Calaveras Big Trees SP – North Grove

 

Calaveras Big Trees State Park became a state park back in 1931 in order to preserve the North Grove. On Saturdays at 1pm the park offers a free guided hike of the grove from the Visitor Center! Take the guided hike or explore on your own, like we did!

Why we love it: Our family has seen lots of giant sequoia trees along the coast, from Muir Woods up through Avenue of the Giants, so it was nice to head a different direction with way less traffic! At less than two hours from home, it’s a lovely getaway and lots of families enjoy camping at the state park.

For the Young Ones (0-10): It’s an easy and relatively short loop. At less than two miles, the park totes the North Grove Big Tree trail as stroller-friendly (though not after rain) and there are a couple of places children can easily walk through fallen trees (one even has a handrail!).

For the Big Kids (10+): At the beginning of the loop or in the Visitor Center, you can purchase a pamphlet for 50 cents that explains each of the 26 numbered markers along your way, providing detail on what you’ll see in the area. They may also like the five mile South Grove hiking trail.

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Keep In Mind:

  • Sunscreen and insect repellant are a good idea for this trail. We saw mosquitos in the parking lot, so put on Bug Protector (I’m a brand ambassador) and we were fine.
  • The parking lot fills up fast on a Saturday! When we got back to our car mid-day there were zero parking spaces!
  • While it’s a popular trail, it’s always a good idea to have proper footwear. I cringed seeing flip flops and Crocs. Sneakers work great!
  • There’s a $12 entrance fee to the park for day use.
  • There are lots of little things for little hands to want you to buy in the Visitor Center. From the parking lot, you must go through the bookstore area to get to the museum.
  • The famous Pioneer Cabin Tree/Tunnel Tree fell in January 2017, but you can see what remains after it fell.
  • Out of curiosity, we took the Grove Overlook Trail off of the North Grove loop (around marker 2 – it drops you back on the loop around marker 14) and were the only ones on the much quieter trail. About 1/2 way down the trail, however, we came across a rattlesnake and turned ourselves around, back to where we left the North Grove loop. Read this link for helpful information on rattlesnakes in California.

Around the Area: Just outside of the park in Arnold, Giant Burger is known for their shakes. With nearly 20 flavors to choose from, you can have your pick from pumpkin pie to boysenberry! At only $4.25, one is large enough to split!

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

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Bassi Falls Trail

IMG_6899Once you know how to get there, this is a great trail! (See “How to get there” below.) This is a very popular trail, and it’s easy to see why. Everyone loves to head to the water in the summer, especially a waterfall, and even more so to a waterfall that has natural pools you can swim in!

How to get there: Take US-50, exit Ice House Road and go north for about 16 miles. Make sure to take the turn to the right to stay on Ice House at just over 1/2 a mile from the freeway. The next part is key – after going over a bridge at about 16 miles (there’s no sign letting you know the name of the bridge),  look for Big Silver Group Campground on your left (see photo below – you’ll have passed another campground earlier, so make sure you get the name right!), and make an immediate turn to your right onto an unmarked road. There will be a fork in the road – go left to take a shorter trail (we didn’t go down that road), or straight/right to get to the trailhead  for a 4 mile hike to the falls. You’ll get to what looks almost like a dead end and can park here and walk down to the trailhead. (If it’s still there, you’ll see the sign in the photo below.) However, if you have 4WD, follow the sign down a short road down to get closer to the trailhead. Do not attempt this if you have a low suspension vehicle – there was no way I was going to try in our minivan. I promise this is all easier than it sounds, but I would not rely on GPS to get you there.

Why we love it: It’s a WATERFALL! That’s usually plenty enough motivation for my family. I appreciated the clear trail markers along the way, the many points you can get to the water, and that it was enough of a hike to feel like you accomplished something, but not so hard kids can’t do it.

For the Young Ones (0-10): I took my seven year-old son and wore my 8 week-old daughter, and had a friend with her eight year-old son and four year-old daughter. Honestly, I’m extremely impressed the four year-old hiked the entire thing (including IMG_6930walking and playing all over/around the falls). When you get to the water, just keep going down the trail to find an accessible point. For some, just getting to the lower falls will be plenty of enough for one trip. There are some shallow spots they can splash in, so it doesn’t hurt to bring swimsuits and water shoes

For the Big Kids (10+): Adventurous big kids will enjoy scrambling over rocks and swimming in deeper pools. I’ve read you can also scramble up the rocks to the top of the upper falls, but since I didn’t do this I’m not sure how dangerous it is.

