Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Calaveras Big Trees State Park Erlend Haddeland.JPG
Hikers at the former Pioneer Cabin Tree in 2015
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°16′22″N 120°17′26″W / 38.27278; -120.29056
Area6,498 acres (26.30 km2)
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.


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. Despite legislation in 1900 and 1909 authorizing the federal government to purchase the property, 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.[1]

The area was declared a state park in 1931 and now encompasses 6,498 acres (2,630 ha) in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.[2][3]

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 $26.1 million in 2018 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] According to Naturalist 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."[4]

The North Grove includes two sequoias that were cut down or mutilated only to be reassembled in exhibits. 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 feet in diameter at its base and was determined by ring count to be 1,244 years old when felled. At the time the grove was discovered by white explorers, the Discovery Tree was measured by Dowd and others as the largest tree, and it was cut down to advertise the tourist attraction. 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.[5] A second tree named the Mother of the Forest was stripped of its first 100 feet of bark. Today only a fire-blackened snag remains of the Mother of the Forest, and the Discovery Tree has been renamed the Big Stump; the largest tree in the North Grove today is the Empire State tree, which measures 30 feet at ground level and 23 feet at 6 feet above ground.[6]

In addition to the popular North Grove, the park also now includes the South Grove, with a 5-mile (8.0 km) hiking trip into a grove of giant sequoias in their natural setting. The South Grove includes the Louis Agassiz tree, 250 feet (76 m) tall and more than 25 feet (7.6 m) in diameter 6 feet (1.8 m) above ground, the largest tree in the Calaveras groves.[7] It is named after zoologist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873).

Other attractions in the Park 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]