Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Giant sequoias in Calaveras South Grove
Map showing the location of Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Map showing the location of Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Map showing the location of Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Map showing the location of Calaveras Big Trees State Park
LocationCalaveras and Tuolumne counties, California, United States
Nearest cityArnold, California
Coordinates38°16′22″N 120°17′26″W / 38.27278°N 120.29056°W / 38.27278; -120.29056
Area6,498 acres (26.30 km2)
Elevation4,560–4,920 ft (1,390–1,500 m)
Visitorsmore than 250,000[1] (in 2022)
Governing bodyCalifornia Department of Parks and Recreation

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a state park of California, United States, preserving two groves of giant sequoia trees. It is located 4 miles (6.4 km) northeast of Arnold, California in the middle elevations of the Sierra Nevada. It has been a major tourist attraction since 1852, when the existence of the trees was first widely reported, and is considered the longest continuously operated tourist facility in California.


Early history

Shortly after their discovery by Europeans, giant sequoias were subject to many exhibitions

The giant sequoia was well known to Native American tribes living in its area. Native American names for the species include Wawona, toos-pung-ish and hea-mi-within, the latter two in the language of the Tule River Tribe.

The first reference to the giant sequoias of Calaveras Big Trees by Europeans is in 1833, in the diary of the explorer J. K. Leonard; the reference does not mention any specific locality, but his route would have taken him through the Calaveras Grove.[2] This discovery was not publicized. The next European to see the trees was John M. Wooster, who carved his initials in the bark of the 'Hercules' tree in the Calaveras Grove in 1850; again, this received no publicity. Much more publicity was given to Augustus T. Dowd at the North Grove in 1852, and this is commonly cited as the discovery of both the grove and the species as a whole.[2]

The "Discovery Tree" was noted by Augustus T. Dowd in 1852 and felled in 1853, leaving a giant stump and a section of trunk showing the holes made by the augers used to fell it.[3] It measured 25 ft (7.6 m) in diameter at its base and was determined by ring count to be 1,244 years old when felled. A section of the trunk was toured with little fanfare while the stump was later turned into a dance floor. John Muir wrote an essay titled "The Vandals Then Danced Upon the Stump!" to criticize the felling of the tree.[4]

Discovery Tree - Largest known Giant Sequoia but it was cut down. Notice an adult person in above picture standing on its platform trunk

In 1854, a second tree named the "Mother of the Forest" was stripped of its bark in 1854, to be reassembled at exhibitions. This mortally wounded the tree, since outer layer of protective bark was removed. The tree didn't survive long after, having shed its entire canopy by 1861.[5] In 1908, with the tree unprotected by its fire resistant bark, a fire swept through the area and burned away much of what was left of the tree,[6] leaving a fire-blackened snag.

John Muir for Mother of the Forest

The forest is also home to what remains of the "Father of the Forest", an ancient and exceedingly enormous giant sequoia which fell centuries ago, and its remains are still present in the park. Reportedly, the tree was 435ft high with a 110ft circumference- a "giant of giants".[7]

In early 1880s,[8][9] a tunnel was cut through the compartments by a private land owner at the request of James Sperry, founder of the Murphys Hotel, so that tourists could pass through it.[10][11][12][13][14] The tree was chosen in part because of the large forest fire scar. The Pioneer Cabin Tree, as it was soon called, emulated the tunnel carved into Yosemite's Wawona Tree, and was intended to compete with it for tourists.[15][16][17]


Along with the 1850s exhibitions, the destruction of the big trees was met with public outcry.[18] In 1864, on introducing the bill that would become the Yosemite Grant, senator John Conness opined that even after people had seen the physical evidence of the Discovery Tree and the Mother of the Forest, they still did not believe the trees were genuine, and that the areas they were from should be protected.[19] This did not guarantee any legal protection for the trees of Calaveras Grove.

