National and State Parks

9 Awe Inspiring Facts – Pioneer Cabin Tree

9 Awe Inspiring Facts – Pioneer Cabin Tree

Here at the Calaveras Visitors Bureau we were shocked and saddened by the loss of the iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Before falling on Sunday January 9th at 2pm, this statuesque giant sequoia—the largest living species on earth–touched the lives of millions of people from all around the world. In the days following this incident we have received an outpouring of support and grief from locals and visitors and inquiries from reporters from all around the world.

In honor of this iconic member of the Calaveras community, we would like to tell its story.

A photo posted by Go Calaveras (@gocalaveras) on

    1. Though there are many remaining tunnel trees around the world, the Pioneer Cabin Tree could hardly be called one of many. Possibly more than 1000 years old, it stood in the first grove of giant sequoias ever encountered by Westerners.

R.I.P. Pioneer Cabin Tree: a winter storm in California has felled this famous sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The tree was so massive that an automobile could pass through the tunnel at its base. This photograph of the tree dates from circa 1870, before the tunnel was carved out in the 1880s. It comes from an album of photographs of California presented by Edward Vischer to John Prince-Smith [WA Photos 245]. … #pioneercabintree #calaverasbigtrees #calaverasbigtreesstatepark #treesofinstagram #giantsequoia #giantsequoias #sequoia #sequoiatrees #sierranevada #westernamerica #californiana #westernamericana #19thcenturyphotos #19thcenturyphotography #librariesofinstagram #beineckelibrary #specialcollections #brbl #yalelibrary #rip #restinpeace #requiescatinpace

A photo posted by Beinecke Library (@beineckelibrary) on

2. The Pioneer Cabin Tree was part of the ongoing legacy of preservation-education cultivated by the outstanding staff and volunteers at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  With a tunnel carved through its base, the Pioneer Cabin Tree stood as a pre-historic relic of a bygone era.

3. As the story goes, upon the initial “discovery” of giant sequoias in the Calaveras grove in 1852, they were the largest living thing ever discovered, and in a time of tall tales, the world needed proof. The Pioneer Cabin Tree stood silent witness as men with  dollar signs flashing before their eyes came to peel the bark from one of the largest giant sequoias in the park (The Mother of the Forest Tree) to ship overseas to Europe and the East Coast as proof that these massive behemoths really existed—killing the skinned tree in the process. 

4. Eerily, the Pioneer Cabin Tree may have sensed the loss of this very tree through a fungal network below the forest floor.

5. For many years it was believed that the giant sequoias (housed in what is now known as Calaveras Big Trees State Park) were the only living specimens of their kind, attracting visitors from all over the world. As more giant sequoias were discovered, private grove handlers became competitive.

6. Shortly after the Wawona Tree in Yosemite (which fell in 1969) received the first tunnel for vehicles to pass through in 1880, the owner of the Calaveras grove, James Sperry, sought a large enough sequoia to do the same. He settled on the Pioneer Cabin Tree not only due to its vast circumference but in large part due to a cave-like scar it had received from a lightning strike in the distant past.

7. As a testament to the resilience of the Pioneer Cabin Tree, after this further hollowing, it survived for another 137 years as many early visitors passed through in wagons, horse drawn carriages, and (before it was outlawed) cars. The inner walls of the Pioneer Cabin Tree housed the laughter of visitors, somber whispers, and the hands of all who passed through its central corridor.

Photo Credit: Maria Camillo. Calaveras Big Trees State Park Cabin Pioneer Tree 19th century name carvings. The tradition of visitors to carve their name into the inner walls of the tree was outlawed when the State Park was formed in 1931.

Photo Credit: Maria Camillo. Calaveras Big Trees State Park Cabin Pioneer Tree 19th century name carvings. The tradition of visitors to carve their name into the inner walls of the tree was outlawed when the State Park was formed in 1931.

