|1. Start here in the North Grove Visitor's Center.|
|2. Starting out on the South Grove trail, headed to the Agassiz tree.|
|3. Many trees have been altered by fire but are still living.|
|4. Don't forget to look up...|
|5. ...and don't forget to look down!|
|6. Lots of bright green foliage set against darker tree forms.|
|7. Beautiful formations and colors just below the crystal clear water.|
A great example of a "cooler" get away and a wonderful destination spot in Calaveras County is Big Trees State Park in Arnold, CA. The park offers many opportunities for just about any interest, be it walking, hiking, observing nature or having a leisurely picnic. It's very accessible, just up the highway 4 corridor and can be done as a day visit (depending on where you are coming from) or can be turned in to part of a longer trip to this area. The park charges an entrance fee (check the website link above) and there are no dogs allowed on the trails (it is a state park-check the website for regulations). It also offers camping opportunities and there is limited lodging nearby as well.
The park is divided into the North Grove and the South Grove. Each section offers something for everyone. For first time visitors, I recommend starting in the North Grove at the Visitor's Center. There are often interpretive talks given right outside-check the schedule. Going inside, bypass the concessions, and head straight back and to the left to see the exhibits. Care has been taken to explain the history of the area and to give a broad outline of the types of animals and plants that can be found in the park. Take some time to learn about the park-it's integral to enjoying your visit.
Once finished inside, get your map (given to you at the entrance station) and hop back in your car for a short drive to the South Grove. On the way, stop off to have a look at the Stanislaus River. It's flowing mightily now, filled with runoff snow melt from the mountains. Park your car and walk down the bridge, being careful of course! The river is beautiful and supplies much needed water to our area.
After viewing the river, continue on to the South Grove parking area. Make a right into the parking lot and grab a spot. On my visit this time, I chose the loop trail to the Agassiz Tree. The trail is a mix of dirt with some rocks and pine cones. There are bare roots exposed in places so you may want your walking pole and definitely will want sturdy shoes. There are gentle ups and downs, short inclines and declines that are not taxing. In total, the route I took is about 4.5 miles, give or take.
Start out on the trail , bypassing the turn to the Bradley Grove, and continue on the South Grove Trail. Pic 2 shows the beginning of the trail. As you walk along, you'll both hear and see Big Trees Creek. It's hard to know whether to look up or down but be sure and do both (pics 3 , 4 and 5). You will see all manner of trees, some of which have been affected by fire. For this hike, we had a knowledgeable person in our group who let us know that the trees, though scarred and burned, were still living. Fire, though devastating, is a necessary part of the life cycle of a forest. It clears the way for new tree growth, allowing seeds to implant themselves in the ground. Wildflowers too take hold when the ground is made "clean" by fire. On this visit I was really struck by the duality of things-life and death occurring simultaneously.
Continuing on, pic 6 shows what is so wonderful about this forest space. The contrast of colors is amazing! Beautiful, bright and vibrant greens are often set against a stunning blue sky. The trees themselves are a study in color. Some have bark that is a wonderful reddish brown while others are more subtly colored but still beautiful. If you are here on a cloudy day, the colors are even more pronounced. There is no bad day in this park!
Continue on to arrive at the Agassiz tree, named for zoologist Louis Agassiz. This is a nice spot to sit down and have lunch before heading back. It's also the end of this portion of the trail.
On the way back there is a turnoff for the loop section. Take that turnoff to head up and down to the main trail. Once you are back on the main trail, head to the parking lot. If there is time, there are an additional two short loops that you could take, one of which is wheelchair accessible (bumpy but doable).
The best time, for me anyway, to get to the park is midweek. The benefit is fewer people. If you arrive early enough, say 9 or 10, the park is less crowded and it is possible to have a quiet and peaceful experience, if that is what you are after. Feeling a sense of solitude and experiencing a kind of "companionship" with the natural world is the main draw to hiking here. It's why I visit the park, anyway, as often as I can during the summer.
Thanks for coming along on the tour. I hope you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading and commenting.