Keep in Mind:

  • There are no lifeguards at the water. Proceed at your own risk and watch children closely.
  • There are no bathrooms so be prepared!
  • At the bottom of the lower falls we encountered lots of big black ants. We didn’t see them at the top of the lower falls or the upper falls.
  • When you get to the upper falls and cross the rocks to get to the water, it is easy to lose sight of where the trail came out onto the rocks. We actually started back on a trail that wasn’t the official trail, so make sure to do something to help you remember.

Around the Area: We saw campgrounds, a camping resort, and maybe a little store (?) along the road to the trailhead.

Difficulty Level: Moderate.

Cascade Canal Trail

IMG_3477Why we love it: It’s a great way to get out in nature on a true hike, without much difficulty. Starting at the Gracie Road trailhead, there are a few switchbacks near the beginning, but it evens out and is mostly wide and level terrain.

For the Young Ones (0-10): It may be hard to keep little ones from moving on once the trail starts running alongside the canal. I’m sure littles could spend hours throwing rocks and sticks into the water. Just be careful no one gets too close! There are also a few places you’d want to make sure younger hikers stay near the center of the trail because of drop offs, so if you have kiddos that take off, this may not be aIMG_3473 trail for you. In addition, if you get to the catwalk (See For the Big Kids, below), you can pass it until you get to a road that makes a “T” with the trail and loop around to the left, but it isn’t very clear. (When you “loop” back, you’ll see the catwalk on your left but it isn’t completely obvious you made a loop. Read the full trail description here.)

For the Big Kids (10+): This in-and-out trail is great in that you can make the hike as short as you like or as long as approximately 9 miles. Adventurous big kids will love the catwalk crossing to continue the hike at around the 1.6 mile mark. Once on the other side, turn left to continue on.

Keep in Mind:

  • Dogs on leash are allowed on the trail.
  • Enter these coordinates in Google Maps to best locate the trailhead: N39.24106 W120.99855
  • This trail is known to be accessible year-round, but with a storm the week before we were on the trail, there were parts of the trail that were muddy or a bit snowy/icy. Make sure to pay attention to weather conditions leading up to and including the day of your hike.
  • There are trail markers on the trail, but several of us thought they didn’t match up with our trackers.
  • There are no bathrooms anywhere near the trailhead. Stop at a gas station on your way if you need to!

Around the Area: The town of Nevada City is nearby and super cute to walk around.

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

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Sierra Discovery Trail

IMG_4529PG&E’s Sierra Discovery Trail is an interpretive loop trail that is full of educational signs describing the local plants, geology and wildlife of the area. This 0.8-mile trail is located off of Highway 20 and Bowman Lake Road near Alta, CA. Sarah’s family was camping in the Tahoe National Forest at White Cloud Campground along Highway 20 and checked out this trail during the day.

Why we love it: The Sierra Discovery Trail is a fun and easy trail for kids and dogs alike.  This trail begins at a gazebo that provides interpretive information about the area, including hydropower operations and local history.  The trail ventures through a marsh over a wooden boardwalk and continues over a bridge and through a mixed pine and fir forest along the Bear River to a scenic waterfall overlook. This trail offers an easier option by veering to the right after the bridge.

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For the Young Ones (0-10): The younger kiddos will enjoy stopping along the trail at the various river access points and checking out the signs with pictures of plants and wildlife. There are benches along the way to hang out and enjoy the scenery.

For the Big Kids (10+): Big kids will enjoy reading the interpretive signs and stopping along the river.  There are various points along the river to enjoy fishing as well.

Keep in Mind:

  • Be mindful of the changing river flows. Multiple signs are posted along the river warning of the possible rising flows.
  • There are restrooms (vault toilets) near the parking lot but not many other facilities nearby. Plan ahead and bring snacks or lunch and plenty of water.
  • This trail is at a higher elevation so it is typically covered in snow during the late fall and winter months.

Around the Area: There are many great local food options in the Nevada City and Grwaterfallass Valley area. One of our favorite eateries is Summer Thyme’s Bakery and Deli in Grass Valley. This local café has yummy sandwiches and pastries as well as a play kitchen area to keep kiddos busy.

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Guest contributor Sarah Perrin is a wife, mother of one boy and two dogs, wildlife biologist, home baker, and outdoor enthusiast who enjoys exploring the California foothills and Sierras with her family and friends.

 

Burney Falls

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I’ve wanted to see Burney Falls for a very, very long time! At over 3 hours from Sacramento, we decided the best way to spend time at Burney Falls is to camp at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park! If you decide not to camp, it’s still easy to get the falls once in the park, provided the crowds don’t max out the park’s capacity.

DSC_3964Why we love it: Burney Falls is unlike any waterfall I’ve ever seen! As per the park’s website: The park’s centerpiece is the 129-foot Burney Falls, which is not the highest or largest waterfall in the state, but possibly the most beautiful. Additional water comes from springs, joining to create a mist-filled basin. Burney Creek originates from the park’s underground springs and flows to Lake Britton, getting larger along the way to the majestic falls. We did the hike early in the morning, before there were many other people on the trail, and it was glorious!