8. Since the founding of the state park in 1931, the giant sequoia which spent the last 150+ years of its life known as the Pioneer Cabin Tree has stood as an icon of one awe-inspiring and humbling question: what does it mean to love an ancient living being?

A photo posted by Eloise (@eloise_the_trex) on

9. Even in discussions of its falling in 2017, across every channel, these questions are arising. Fortunately the answer is always close at hand—these trees are a treasure not to be taken lightly. While they remain a rarity in the grand scale of our modern way of living, today we are fortunate to still have thousands of healthy,  thriving giant sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, as well as the national park system available to inspire us.

Facebook user Selbee Crouch says: " I love this tree so much. My husband and I have so many memories with it, like when he proposed to me ❤ We will forever miss this gorgeous tree."

Facebook user Shelbee Crouch says: ” I love this tree so much. My husband and I have so many memories with it, like when he proposed to me ❤ We will forever miss this gorgeous tree.”

So in honor of the Pioneer Cabin Tree, see them while you still can, while they are here and you are able. Get out there and meet all of the good employees and volunteers in our state and national park systems who are there to hear our questions of “How?” and “Why?” and whose hard work gives us the opportunity to allow our great-great grandchildren the chance to do the same. Let’s do our best to honor the wisdom of our ancestors and replace their folly with change. Here at the Calaveras Visitors Bureau we don’t know about you, but we’re ready to hop lightly, leaving no trace behind.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park209-795-2334
1170 Hwy 4
Arnold 95223

Camping Reservations:

Few natural wonders rival the majestic beauty of the two magnificent groves of giant sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Campgrounds, picnic areas and miles of hiking, biking, snowshoe and cross country trails (cross country skiing and snowshoeing in winter) make Calaveras Big Trees one of the county’s most popular year-round destinations. Interpretive center includes visual and hands-on exhibits about the Park’s history and natural environment. Staff and trained docents conduct a variety of summer interpretive programs for all ages. Reservations can be made by calling Reserve America 800-444-PARK.

Related links: Calaveras Big Trees Association | Hiking maps

Blogs and video featuring Calaveras Big Trees State Park: Best of the West Small Town: MurphysWatch this! Hidden Gem California | Plan this: Romantic getaway in the Sierra Foothills | Watch this: California Forever on PBS | Do this: Big Trees, swim holes and summer concerts | VIA Magazine finds a Sierra Escape in Calaveras | Family vacation: Camping in Calaveras County | Go for it! An active adventure awaitsTop Family-friendly Picks for Winter Activities

ATTRACTIONCalaveras Big Trees State Park received the BEST ATTRACTION award in the 2013 Calaveras Visitors Bureau Innovations in Tourism Awards for their interpretive programs, warming hut and new visitor center.




Columbia State Historic Park in California

Columbia State Historic Park in California

Columbia State Historic Park209-588-9128
11255 Jackson Street
Columbia, CA

Columbia State Historic Park in California offers California visitors an “up close and personal” glimpse into the days of California’s Gold Rush in the nineteenth century. With a treasure trove of museums, diplays, tours, theater, local events and shopping opportunities, your friends and family can learn all about the facinating history of this period in California history while enjoying Columbia State Park’s many attractions.

Mountain Adventure Seminars

3 Bear Valley Road
Bear Valley, CA 95223

Mountain Adventure Seminars (MAS) is a year-round mountaineering school and guide service based in Bear Valley, offering family, group and individual rock climbing workshops, adventures, camps and specialty programs. Winter activities include mountaineering school, seminars, and workshops, telemark skiing, backcountry skiing and guided and private snowshoeing.

MAS staff are hired for their technical and personal skills and have proven themselves as professional educators, mentors and leaders. The MAS staff takes pride in leading safe, educational and fun programs.

Blogs featuring MAS:  Kid Favorites in Calaveras | Calaveras Itineraries for Happy Kids on Vacation

Stanislaus National Forest

Stanislaus National Forest

Stanislaus National Forest209-795-1381
5519 Highway 4
Hathaway Pines, CA

Whether it’s adventure or relaxation let the Calaveras Ranger District draw you into its immense beauty, rugged canyons and clear streams. Free Stanislaus Traveler available at District Office, open Monday-Saturday (summer) and Monday-Friday (winter).

