As you enjoy your adventures throughout the park, notice the pinecones and wildlife. Each is important to the natural cycle of the forest and must be left as found.
Dogs: Dogs are welcome in the park on leash (6 ft. max) 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.
Hiking — The North Grove has a level, 1.5-mile self-guided trail. The .13-mile Three Senses Trail allows visitors to experience the feel, smell, and sounds of this magnificent forest. The five-mile South Grove Trail travels along Big Trees Creek and passes the park’s two largest trees — the Agassiz Tree and the Palace Hotel Tree. The fairly strenuous four mile River Canyon Trail runs between the North Grove and the Stanislaus River. Along the Lava Bluffs Trail, hikers can view the scenic North Fork of the river.
Picnicking — Designated picnic areas are located alongside the Stanislaus River, in the North Grove, Oak Leaf Spring, and Beaver Creek areas.
Fishing — The Stanislaus River and Beaver Creek offer good fishing, particularly for rainbow trout. A valid California fishing license is required for anglers 16 and over.
Wildlife — Opportunities for wildlife observation are abundant in the park. Bird species include pileated woodpeckers, northern flickers, Steller’s jays, and darkeyed juncos. Raccoons, foxes, porcupines, chipmunks, chickarees, and flying squirrels are among the native animals. Black bears, bobcats, and coyotes are sometimes seen.
Trails Amongst the Giants
The trail through the North Grove is a gentle, well-marked loop about 1 1/2miles (2.3 km) long. Allow at least one hour for your walk through this magnificent, historically significant grove. Audio tapes for the North Grove are available on loan for visually impaired visitors. Ask at the Visitor Center.
Sights to see on the North Grove Trail – The Big Stump - Augustus T. Dowd was chasing a wounded grizzly bear into an unfamiliar forest. Suddenly he was stopped in his tracks by an unbelievable sight – a tree of monstrous proportions that was easily three times larger than any he had even seen.
Also, the North grove offers viewing of Sugar Pines, White Fir, Incense Cedar and Ponderosa Pines in their natural settings.
Inside of the grove you will find markers along the trail that explains and give history of some of the more spectacular trees such as the Three Graces of Greek mythology, The Pioneer Cabin Tree, The Abraham Lincoln tree, The Sacrificial Tree, The Father of the Forest, Old Bachelor tree, Siamese Twins and the Granite State Tree. Views of giant sequoias’ with special twists and formations can be seen.
Continue and view the Empire State tree, plus giant redwoods viewed where they fell. You will cross the Big Tree Creek, which drains the North Grove basin. Although this creek in tiny, it is able to support a population of native trout. Sierra redwood groves are always located near a reliable source of water.
In the spring, view the spectacular mountain dogwoods in bloom. The sight of all the dogwoods in bloom contrasted against the forest and giant redwoods is a sight unparalleled.
Three Senses Trail - Located next to the Big Stump, this is a very short loop of just a few hundred yards, intended to help visitors enjoy a sensory experience of the forest. Trail markers display both printed words and Braille. Allow 20 minutes.
Grove Overlook Trail - This trail begins a short distance beyond the Big Stump, branching off of the North Grove Trail just past the #2 marker. It climbs the ridge above the grove and parallels the North Grove Trail for about ½ mile to provide views of the upper parts of the Big Trees. It rejoins the North Grove Trail near the Father of the Forest and trail marker #13. From there you can walk either right or left on the North Grove Trail to return to the trailhead. Allow 1–2 hours.
Road access to the South Grove, Stanislaus River and Bradley Grove are not accessible in the winter months. However, even though roads are closed, cross country skiing is available and encouraged in the Park during the winter months.
The South Grove Natural Preserve will lead you through a pristine stand of sierra redwoods, the earth’s largest living objects. The South Grove contains about 1,000 large sierra redwoods – also known as giant sequoias – about 10 times as many as the North Grove. The largest redwoods in the park are found here in the remote and tranquil South Grove.
