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Calaveras Big Trees State Park – Tips and Images

alaveras Big Trees State Park Tips and Images @handbookofnaturestudy

We had the chance to camp for a few days at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. We waited too long and we couldn’t get a campsite at Yosemite National Park so we decided to try Calaveras as an alternative (the parks are about 80 miles apart). If you are looking for a spot to camp and hike under the tall trees, this is a wonderful place to do it. Of course, there are no spectacular waterfalls at Calaveras but there are lots of trees, wildflowers, and a river to satisfy your nature loving spirit. Yosemite National Park has three groves of sequoia trees and Calaveras has two main groves – the North and the South groves. We hiked both groves during our visit.

I have visited many of California’s sequoia groves in my life time but the South Grove at Calaveras Big Trees is my favorite because of the quietness and wildness of its location. It takes effort to get there on a hike of around four miles round trip after a nine mile drive from the park entrance but that makes it less crowded so you can enjoy the natural beauty of a ancient sequoia grove.

Calaveras Big Trees May 21 2016 (13) Take a quick stop at the visitor center before you head down the road to the grove. I loved this visitor center because of its very well down exhibits that provide a decent background to the sequoia story, the local habitat, and the cultural information about this area.

Now you can drive down to the trailhead, perhaps stopping briefly at the view point. The hike to the South Grove starts at a large parking lot adjacent to a picnic area with restrooms. There are no sequoias here but the forest is full of tall pines and cedars and a creek. Across the creek you start the trail to the South Grove. I picked up the interpretive trail guide for fifty cents at the visitor center but there are some at the trailhead as well. Calaveras Big Trees South Grove Now the hike! It was a good trail that isn’t too steep…gradual incline. If you are using the interpretive guide, it will describe some of the specific things you are viewing along the way to the actual grove and then a little background and information about certain trees as you hike the loop. We encountered a handful of people during our hike and it felt as if we were there all on our own. I love that!Calaveras Big Trees Sequoia We had a friend along with us that had never seen sequoias before and it was interesting to hear her comments about the massive size of these trees. Calaveras Big Trees Creek The quiet is broken only with babbling creeks and birdsong. Imagining these trees growing for thousands of years boggles the mind. We learned a lot about the sequoia life cycle on this hike, the interconnected web of seed dispersal that includes a certain squirrel and a beetle, and the value of a good fire to the stability of this forest ecosystem. We also saw a snake! Calaveras Big Trees North Grove If you want to see some sequoias and are not wanting the crowds of Yosemite, this is a great alternative place to visit. There are two large campgrounds if you like to camp. We stayed at North Grove and it was very pretty. There was a creek running through the camground and there were places for kids to dip in a net to catch a minnow or a tadpole. The large meadow adjacent to the campground has a boardwalk across it so you can walk out and enjoy the plants, insects, and other sights in this habitat. Please note that the main highway runs alongside the campground and it might be smart to check the area map when you are making your reservations to see if your site backs up to the road. We could hear the cars go by from our site but it wasn’t distracting. Calaveras Big Trees StumpHere is the obligatory image from atop the big stump (Discovery Stump). We enjoyed our stay at the park and highly recommend it to families who are looking for camping, hiking, and exploring in Northern California.

Additional Tips

  • Distances: From San Francisco – about 150 miles. From Reno, Nevada – about 125 miles. From Sacramento- 100 miles. From South Lake Tahoe- about 90 miles (gorgeous drive!)
  • There is a fee to get into the park for day use.
  • It does snow here in the winter so you will want to check the park’s website for information on road closures.
  • In winter, there is a warming hut for those that use the trails for snow shoes and skiing.
  • Towns near-by for hotels, restaurants, and gas: Arnold, CA and Murphys, CA.

You can read more of my national park entries by following these links:


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Yosemite in Winter – Winter Colors

We finally finished our four seasons visits to Yosemite National Park. This was our winter trip that turned out to not be so wintery at all. The temperatures were in the 50’s and we enjoyed sunshine for most of the trip.

We decided to take a hike on the north side of the Yosemite Valley where the sun is shining. The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is just across from the lodge so that is where we began. There was very little water in the falls so we chose to go up the trail about a mile and a half and see the view from Columbia Rock.

We did see a few hikers on the trail but during the winter there are very few people to be found in the park. I think this year there are even less than normal because Badger Pass ski resort is closed so there aren’t even skiers to be found in the valley. At Columbia Rock we met with a family from England, two young college students from Korea, and a Croatian girl.