Related links:  Stanislaus National Forest – Camping | Union Reservoir | Spicer Reservoir | Utica Reservoir

Blogs featuring Stanislaus National Forest:  Go for it! An active adventure awaits | Gateway to high country adventure  | Spring – Unwind, indulge … or both | Summer – Unwind, indulge … or both | Family vacation: Camping in Calaveras


Top Ten Ways to Get Fit this January in Calaveras

Top Ten Ways to Get Fit this January in Calaveras

Welcome to a new year! It’s that time, full of hope, when we make all sorts of promises to ourselves to commit to get fit – or refit, perhaps. Let us help you make it easier with our top ten list of Calaveras-based activities for January to get you out there and on your way to a healthy year ahead!

A street near Murphys Park – the easiest thing might be to get out and take a walk. | Photo: Cindy Rochelle

1. Take a walk – Let’s start with the basics – just moving your body outside for twenty minutes can energize your day and bring fresh perspective. Take a spin down the picturesque streets of downtown Angels Camp, Murphys or Mokelumne Hill. If it’s an unpeopled landscape you prefer, there are fabulous and very accessible trails on the outskirts of Arnold (Arnold Rim Trail), Angels Camp (New Melones Recreation Area) and Valley Springs (Lake Hogan).

2. Run – Take it up a notch, and turn any of the above into a run! And if you’re a runner, check out the 25th Annual Copper Run in Copperopolis on January 28.  Choose from a half mile, 2 mile or 10K. Proceeds will benefit the local Fire Department, school and Copper Library.  Registration packets available here.   Later in the year, sign up for the Angels Camp Gold Run, it usually takes place in September, but check their Facebook page to stay up to date.  We’re always adding new events like community runs to our Calendar of Events, so check back often.

3. Golf – Winter is a great time to check out Calaveras’ fun and challenging courses at La Contenta, Saddle Creek and Greenhorn Creek.

Disc golf in Calaveras County

Lake Hogan disc golf | File Photo

4. Disc Golf is also well represented throughout the county, with courses at Lake Hogan in Valley Springs, Quinones Park in San Andreas and Feeney Park in Murphys (as well as Bear Valley and White Pines in warmer months). If you’ve never tried it, give it a shot – it’s harder than it looks and you get a good walk out of it! Plus, most courses are either free or have small park entrance fees. SNAC in Arnold and Murphys are your source for golf discs.


5. Bike – The trails mentioned above – especially those at New Melones Recreation Area – are a great place to sample local mountain biking (the Arnold Rim Trail tends to be covered in snow this time of year, but can be in excellent shape with a spell of dry weather). The mild daytime temps in the foothills can make for a great day of road cycling as well. Calaveras has many popular cycling events throughout the year, here are some of our favorites:

Try a winter day hike on snowshoes or cross country skis at Big Trees State Park. | Photo: Dave Bunnell

Try a winter day hike on snowshoes or cross country skis at Big Trees State Park. | Photo: Dave Bunnell

6 & 7. Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing – Whether it’s on a pair of snowshoes or cross country skis, few winter activities combine both the challenge and reward of these snow country sports. Once you arrive at the crest of a trail to take in the views of the Sierra Nevada, you’ll be glad you pumped your way to the top. Bear Valley Cross Country has world-class striding, skating and snowshoes trails, and a full rental, retail and demo center.  Big Trees State Park is also magical in the snow, and a snowshoe through the park is a truly unique way to experience this ancient forest.

snowshoeing bear valley sno park

Snowshoeing near Bear Valley in the Stanislaus National Forest. | File Photo

Explore the Stanislaus National Forest on your own by using the parking areas at Spicer Road, Round Valley or Lake Alpine. For these, you’ll need a $5 Sno-Park pass, which you can find along with snowshoe rentals, maps and other area info at Sierra Nevada Adventure Company, Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods, or Bear Valley Cross Country.