For the Young Ones (0-10): The falls overlook is just a few minutes from the parking lot,IMG_7514 making it easy for the entire family to enjoy the falls without even taking a hike! The Jr. Ranger program (technically for those age 7 and up, but there were younger kids there) is a sweet half hour program you can learn more about at the Visitor’s Center. There’s also a General Store where people line up for soft serve ice cream!

For the Big Kids (10+): For young ones that are hikers + the big kids, hike down to the bottom of the falls where you’ll feel the mist, and then take the Falls Loop trail (see map on pg. 6) at under 1.5 miles roundtrip! The trail will take you around and up near the top of the falls and back to the falls overlook. While we were on the trail, my hubby and six year-old spotted a badger!

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Keep in Mind:

  • There are approx. five miles of hiking trails in the park, but many are closed due to winter damage.
  • If you’re looking to cool off, head to Lake Britton at the back of the park.
  • The park advises that if the park reaches capacity, you should not park along Hwy. 89 because your vehicle may be subject to citation and tow.
  • The bathrooms are outside near the General Store, and there seemed to always be a line. Get in line before anyone says they need to go!
  • There is no cell phone service in the park.

Around the Area: As mentioned above, Lake Britton is fun to check out! Our six year-old could sit by the water for hours, just throwing rocks. People go to the lake to fish, swim, and paddleboard, so there are plenty of activities to do within the state park.

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

 

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Along the trail there are a nice number of benches similar to this one.

 

McCloud Falls

 

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Middle McCloud Falls from the observation deck.

 

For Memorial Day weekend our family booked a campsite at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, but with a check-in time of 2pm, we wanted to take advantage of the day on the way to our campsite. I looked for a couple of things that would be fun but on the quick side, and decided on Hedge Creek Falls & McCloud Falls.

 

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Look closely to see the people by the water at Lower McCloud Falls.

 

Why we love it: There are three falls to see here – upper, middle, and lower. What was great for us was that we could see all three falls without much hiking effort or time spent; just a quick five to ten minute walk from the parking lot at each waterfall!

For the Young Ones (0-10): It’s an easy-peasy walk from the parking lot to waterfall observation deck at any of the three falls, getting you the view with very little effort! The lower falls were by far the most popular and if you trust the kiddos by water, you can go down to the rocks right by the water. There are also lots of picnic tables and bathrooms at the lower falls.

 

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Upper McCloud Falls

 

For the Big Kids (10+): If you have some time, take the approx. three mile hike between the falls. We didn’t see all of the trail since we were keeping it quick, but it looks like they did a really nice job of making a solid trail between the falls.

Keep in Mind:

  • The water is frigid and quick. Be extremely careful whenever near the water. We stuck our feet in by the parking lot at upper falls, and my toes tingled from the cold pretty quickly.
  • The parking lot at the lower falls is rumored to always be the most slammed. (Based on our experience, I’d say this is true.) Consider hiking from the upper falls down to middle and then to lower.
  • While the viewing areas seem pretty safe overall, little kids should always be watched closely.

Around the Area: There are tons of hikes and things to see around this general area, but we were just sightseeing on our way to camping!

Difficulty Level: Parking lot to observation decks – beginner.

 

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A view of Mt. Shasta on the walk to the observation deck at Upper McCloud Falls.

 

Hedge Creek Falls

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At 3+ hours from Sacramento (depending on where you live) this short hike may be best saved for part of a road trip going north on I-5, like our family did this weekend.

Why we love it: It’s short and sweet – right off of the highway, the hike is just about one mile roundtrip, and you get to go BEHIND the falls!

For the Young Ones (0-10): It’s a great break after being in the car for a long time (and there’s a port-a-potty in the parking lot)! Plus, the sweet reward of the waterfall is only about a 1/2 mile mini-hike. Just be careful where the trail is slick, and keep little kids away from the edge of the trail.

For the Big Kids (10+): If big kids want to hike a little more, I read that past the waterfall you can keep going a short distance along the creek to get to an observation deck with a view of Mt. Shasta and see where Hedge Creek meets the Sacramento River.

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Keep in Mind:

  • The parking area is across the street from the trailhead. Look for the gazebo to see where to go to start the trail.
  • There is lots of poison oak along the way, so stick to the trail.
  • We each ended up with a few mosquito bites, so you may want to have your insect repellant on or ready.

Around the Area: About 45 minutes/an hour prior to getting to the falls, we loved the breakfast tacos at El Zarape in Redding, CA!

Difficulty Level: Beginner.

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