Here is the view from Columbia Rock overlooking a meadow and the lodge. In the distance Half Dome looms up and dominates the vista. We stood for a bit and gazed at the beauty and then hiked back down the four dozen or so switchbacks to the valley floor.

We started off the hike with lots of layers and by the time we reached our destination we were in shirt sleeves and sweating. It was really warm in the sun on the exposed trail.

The first of my colors in the winter color challenge is black. The Common Ravens are the bird most commonly seen and heard in this area of the park. They are black AND iridescent purple in the sunlight. Their loud and clear CRUCK CRUCK CRUCK can easily be identified. We also saw and heard other birds during our stay like the Steller’s Jay, the Nuthatch, and the Acorn Woodpecker.

In the Village you can see the browns of the trees, acorns on the ground, and the evergreens to make a winter color palette. In this photo you can see Yosemite Falls in the distance, nearly dry. As the day wears on, the falls flow a little more but in the mornings they are nearly dry.

Here is a little green lichen I spotted along the trail, landing among pine needles. The bright green really pops out this time of year when the world is filled with grays, browns, and blacks.

In spots where the sun doesn’t shine, the snow is still seen in patches. This meadow has lots of winter weeds showing through and I spotted some milkweed left from the past season.

The second day we hiked to the Merced Grove of sequoia trees. These giants really stand out in the forest with their reddish bark and large trunks. We shared this forest with the trees for a bit, sitting quietly and reveling in their ancient history.

I tried to capture what the bark looks like close up…it is soft and squishy and shreds easily. Amazing.

My husband decided this was the best way to enjoy the sequoia’s beauty…looking up at their tall stature.

So ends a complete year of Yosemite National Park visits. It has been a wonderful experience personally for me to achieve a goal and to learn a little more about one of my favorite places on earth. I feel blessed to live so near such an awesome place to get outdoors and build memories with my family.

My husband and I celebrated our accomplishment with a little pizza and Half Dome California Wheat beer at the Yosemite Lodge. Perfect ending to a fantastic day, trip, and year.

You can read about our seasonal visits to Yosemite in these entries:
Yosemite in Spring – Waterfalls and Biking
Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hikes, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More
Yosemite Autumn Trip – Panorama Trail

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Visiting the Big Trees

Visiting the Big Trees Sequoias and Photography @handbookofnaturestudy
It seemed that everyone was behind a camera on this particular trip. It is a lot of fun to share hobbies with your children and photography seems to be a interest for all my kids.

We picnicked, we hiked, and we craned our necks to see the tops of the sequoias.

Here are the bottoms of some sequoias.

Here are some tops.

It is our tradition to take a family photo in this particular part of the forest. Using a tripod, we set up the camera with the timer. We did get some great family shots with the six of us, but I think this one is my favorite shot of all the kids.

Here she is. The grown up girl having a little time with her brother’s camera.

At this time of year, the forest is a delightful place to take a hike and spend family time. As my family grows up, I am appreciating more and more the time we all spend together exploring and making memories.

Thanks for the fun day everyone.


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Climbing Trees-No Weather to Speak Of

Still no “weather” to report from our house. The windows and doors are still wide open and the sky is clear. We have forecasts of some rain maybe this week so we are going to wait until then to take a weather study.

In the meantime, the boys and their father decided today was the day to climb a tree. We have one really big tree in our yard that is fairly easy to climb because the limbs are close together and there are so many of them. They took a ladder to get started but then climbed up from there.

This was the first time that I have noticed cones on the ground under this tree.

I grabbed the tree identification book and here is what we came up with.

Here is what we used to identify the tree….leaflet and cone.

It looks as if we have a Giant Sequoia in our backyard, right next to our deck.

This is my best attempt to take a complete photo of the tree showing our deck at the bottom. It is a really tall tree.

“The seed cones are 4-7 cm long and mature in 18-20 months, though they typically remain green and closed for up to 20 years; each cone has 30-50 spirally arranged scales, with several seeds on each scale giving an average of 230 seeds per cone.” and “Young trees start to bear cones at the age of 12 years.”
Wikipedia on the Sequoia

So what started out as tree climbing ended up with identifying our very own Giant Sequoia in our backyard. It was growing here when we moved in 21 years ago and I assume it was planted by the previous owner. It does provide great shade on our deck during the hot summer afternoons and the birds and our backyard squirrel like to use it for protection.

This tree has been hit by lightning once a long time ago in a really big storm. It sounded like something exploded in our backyard during the thunder storm and we went outside to see what it was and we saw a long black line on the trunk of the tree and it was smoking at the base. It was very memorable.

What an afternoon.