By the turn of the century the land was owned by several lumber companies, with plans to cut the remaining trees down, as sequoia and giant sequoia with their thick trunks were seen as great sources of lumber at the time.[20] This again caused a chorus of public outcry by locals and conservationists, and the area continued to be treated as a tourist attraction. Parcels of land that would later become the state park and nearby national park were optioned by lumberman Robert P. Whiteside in January 1900, with the intention of logging. A protracted battle to preserve the trees was launched by Laura Lyon White and the California Club. Legislation in 1900 and 1909 authorized the federal government to purchase the property, but Whiteside refused to sell the land at the offered price, preferring its higher valuation as parkland. It was not until 1931 that Whiteside's family began to divest the property, beginning with the North Grove.[21]

The Yosemite protection was gradually extended to most sequoias,[22] and Calaveras Grove was joined to California State Parks in 1931.[23][24] According to John Muir the forest protected by the park is: "A flowering glade in the very heart of the woods, forming a fine center for the student, and a delicious resting place for the weary."[25]

Save-the-Redwood and Calaveras-Grove-Association bought the parcels of land to make Calaveras Big Tree State Park

Over the years other parcels of mixed conifer forests, including the much larger South Calaveras Grove of Giant Sequoias (purchased in 1954 for US$2.8 million, equivalent to US $31.8 million in 2023 dollars), have been added to the park to bring the total area to over 6,400 acres (2,600 ha). The North Grove contains about 100 mature giant sequoias; the South Grove, about 1,000.[3] The state park now encompasses 6,498 acres (2,630 ha) in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.[26][3]

Fire management

The importance of fire to giant sequoias cannot be overstated. Other than the change of seasons, fire is the most recurrent and critical process in determining the life history of this species. Tree ring records from giant sequoias show that frequent surface fires were the typical pattern of fire occurrence over the past 2,000 years. But this pattern changed after about 1860, when fire frequency declined sharply. This decline in regional fire was probably a result of decrease in fires set by Native Americans, followed by fire suppression by government agencies.[27]

The state provided $7 million in 2022 from the Wildfire and Forest Resiliency Program to spend over five years, “to make our forest resilient when a big fire comes through".[1] A prescribed burn was conducted by park crews on about 180 acres (73 ha) of the North Grove in late October through early November.[28]


The North Grove includes several noteworthy giant sequoias:

The South Grove also included several noteworthy giant sequoias:

Other attractions of Calaveras Big Trees include the Stanislaus River, Beaver Creek, the Lava Bluff Trail, and Bradley Trail.[3]


The park houses two main campgrounds with a total of 129 campsites, six picnic areas and hundreds of miles of established trails.[3]

Other activities include cross-country skiing, evening ranger talks, numerous interpretive programs, environmental educational programs, junior ranger programs, hiking, mountain biking, bird watching and summer school activities for school children. Dogs are allowed on leash in developed areas like picnic sites, campgrounds, roads and fire roads (dirt). Dogs are not allowed on the designated trails, nor in the woods in general.[3]


The park is open year-round. The main road through the park is closed during the winter season. The North Grove Area is easily accessible during the winter season. There are no public transportation options to the park. The closest bus stop is the Arnold Public Library in Arnold, California. The park is accessible via Upper Moran road at gate 15. There is no public parking so the access is used by foot, bicycle, snowshoe or cross-country ski.


Climate data for Calaveras Big Trees State Park (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1929–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 73
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 45.0
Daily mean °F (°C) 37.7
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 30.4
Record low °F (°C) 1
Average precipitation inches (mm) 10.57
Average snowfall inches (cm) 19.3
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 11.4 11.1 10.5 7.7 6.0 2.3 0.4 0.6 1.9 3.7 7.3 10.8 73.7
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 5.1 5.3 4.6 2.8 0.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 1.4 4.3 24.6
Source: NOAA[31][32]