Mercer Caverns walking tour. | Photo: Dave Bunnell

8. Caving – For something deep, check out the special offer this month at Moaning Cavern Adventure Park and Black Chasm Cavern. During January, guided walking tours at either location are 20% off with their Get Fit Coupon. Burn calories while exploring some of Calaveras County’s famous limestone caverns!  Our two most popular caves, Moaning Cavern and Mercer Caverns are both vertically oriented – meaning there are plenty of stairs for you to get a unique workout any time of year.



Acro yoga at Intelligent Body Studio in Murphys | Courtesy Photo

9 & 10. Yoga and Fitness Studios – The mind and spirit need to stay fit too. Visit Intelligent Body in Murphys for a variety of yoga styles, including Vinyasa, Forrest and Kundalini – as well as a new Meditation class. In Arnold, Core Connection offers both yoga and fitness classes such as Pilates, Aerobics and Dance.  Angels Camp’s newest fitness studio, The Body Shop offers classes for all levels, including weight and interval training, TRX and BASE methods. All of these studios have drop in pricing, ranging from $12-15. Check their respective websites for specific class schedules.

Angels Camp Body Shop

Getting a workout at The Body Shop, Angels Camp | File Photo

Be sure to check our Calendar of Events throughout the year for fun ideas to stay active and connected here in Calaveras!


Union Reservoir

Union Reservoir is in the Stanislaus National Forest at an elevation of over 8,000 feet. Small no-frills campgrounds are set near this beautiful lake formed in majestic Sierra granite. Take a canoe, a fishing pole (with license) and your restful vacation is assured. Stay on one of the small islands for a perfect getaway. Make sure to pack all necessary provisions and take your trash out with you. This lake is miles from a gas station or store.

Related links:  Stanislaus National Forest/Calaveras Ranger District | Stanislaus National Forest – Camping

Blogs featuring Union Reservoir: Do This! Discover Calaveras’ Hiking and Paddling Sweet Spots

Watch this: California Forever on PBS

Watch this: California Forever on PBS

Local filmmakers pay homage to California’s State Parks

If you love your parks as much as we do, you’ll want to tune into to the PBS special featuring the film, California Forever, which is airing across the country in September.  The film takes a look at both the history and the future of California’s State Parks, while taking viewers on a scenic journey.  Click here to find out when it will be airing near you.

We have a special fondness for this project since the film prominently features our very own Big Trees State Park and the filmmakers, David Vassar and Sally Kaplan have a part-time residence in Arnold. They clearly know where some of the state’s best natural gems are hidden.

So tune in to California Forever, and if you haven’t ever been, Big Trees State Park is a must-see


White Pines Lake

White Pines Lake

White Pines Lake

White Pines Lake by Gina Donoghue

Blagen Road
White Pines, CA

Locals favorite, White Pines Lake is situated along the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway. It’s a small, picturesque high country lake with beaches, picnic tables, a children’s playground and disc golf course just one mile outside of Arnold.

This lake can be the center of your entire day, when combined with fishing or swimming, kayaking or paddle-boarding, disc golf and a hike along the Arnold Rim Trail or visit to the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum. Also nearby: Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

For fishing supplies, check out nearby Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods for supplies and permit. Pick up disc golf  supplies, rent kayaks, paddle-boards or other non-motorized lake toys from SNAC. Pick up a sandwich from Big Trees Market and enjoy in the shade of pine trees at the picnic tables near one of the beaches.

White Pines Lake

White Pines Lake by Carol Richardson

Blogs featuring White Pines Lake: The Insider’s Guide to Foothill & Upcountry Lakes | State of the Lakes Report for Summer 2015 | Calaveras Itineraries for Happy Kids on Vacation | Destination Arnold: 7 Things to Do When You Get Here