Hiking Inn to Inn
We glide effortlessly, cross-country skiing in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Branches sag, heavy with snow. The air is crisp, and woods quiet. After leaving the visitor center parking lot, it took only ten minutes before we were alone. There is solitude and a deep connection with nature that comes easily when you venture into a snowy forest.
The park is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It has two cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails. The 3.5-mile Parkway Loop Ski Trail climbs though forests of ponderosa pines, sugar pines, and incense cedars dotted with sequoias to an overlook of the Sierra. The 1.5-mile North Grove Ski Trail loops through a world famous redwood grove.
It had been three days since the last snowfall when we set out. The Parkway Trail was a bit chewed up by snowshoes but its long gradual hills were a joy to ski. The trail through the North Grove was trampled solid by hikers, so we walked. It is awe-inspiring to traipse among the redwoods, when the forest has a deep blanket of snow. If you catch it during or soon after a snowfall, you can experience the towering giants on skis.
Sledding is also popular, and families were frolicking on long runs near the visitor center. Check on snow conditions by calling the visitor center (209)795-3840 or (209)795-7980.
California’s giant sequoias are the largest trees on earth, ranging over a narrow, 206-mile band of the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains between 4,000-8,400 feet. There are 75 distinct groves, and two of them reside within the park.
Early pioneer journals mention sightings of enormous trees, but they first came to the public’s attention in 1852. Tracking a wounded grizzly, Augustus T Dowd wandered deep into the woods when he came upon a forest of colossal trees, much larger than any he had ever seen. After the hunt, he brought others to see the giants, and the word spread. The forest that Augustus stumbled upon is now the North Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Equipment and Rentals
You can rent skis and snowshoes in Arnold, just 4 miles west of the park on Highway 4, at Sierra Nevada Adventure Company (209)795-9310 or Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods (209)795-1686. Walking the park’s trails can be slippery, but attaching traction devices to your boots gives a firm grip on ice and snow. They can be purchased at sporting goods stores. We use ICEtrekkers. Some other brands are Yaktrax, Kahtoola, or STABILicers.
Places to Stay
There are four cabins for rent within the park starting at $165. A Google search will turn up several inns in Arnold and lots of VRBO options. Angels Camp is 25 miles from the park on Highway 4 and also has lots of lodging options.
To reach Calaveras Big Trees State Park, drive 35 minutes east on Highway 4 from Angels Camp. The park is four miles beyond Arnold and 2.5 - 3 hours from the Bay Area. For road conditions, call 1-800-427-7623.