.

Taking the Train to Calaveras Big Trees State Park

There is no train service to Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Taking the Bus to Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Public transportation is one way to get to and from the park. Calaveras Connect provides bus routes throughout the entire county. This is better for the environment and a great way to let someone else take over the stress of navigating in an unfamiliar city.

Getting Around Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Getting Around Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Image Credit: California State Parks

The best way to get around the park is to mix driving and walking. There are several parking areas throughout the park where you can park close to the attractions you want to explore, leave your car, and set out on foot.

Hot Tip:

The park offers a printable map to help you determine the areas you want to explore during your visit.

What To See and Do in Calaveras Big Trees State Park

There is so much to see and do at this state park. From hiking trails through groves of giant sequoias to wildlife watching, this park has something to appeal to every visitor.

Fishing

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a paradise for anglers. Some popular places to fish are Stanislaus River and Beaver Creek. The most commonly caught fish here is rainbow trout, but there are other types of trout here as well. Fishing requires a valid California fishing license.

Hiking Trails

Calaveras Big Trees State Park Hiking Trails
Image Credit: California State Parks

The park boasts an impressive network of trails that wind through the park’s groves. These trails offer visitors remarkable opportunities to view the park’s wildlife, plants, and natural attractions.

North Grove

North Grove is a magnificent place to explore, filled with history and remarkable giant sequoias. The best way to experience this part of the park is to hike the North Grove Trail, which is 1.5 miles long and considered gentle. It takes about an hour to walk this trail, and along the way, you will see the Abraham Lincoln tree, the Three Graces of Greek mythology, and the Father of the Forest.

There are also areas where you can view fallen redwoods and trickling creeks. Some of the trails in the North Grove include the Three Senses Trail and Grove Overlook Trail. This side of the park is open year-round and offers access to the visitor center and museum.

South Grove

The South Grove is home to an immaculate stand of giant sequoia trees and the largest redwoods in the park. The best way to experience this part of the park is to hike along the South Grove Trail. This trail ranges from 3.5 to 5 miles and is considered moderate, with an elevation gain of 260 feet.

Some of the sights in this park area include the Agassiz Tree, the largest tree in the park and the thirty-seventh largest sequoia in the world, and the Palace Hotel Tree, the second largest living tree in the groves. This part of the park opens once the snow season ends, from late April to mid-November.

Lava Bluffs Trail

Hike the Laval Bluffs Trail, a moderately difficult 2.5-mile loop trail that winds through the forest and crosses a volcanic formation across a historic water ditch. In the springtime, this trail features colorful wildflowers and has excellent birdwatching.

Hikers on this trail encounter steep sections, some with difficult footing. Some sections are hot with no shade. Plan to hike for at least 2 hours and bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and insect repellant.

Visitor Center and Museum

The Visitor Center is an excellent place to kick off your adventures at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. This recent addition includes a gift shop, a wonderful seating area, a movie room, and a museum. Here, you can learn about the park’s rich cultural and natural history, with exhibits on Native American use of the area and the park’s flora and fauna.

The movie room features a film explaining how the giant sequoias were discovered in 1852. There is also a gift shop to purchase souvenirs and apparel to commemorate your trip.

Wildlife Viewing

Calaveras Big Trees State Park Wildlife
Image Credit: Brian Baer via California State Parks

There are abundant opportunities to observe the animals that call Calaveras Big Trees State Park home. The most commonly seen animals here are raccoons, porcupines, flying squirrels, chipmunks, and chickarees, all native to the park.

Bird enthusiasts can spot pileated woodpeckers, Steller’s jays, dark-eyed juncos, and northern flickers. Sometimes, visitors can also catch a glimpse of coyotes, bobcats, and black bears. The best places to watch wildlife are along the trails and near the rivers and creeks.

Hot Tip:

Pack a camera and binoculars to capture these animals in their natural habitat.

Best Times To Visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Any time you visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park, you are in for an unforgettable experience. Certain times throughout the year provide an even better experience, especially if you want to participate in a particular event or activity.

Best Time To Visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park for Ideal Weather

Weather can majorly impact any vacation, so it’s wise to research typical weather trends. August is the best time to visit this state park for ideal weather. The temperatures range from the low 50s to the low 80s, perfect for outdoor excursions. This is also one of the driest months of the year, with an average of 0 days of rain.

Best Time To Visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park To Avoid the Crowds

Calaveras Big Trees State Park to Avoid the Crowds
Image Credit: California State Parks

If a solitary park trip is what you seek, the best time to plan a trip to this state park is in November. Tourists are unlikely to visit at this time of year. A November trip will allow you to tour the park at your own pace without dealing with the stress of long lines, crowded areas, and traffic. The weather is cooler this time of year with several days of rain, so be sure to pack accordingly.

Best Time To Visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park for Fall Foliage

Autumn is a spectacular time to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The trees are bursting with vibrant shades of gold, crimson, and orange. The best time to view the fall foliage here is in October, when the trees are at their peak of color change. Bring your camera to capture the stunning leaves against the brilliant blue sky.

Cheapest Time To Visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park

The best time to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park to save money is early to mid-September. This is when flights and accommodations are the lowest throughout the year. A September trip has the potential to save you hundreds in travel expenses.

Annual Events in Calaveras Big Trees State Park

The park hosts various events throughout the year, including nature walks, astronomy nights, and wildlife programs. Some events take place annually and are looked forward to by locals and tourists alike.

California State Parks Week

Each year, in mid-June, Calaveras Big Trees State Park participates in California State Parks Week. This event celebrates the diversity of California’s 280 state parks. Some of the events featured this week include volunteer clean-up days, kids career days, guided hikes, and nature programs.

