A Virtual Guide to the Calaveras Redwood North Grove Hike
Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ~ John Muir
This post is an attempt to bring you as close to hiking the 1.5 mile North Grove Trail in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, through a magnificent grove of giant redwood trees. The park is beautiful and well worth a visit, maybe this little virtual tour will inspire you to make the trip to see some of the largest things that have ever lived. Most of the information used for this post comes from the parks, A Guide to the Calaveras North Grove Trail, a great little pamphlet that marks out the trail and only costs 50 cents!
The redwood groves were discovered, at least by white men, in 1852 when a hunter named Augustus T. Dowd was chasing a wounded grizzly bear. The Miwok and other Native American tribes had of coursed lived in and around the big trees for thousands of years.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is located just outside of Arnold, California and down the road from Murphys, California. The surrounding area of the park is a beautiful part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a great place for a vacation.
The rest of the post will be a virtual tour/description of the hiking trail through the North Grove of the state park, a 1.5 mile interpretive trail and hike.
Before the official start of the trail there is a lovely little amphitheater.
I was also lucky enough on my way into the trail to have a ranger walking the trail in front of me and this picture will give you a sense of the massive size of these magnificent trees.
The beginning of the trail is something called the Big Stump. This was the original tree that Augustus T Dowd found in 1852. After not being believed initially, he brought some men up into the mountains to show them. The grove became immediately popular and folks did what they do and decided to try and makes some money off of the giant trees, so they stripped the tree of it’s bark and cut it down. Well, not exactly cut, there were no saws big enough, so in fact they used pump augers and wedges to fell the tree. The bark was actually reassembled as part of a traveling exhibition.
This tree was called the Discovery Tree and it was massive in 1850, if left alone it likely would be one of the largest trees alive. It’s rings showed that in the last years before it was cut it was growing incredibly fast.
The Sentinel Trees are the next stop on the tour, a couple of magnificent representatives of these spectacular trees.
The next stop on the trail is a large branch laying on the ground. The branch has a four foot diameter and frankly, if you weren’t in a redwood forest you would think that this was a fallen tree by itself. It’s hard to understand the immensity of these trees and their branches from the images. I couldn’t get a good photo of the fallen branch without getting off the trail, so in order to respect the rules of the park I’m just providing a shot of the grove near this stop on the trail.
This massive tree fell over in 1965, so it’s been laying on the ground nearly as long as I’ve been alive. This does illustrate one of the really cool things about redwood trees, their wood decays unbelievably slowly, it’s for this reason and its beauty that redwood is such a desirable wood for building and furniture making.
This tree is known as the Empire State tree and is likely the largest living tree in the grove. It has a base diameter of thirty feet, at breast height (the forestry term for measuring trees is DBH, diameter at breast height, approximately 4.5 feet off the ground) it’s still twenty feet in diameter, a truly massive tree.
The next stop on the trail is for a tree that shows the spiral growth pattern that many of the trees grow in. Spiral growth trees are actually more flexible and are better able to withstand wind stress and snow loading.
The next stop on the trail is a tree called the Granite tree, unfortunately I didn’t get a good shot of the tree. But the stop on the trail discusses the basics of plant growth because after all, a redwood might be a giant one, but it’s still just a plant.
The next point on the tour are two trees who grew up together, literally like conjoined twins, so they call these trees the Siamese Twins (please no angry notes about the name, if these were named today they’d likely be the Conjoined Twins).
Redwood trees are not the only trees in the park, the park also has several other species of pines and Pacific Yew trees. I have to admit to not specifically taking any photos of the other trees, I got lost in the giants.
The next named tree on the trail, and one whose name I have to like, is the Old Bachelor, this tree is considered to be a very old tree. Remember these trees can live for thousands of years.
There are various display panels along the trail and this one, next to the Mother tree, describes the full ecosystem that can exist in just one tree. This can include various birds, mammals and lots of different types of insects and even other plant species.
Pictured below is the display and then the Mother and Son trees. The two trees may be different sizes but likely are approximately the same age. This spot was one my favorite on the trail. There are two benches with lounge chair-like backs that allow you to just lay back and stare up at these wonderful trees and I did just that for a about 10 minutes. It was when and where the Stellar Jay appeared pictured above. I really enjoyed my time sitting there, it was like a lovely little meditation break in the forest.
The Father of the Forest is the name of this tree and if fell over hundreds of years ago, no one knows for sure as the date was not recorded by the Native Americans and it feel well before 1850 when European settlers discovered the grove and started recording information about it. The tree is really cool as there’s a little step down where you can look down through the trees main hollowed out trunk for over a 100 feet.
Stop number 14 on the trail is a place that points out some of the burls on the side of the trees. These are rounded outgrowth on the sides of trees, and for those of us who hike in bear country, these burls unfortunately often look like a bear climbing the trees. Burls are responsible for a lot of adrenaline bursts for hikers.
The next tree is the Mother of the Forest, a tree that was stripped of it’s bark in another attempt at people making money off of the trees. This left the tree susceptible to fire, normally redwoods actually flourish in a fire ecosystem and their bark offers great protection, without their bark, well, here’s the result.
As a demonstration of the benefit of fire to giant redwoods, this area burned significantly in 1908 and as you can see from the photos, the area now supports a grove of 100 year-old redwood trees that are doing very well.
A little bit of history for our next stop, this is the point where the Carson-Emigrant Trail passed through the grove. This was the trail used to carry mail from Murphys, CA to Carson City, NV from the 1850’s through the 1870’s, including by snowshoe in winter. It’s also called the Old Camel Trail as a group of camels from Mongolia passed through in 1861 on their way to Walker, NV.
On this point of the trail you are walking through the heart of the grove, I’ve included a photo with people in it so that you can see how big the trees really are by comparison.
The next tree on the trail was the grove’s answer to the Wawona Tunnel Tree in Yosemite. This tree tunnel was carved into a tree named the Pioneer Cabin Tree, unfortunately in 2017, rains loosened the soil and the tree fell and shattered.
Even though they survive well in a fire ecosystem protected by hard to burn bark, that protection is not perfect, as illustrated by the burn scar on this tree. However you can see that the bark is over time repairing itself.
The last stop on the trail is a group of trees named for Desire Fricot who was a significant figure in the preservation of this amazing grove of trees. There is a platform at the base that allows you to get up close and see the bark of the trees up close and a shot a close up to help you replicate the experience.
The entire walk is only 1.5 miles and could easily be done in less than an hour, but I took two hours to walk the trail. Taking time to saunter, to sit and meditate a bit and really soak in the joy that is just being in nature amongst these magnificent trees. I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour, and as always, have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane