Established in 1931 to preserve a stunning stand of giant sequoias, Calaveras Big Trees State Park offers one of the easiest places to see these towering trees. Head four miles east of Arnold, in Gold Country, to the preserve, then put on your walking shoes to start exploring the North Grove, the most visited part of this 6,498-acre park, as well as quieter South Grove. The two groves’ respective trails offer their own rewards. The North Grove Loop is an easy 1.6-mile hike that is both wheelchair and stroller accessible, while the South Grove Loop starts a mile from the parking lot and is a moderately demanding 3.5-mile loop. Yet another hike—the Bradley Grove Trail—is the most strenuous of the three and less maintained, but offers the payoff of ending at Beaver Creek, where you’ll find a beach that’s perfect for picnicking and swimming.
Don’t miss the Discovery Tree, located near the start of the North Grove loop. Though it’s actually an enormous stump, for many, it’s the sight of this helipad-sized remnant that makes the biggest impression. The tree was still standing when explorers from the east coast first reported on it in 1852, but within a year, it had been cut down. The highly publicized felling sparked outrage and was one of the key events that inspired the conservation movement.
If you’d like to sleep beneath these towering trees, reserve a site at one of the two large campgrounds or pitch your tent at one of five more remote walk-in sites. Summer is the busiest time of year, but spring offers showy white dogwood blossoms, and the colorful leaves of autumn create a striking contrast with the russet sequoia trunks. Seasonal activities offered by the park include campfire talks and guided walks.
While you’re in the area, another hike well worth the required three-mile drive from Calaveras Big Trees is the Arnold Rim Trail. This volunteer-created and maintained trail is a work in progress, but the completed portion includes many high, jutting rock formations, ancient acorn-grinding rocks, a waterfall, a lake, and a wide variety of wildlife.