✔Trees ✔History ✔Serenity ✘Crowds
Lose yourself to the vastness of the ancient giants throughout Calaveras Big Trees State Park, home to the Louis Agassiz Tree, which at 25 feet in diameter is the widest tree in the state parks. The park is famous for the Big Stump, all that remains of the first Sierra redwood discovered there in 1852. It took five men 22 days to cut it down. Start at the new visitors center and find an engaging junior ranger program. In May you can hit the popular Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee. Beaver Creek offers tempting spots to wade in and cool down in the summer.
Wild words: “You yourself are a sequoia. … Stop and get acquainted with your big brethren.”—John Muir to Ralph Waldo Emerson, May 1871
Getting There: Calaveras Big Trees is in Arnold, 75 miles northeast of Stockton on Highway 4.
Eat: The Arnold Pantry is an organic market and restaurant, focusing on breakfast and lunch. The food is locally sourced and delicious, whether you’re in the mood for the slow-cooked beef or pork ($13), a burger ($10 to $17), or a banh mi sandwich ($10). Sate your Italian craving at Sarafina’s Italian Kitchen, where you can start with the house-made crabcakes with lemon-caper aioli ($9). Save room for the chocolate lava cake ($6).
Rest: The Murphys Historic Hotel has operated since 1856, and its previous guests included Mark Twain, Horatio Alger Jr., J.P. Morgan, and President Ulysses S. Grant. Some of the 29 rooms are named in honor of these guests, and a stay at this National Historic Landmark, 12 miles from Arnold, offers a peek into the Gold Rush era ($90 to $270). The Victoria Inn ($136 to $475) in Murphys might be a better fit if you want a place that looks historic but is modern and elegant. Rooms include fireplaces, wood stoves, clawfoot tubs, or whirlpool tubs. Or stay in the park, which has 129 campsites ($35) and four furnished cabins ($165 and $185) with kitchens and living rooms.
Nearby: Just 40 minutes south of Calaveras, you’ll find Columbia State Historic Park, a functioning town where visitors can experience life in the 1850s. Home to two hotels, several restaurants, and shops, Columbia highlights include a stagecoach ride, panning for gold, and visiting with a blacksmith. Or just enjoy hand-dipped chocolates as you tour the museum or peek into the dentist’s shop. If you’re up for a drive to the other side of the Sierra Nevada, Grover Hot Springs State Park is three hours away. Soak in the relaxing 102-degree mineral pool fed by six hot springs, which make the water an odd pea green color ($5 to $7). There’s also a refreshing swimming pool.
Save money! Get a discount for Moro Cove Campground at Crystal Cove State Park until March 18. Sunday through Thursday is 40 percent off, and Friday and Saturday is 25 percent off. Go to the Reserve America page and enter the code SWEETBEACHDEAL when making your reservations.
Tips: Click here for some tips for visiting the state parks.
Parks close to home: Click here to find out about state parks in Orange County.