See also




  1. ^ a b McCarthy, Guy (February 4, 2022). "'This is an emergency': Calaveras Big Trees staff, advocates raise alarm about fire threat to iconic giant sequoias". The Union Democrat. Retrieved July 14, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Farquhar, Francis P. (1925). "Discovery of the sierra Nevada". California Historical Society Quarterly. 4 (1): 3–58. doi:10.2307/25177743. hdl:2027/mdp.39015049981668. JSTOR 25177743.,
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Calaveras Big Trees State Park". Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  4. ^ McKinney, John (October 13, 2002). "An autumn walk through Calaveras County's majestic groves". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  5. ^ "The Mammoth Trees of California" (PDF), Hutchings’ California Magazine, no. 33, p. 392, March 1859
  6. ^ Hawken, Paul (May 10, 2007). Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beau ty to the World. Penguin. p. 51. ISBN 978-1-101-20232-6.
  7. ^ ""Father of the Forest", a Giant of Giants--fallen centuries ago--originally 435 ft. High, 110 ft. Cir., Calaveras Grove, Cal". Library of Congress.
  8. ^ "Trip to the Big Trees". Sacramento Daily Union. Vol. 18, no. 15. September 8, 1883. p. 2. The "Pioneers' Cabin" had a large burnt cavity, which this year has been so enlarged by workmen, that a stage could easily pass through it with enough of the tree left on each side to support it in health.
  9. ^ California State Parks (2008). "Hanging On By A Branch: The Pioneer Cabin Tree".
  10. ^ "The Latest: Famed giant sequoia topples in California storms". Associated Press. January 9, 2017. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  11. ^ Carol Kramer; Calaveras Big Trees Association (September 6, 2010). Calaveras Big Trees. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 118–. ISBN 978-1-4396-2522-4.
  12. ^ Bourn, Jennifer (September 28, 2016). "The Calaveras Big Trees North Grove Trail". Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  13. ^ "The Pioneer's Cabin and Pluto's Chimney – Big Tree Grove, Calaveras County" (Albumen Photograph). Library of Congress. 1866. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  14. ^ "Iconic Pioneer Cabin tree falls during strong Northern California storm" (Video). CBS News. January 9, 2017. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  15. ^ Hongo, Hudson (January 9, 2017). "After More Than 100 Years, California's Iconic Tunnel Tree Is No More". Gizmodo. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  16. ^ Mazza, Ed (January 9, 2017). "GREEN: Pioneer Cabin Tree, Iconic Giant Sequoia With 'Tunnel', Falls In Storm". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 9, 2017. The tree was "barely alive" due to the hole punched through it in the 1880s.
  17. ^ Summers, Jordan (May 15, 2012). 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Sacramento: Including Auburn, Folsom, and Davis. Birmingham, Alabama: Menasha Ridge Press. p. 120. ISBN 0897326040.
  18. ^ Hickman, Leo (June 27, 2013). "How a giant tree's death sparked the conservation movement 160 years ago". The Guardian. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  19. ^ "The Congressional Globe". A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. May 18, 1864. p. 2301. From the Calaveras grove some sections of a fallen tree were cut during and pending the great World's Fair that was held in London some years since. One joint of the tree was sectionized and transported to that country in sections, and then set up there. The English who saw it declared it to be a Yankee invention, made from beginning to end; that it was an utter untruth that such trees grew in the country; that it could not be
  20. ^ Dollar, George (July 1897), "Timber Titans", The Strand Magazine, vol. 14, no. 79
  21. ^ Binkley, Cameron (2005). "A Cult of Beauty: The Public Life and Civic Work of Laura Lyon White". California History. 82 (2): 48–49. doi:10.2307/25161804. JSTOR 25161804.
  22. ^ Hartesveldt, Richard J. (1975). The Giant Sequoia of the Sierra Nevada. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. p. 3.
  23. ^ Kramer, Carol (2010). Calaveras Big Trees. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781439625224.
  24. ^ Isne, John (2013). Our National Park Policy: A Critical History. Routledge. p. 115. ISBN 9781135990503.
  25. ^ St. John, Paige; Hamilton, Matt (January 8, 2017). "An iconic tunnel tree in a California state park is no more after huge storm". Los Angeles Times. Truckee, California. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  26. ^ "California State Park System Statistical Report: Fiscal Year 2009/10" (PDF). California State Parks. p. 18. Retrieved October 29, 2011.
  27. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from "Giant Sequoias and Fire". Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved July 14, 2023.
  28. ^ Wigglesworth, Alex (July 12, 2023). "Anger builds after controlled burn badly damages California sequoias". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 14, 2023.
  29. ^ North Grove Guidebook, Calaveras Big Trees State Park
  30. ^ "How Big are Big Trees?". California State Parks. Retrieved October 29, 2011.
  31. ^ "NOWData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved March 22, 2024.
  32. ^ "Summary of Monthly Normals 1991-2020". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved March 22, 2024.

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