Early morning in a grove of giant sequoias is magical. Just a short distance off of California Highway 4, the sounds of the modern world fade rapidly as I meander down the North Grove trail, leaving me with the chirping of birds and the trickling of water. When I stop, that’s all I can hear, though it feels like I can even hear the trees themselves.

This is my second visit to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to some of the last remaining groves of giant sequoias in existence, and the farthest north of those. While the more famous groves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks get the publicity, this place holds just as many of the huge wonders; the North Grove has about 100. This morning, they seem to be all for me.

A creek, snow covered logs, and giant sequoias.

My last trip here was in summer, basking in the shade of the incredible trees. This time, I’m strapped into snowshoes, their metal bits helping prevent me from slipping on the dense pack of snow and ice covering much of the trail. The elevation here is just under 5000 feet, meaning some of the snow cover has melted, but my shoes do a good job in the mud as well, as I traverse those brief passages between snow fields. It is cold, though on the plus side of freezing, so my heavy jacket and thermal layering keep me warm enough when combined with the exercise of walking the two mile loop.

In my snowshoes

Before 9am, I seem to have the place to myself. As the morning progresses – I finish the loop around 11 – Calaveras Big Trees fills up, dampening the solitude, but brightening my spirits as I see people out enjoying the wonder of nature. (There is, after all, a trade off between protection and recreation, the latter being needed to show people what it is that is in need of saving.)

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is one of the oldest parks in California. When most giant sequoia groves were included in the beginnings of the National Park Service (three of the four original parks included the redwood giants), this area was left out, with the intention of logging. Early huge trees were cut down, like the Discovery Tree, whose stump makes for a stage just off the trail. Finally, in 1931, California purchased the area, which after a few additions, now encompasses 6500 acres, and more than 1100 giant sequoias.

The red just pops against the snow and sky

I’ve spoken about giant sequoias at length during my visits to Sequoia National Park (you can read about that here), but here is a refresher. Giant sequoias exist only here on the western side of the Sierra Nevada range in California, and only at 4500-7000 feet in elevation. They can grow to 300 feet tall, have diameters at the base up to 50 feet, and live more than 3000 years. They are so big that early specimens were thought to be fakes, with visitors to the Chicago world fair looking dubiously at a slice from the aforementioned Discovery Tree.

Walking among giant sequoias feels similar to walking in Manhattan. I crane my neck looking up, feeling so very small in the presence of things so big. The mature giants can be spotted easily, their bright red trunks even more visible in contrast to the white of the snow, rising for a hundred feet or more sometimes before the first branches emerge. (With the amount of energy it takes to transport water and nutrients up such heights, older trees shed their lower branches, unable to maintain them.) Some of the giants are marked by burn scars, and while the initial instinct is one of sadness, understanding that fire is needed for giant sequoia seed germination tempers that.

Staring upwards

Each bend in the trail brings another giant into view, and my paper trail guide tells me the names and ages of many of them. I touch the soft bark of some, hug a few, and marvel in awe at each. My snowshoes keep me upright as I lean back to take in the heights, wondering what the view would be like from their upper canopies. I am grateful for the solitude found here, as even a full parking lot brings only a fraction of the visitors the groves within the national parks have.

Me with a tree for scale. The top isn’t even visible

Winter here is a treat, though summer was also amazing. Spring would bring dogwood blooms, and fall offers the colors on some of the deciduous trees around. Basically, there is no bad time to visit Calaveras Big Trees.


I round the final bend, returning to the Visitors Center and the (currently closed) warming hut, remove my snow shoes, and head back to the car. I look over my shoulder at the forest, the mountains, the blue skies, and whisper words of gratitude. My soul is full.

Thank you so much to Go Calaveras for sponsoring my trip, for covering my snowshoe rental, and for your work in protecting this magical place.

Like it? Pin it!

One thought on “Snowshoeing in Calaveras Big Trees

Leave a Reply