Do you ever have friends or relatives visit from out of town for a week or more and wonder how you can possibly entertain them?
Maybe a trip to the beach? A visit to San Francisco to ride a cable car and some fresh crab at Fisherman’s Wharf? How about a trip to Coloma to see the site where James Marshall discovered gold? You know, the usual worthy places that you take cousin Eddie and his family to every year.
Over my next several articles I’d like to suggest some lesser-known but interesting places to visit.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that my first suggestion involves trees. Not just any trees … the worlds largest trees in volume. I’m talking about our Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum). They are referred to as Sierra Redwoods because they only grow on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. They are closely related to our coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) but are different in many ways. The biggest tree in the world is the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park. The oldest Sequoias are more than 3,000 years old.
Luckily we don’t have to travel too far to see the Giant Sequoias. There are approximately 70 groves in California and the two northernmost groves are a less-than-two-hour drive from El Dorado Hills. I have visited 10 of these groves and am still amazed every time at the sheer mass and beauty of these trees. Uncle Eddie’s jaw will drop when he sees one of these giants up close. The biggest trees reach a diameter exceeding 30 feet.
Eighty miles from El Dorado Hills you can reach Calaveras Big Trees State Park near Arnold. This park was in the news in January when a big storm toppled its iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree. In the 1800s several Sequoias had tunnels carved through them so that you could drive wagons, and later cars, through. The Pioneer Cabin Tree was the last living Sequoia tunnel tree. There are still three Coast Redwood tunnel trees you can drive through but that’s for another day.
Calaveras Big Trees consists of two separate groves of magnificent Sequoias and a lovely stretch of the Stanislaus River. There are well-groomed trails through the big trees. There are also campgrounds in the park and a museum in the visitor center. If you have little ones be sure to look into the free junior ranger program and have them sworn in as rangers when they complete their work books. The drive there takes you through several Gold Rush towns including Angels Camp.
The northernmost grove of Sequoias lies 70 miles northeast of El Dorado Hills. The Placer County Big Trees Grove is about 40 minutes from the town of Foresthill. The twisting Mosquito Ridge road gets you to the grove. There are some awe-inspiring views down into the Middle Fork of the American River canyon from this cliff hugging drive.
While not nearly as impressive as Calaveras Big Trees, it is still a worthy day trip. It’s a bit of an anomaly that there are only six Sequoias in this grove. There are also two fallen giants. What I like about this grove is that on a busy summer weekend you may see two or three cars in the parking lot or picnic area. You will likely have the half-mile big trees trail to yourself.
If so inspired you can hike the 1.6 mile forest view trail. There are no Sequoias on this trail but there are many fine specimens of Ponderosa pine, incense cedar and sugar pine with their huge pine cones. You can also visit the nearby Grouse Falls — the highest waterfall in Placer County — that can be quite impressive in the spring.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is open year round but requires snowshoes to get to the big trees in the winter. There is a $10 entrance fee per vehicle. Placer County Big Trees is open May through November and is free. If you haven’t seen a Giant Sequoia up close before I assure you that it is worth the trip.
Terry Halvorson is a certified arborist and nature enthusiast.