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North Grove Overlook Snowshoe Hike

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

February 20th, 2011

1.6 miles
257 vertical feet
Total Time: 2:57

Starting elevation
4709 feet
Max elevation
4845 feet

Rating: 7/10

Directions: From Angels Camp, take Highway 4 east for about 24 miles. Turn right into Calaveras Big Trees State Park. At the park entrance, pay the parking fee (currently $8 self-pay in winter). Follow the signs to the North Grove parking area (from the entrance, you'll turn right, then immediately left). The trail begins at the far end of the lot.   View Driving Map



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GPX File

Our most recent visit to Calaveras Big Trees State Park was back in June 2002. I had made a note that it would be nice to visit it again in the spring (to see the blooming dogwoods), or in winter, when the sequoias would be blanketed with snow. The truth is, however, that they're not always blanketed by snow in the winter. At about 4800 feet elevation, snow isn't a given.

So, when a winter storm pummeled the Bay Area right before I planned a trip to Angels Camp, I jumped at the chance to visit Big Trees. We were not disappointed. As one man said to me as we paid the self-pay parking fee ($8) at the entrance, "It's like a winter wonderland." Snow covered the ground, and fell repeatedly from the trees -- big fluffy snow showers falling from a hundred feet in the sky.

Parking lot at the winter wonderland

It was busy when we arrived at the large parking North Grove parking area just before 11am. Most of the activity was confined to sledders right next to the lot. We took our snowshoes and walked to the end of the parking lot, where the trail begins.

Trailhead brochure box

It's a loop trail, with most people taking the right fork. In retrospect, we might have obtained a bit more solitude by taking the left fork to start. Then again, it didn't take much to leave the crowds behind even on the right fork. Sure, to start with it was very crowded, especially up to the large stump that people can walk on, but we quickly left the crowds behind.

Big stump near the start of the loop

Snowy branches

Snowy branches over a stream

Path through the snow

After the stump, we veered left, soon reaching a trail intersection. To the left was the North Grove Loop. To the right was the North Grove Overlook trail. We decided to head up the overlook trail. While the trail so far could be done pretty comfortably in boots, the Overlook trail definitely required the snowshoes we had. The recent storm had dropped lots of fresh powder onto the area, and the snow was now about 3 feet deep, more in some places along the hillside.

We headed up the hill, then cleared out a spot for lunch next to the trail. Despite all the crowds earlier on the trail, we now had the area almost all to ourselves. Only one pair of snowshoers passed us the whole time on the Overlook trail.

Heading up the Overlook trail

View looking down from our lunch stop

After lunch, we continued along the Overlook trail. There were some nice views of the sequoias below to the left, but nothing spectacular. The trail gradually heads downhill, with the views getting better along the way. We walked on top of a fallen sequoia and then slid off of it to the right, back onto the main loop trail. This and the following few minutes of trail had some of the nicest views of sequoias.

I had to stitch together two pictures for this view of a towering sequoia

Path on top of a downed sequoia

Snowy forest

Walking on top of a downed sequoia to the main loop trail

Snowy forest scene

The trees in this picture may not look big...

...until you see them with this perspective

The base of two more big sequoias

We followed the loop trail as it started its return trip. Here we could see snow stacked on top of the interpretive signs. The entire loop trail is pretty much flat, unlike the Overlook trail. Soon we could hear the sledders back near the parking lot. Then we completed the loop, reaching the trailhead where we were greeted with a crazy view. While the parking lot had been pretty crowded when we started the hike, it was now completely full and a complete zoo of people. Still, that didn't take away from the peaceful snowshoe hike we'd just done. In fact, afterwards, we joined them for some fun sledding ourselves.

Looking up at sequoias

Tunnel through a tree

Peaceful stream


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