Bottom Line:

Not only is California State Parks Week a good time to visit this state park, but it is also a great time to learn about the entire state park system.

Where To Stay in Calaveras Big Trees State Park

When planning any trip, one of the first things to do is to determine where your home base will be. Thankfully, there are plenty of options in and near Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Inside the Park

There are several accommodations for visitors who want to stay inside the park during their visit.

Cabin Rentals

There are 4 rental cabins inside the park, but they will be unavailable until 2025. Each cabin can accommodate 6 to 9 people and features a full kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms, and a bathroom.

Linens are not included with these rentals, so campers must come with their own bed linens and towels. All the cabins have access to a shared recreation center with tables and chairs, games, a refrigerator, and darts.

North Grove Campground

Camping Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Image Credit: Peter and Joyce Grace via Flickr (license)

The North Grove Campground is centrally located in the park and is close to the visitor center and the North Grove of giant sequoias. This campground features over 70 sites spread out through the mature conifer forest.

Next to the campground is a meadow perfect for stargazing and spotted with wildflowers in the spring. These campsites can accommodate tents and RVs and include picnic tables, fire rings, food lockers, and modern bathhouses.

Oak Hollow Campground

Oak Hollow Campground is 4 miles from the park entrance and along the park road. This campground offers over 50 campsites set in the mature pine and oak forest. The majority of the sites here are tent-only sites, but some can accommodate RVs. This campground features picnic tables, food lockers, fire rings, and modern bathhouses.

Bottom Line:

Campers love this campground because of its easy access to the fishing areas and hiking trails.

Towns Near Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Several towns and communities within a short distance from the park make great home bases when visiting the park.

Arnold, California

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is in Arnold, the closest city to the park for those who want to stay nearby. This city has much to offer for lodging, dining, and recreation. Arnold has an abundance of locally run lodges, hotels, and inns scattered throughout the town.

Dining is a treat as the town has over a dozen family-owned restaurants ranging from soul food to pizza parlors. For recreation, Arnold boasts access to many parks, scenic byways, lakes, and museums.

Murphys, California

Murphys is about 15 miles from Calaveras Big Trees State Park. This town offers many resources for visitors seeking a base camp near the park. This town is a vibrant community with gorgeous hotels and bed and breakfasts, a lovely selection of restaurants, and abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation. Murphys is also a great place to shop and visit various museums and galleries.

Where To Eat in Calaveras Big Trees State Park

There aren’t any restaurants on the park premises, but there are countless places in the towns surrounding the park. No matter what you want to eat, you can find a restaurant within a short drive.

Sarafina’s Italian Kitchen

Sarafina’s Italian Kitchen is 2.5 miles from the park. This restaurant serves classic Italian dishes for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. Some of the menu items here include a variety of pasta specialties with chicken, veal, seafood, and steak, delectable desserts, and an impressive wine selection.

Snowshoe Brewery

Snowshoe Brewery is 4 miles from Calaveras Big Trees State Park and is one of the top-rated restaurants in Arnold. This brewery serves classic American favorites like specialty burgers, salads, unique pizzas, and crafted draft beer. This restaurant offers a family-friendly environment with lawn games, a pet-friendly atmosphere, and live music.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park Facts

Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Image Credit: California State Parks

1. It Became a State Park in 1931

Calaveras Big Trees State Park was established in 1931 to preserve the North Grove of giant sequoias. The South Grove was acquired 23 years later and became part of the park on April 16, 1954.

2. Mikok Were the Park’s Original People

The Miwok tribe called the Calaveras Big Trees State Park home. These people group respected the trees and used them carefully. They were fishermen, hunters, and trappers who built seasonal villages along the rivers of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Today, 3,500 descendants of the Miwok live in the area.

3. The North Calaveras Grove Was Discovered in 1852

Augustus T. Dowd is credited with discovering the North Calaveras Grove in 1852. While tracking a wounded bear, he stumbled upon the enormous trees. The first tree that caught his attention was the Discovery Tree, the largest in the North Grove. Although Dowd is credited with the discovery, there were references to the grove by a group of hunters in 1833 and initials carved into the bark of the Hercules Tree in 1850 by John M. Wooster.

4. The Mammoth Grove Hotel Operated From 1861 to 1943

The Mammoth Grove Hotel was built in 1861. It was in the North Grove and operated until 1943 when a fire destroyed it.

5. The North Grove Discovery Tree Stump Remains

The Discovery Tree was cut down in the 1850s to be taken on a worldwide tour. When it was felled, it was estimated to be 1,244 years old. Sections of its bark and part of its trunk were shipped to be displayed for others to see. However, the exhibition was eventually shut down. While the tree’s artifacts were waiting to be shipped to Paris, a fire destroyed the entire exhibit. Today, visitors can see the stump in the North Grove.

Final Thoughts

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a land of wonder, awe, and inspiration. An experience here allows you to stand among the giant sequoias, sleep under the stars, and enjoy the simple pleasures in nature. This park is one of the most underrated in the California State Park system, only attracting 200,000 visitors annually, but well worth a visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park?

It costs $10 per individual to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park. This fee is subject to increase during the holidays.

How much time should I spend at Calaveras Big Trees State Park?

You should spend 1 to 3 days exploring Calaveras Big Trees State Park. This will allow plenty of time to hike, camp, fish, and relax in nature.

What places should I check out near Calaveras Big Trees State Park?

Some noteworthy places to visit near Calaveras Big Trees State Park include Columbia State Historic Park, Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.

Can I bring my dog to Calaveras Big Trees State Park?

Dogs are welcome at Calaveras Big Trees State Park as long as they are always on a leash. There are several areas where pets are prohibited, including on all the trails, near the river and creeks, and in the open forests and meadows.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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