The lack of human influence is an outstanding feature of this preserve. Many Sierra redwood groves were severely disturbed following their discovery by settlers in the late 1800s. The Calaveras south Grove Natural Preserve offers a unique opportunity to visit and study this ancient forest ecosystem in its primeval condition.
Depending on your route, you may hike 3.5 miles to 5 miles on this trail. The first 1.5 miles of trail is a moderate, steady climb from the parking lot to the start of the loop trail, with a gain of 260 feet in elevation.
The loop trail passes through a representative portion of the lower part of the grove. Just over one mile in length, this section of trail first climbs 200 feet, then gently descends back to the start of the loop.
Halfway around the loop, you will find a side trail leading to the upper grove and the largest tree in the park – the Agassiz Tree.
Just over 0.5 mile in each direction, this trail gently climbs 100 feet.
Allow 1 ½ to 3 hours for the 3.5 miles round-trip hike from the parking lot around the loop trail.
Allow 2 ½ to 4 ½ hours for the 5 mile round trip hike to the Agassiz Tree.
Once you are within the boundaries of the preserve, you may hike off the trail. You will cross Beaver Creek to enter the South Grove. The animals for which Beaver Creek was named have not been sighted in the park for many years.
Looking down from the bridge, you have a view of the 130 million-year-old granite rock that underlies the South Grove and forms the backbone of the Sierra Nevada. In the grove, it remains almost completely covered by soil and alluvium, but here the creek has eroded those layers, exposing the rock.
Along the hike in the South Grove, expect to view The Agassiz Tree, the Moody Group, The Smith Cabin Tree, Old Goliath and the Portals. Each of this magnificent redwood has a story of all of its own. In addition to the Big Trees, the South Grove offers a host of fascinating sights such as an old logging railroad right of way, The Big Trees Creek, and various birds of the South Grove.
The Bradley Grove trail begins on the left side of the South Grove trail just after the Beaver Creek Bridge. The main features of this 2.5-mile loop are a grove of young Sierra redwoods planted in the 1950’s by South Grove caretaker Owen Bradley, and some giant "outrigger" Sequoias isolated from the main grove. The trail gains 280 feet in elevation, with several moderate climbs and descents.
The Bradley Grove consists of about 150 30-year-old Sierra redwoods growing on the far side of a small meadow. The Bradley trail has a “nursery area” along the railroad tracks.
Owen Bradley, caretaker of the South grove planted seedlings in this spot because of abundant water and plenty of sun. Many of these trees are now over 60 feet tall and today over 150 of Owen’s trees are still growing strong.
Besides the more modern, planted Bradley Grove, you can also see two very old and large naturally occurring Sierra redwoods and their offspring, as well as stands of mountain dogwood and white alder. Unlike most of the park, this area has been heavily impacted by human activity.
Hiking the Bradley Grove Trail allows you to observe the ongoing processes of forest recovery. The entire trail passed through an area that was logged in the early 1950s by the Pickering Lumber Company. Although there were plans to log the huge sugar pines found in the South Grove, Pickering Lumber was persuaded to keep the operation out of the grove itself.
You will see huge pine stumps near the trail, as well as the dense undergrowth and small new trees that typically follow a logging operation. View a large stand of mountain dogwood and old logging roads, which is now partially grown over.
The trail will parallel an old railroad grade leading to a large open area called the 68-A landing. It was here that the logs cut near Beaver Creek were loaded onto trains for transport to a mill at Standard, near Sonora. You can also view the Railroad Tree and the Lone Sequoia.
These two giant redwoods are far from the main part of the South Grove. It is a mystery as to exactly how these two trees came to be so far from the main groves of Big Trees.
To complete the loop, return to the Bradley Grove and continue on the trail as it follows Beaver Creek back to the Beaver Creek footbridge. Along this section of trail, the flowing water of the creek provides favorable habitat for stands of white alder and displays of spring wildflowers.