Trails & More
As you enjoy your adventures throughout the park, notice the pinecones and wildlife. Each is important to the natural cycle of the forest and must be left as found.
Hiking - The North Grove has a level, 1.5 mile self-guided trail. The .13-mile Three Senses Trail allows visitors to experience the feel, smell, and sounds of this magnificent forest. The five-mile South Grove Trail travels along Big Trees Creek and passes the park’s two largest trees — the Agassiz Tree and the Palace Hotel Tree. The fairly strenuous four-mile River Canyon Trail runs between the North Grove and the Stanislaus River. Along the Lava Bluffs Trail, hikers can view the scenic North Fork of the river.
Picnicking - Designated picnic areas are located alongside the Stanislaus River, in the North Grove, Oak Leaf Spring, and Beaver Creek areas.
Fishing - The Stanislaus River and Beaver Creek offer good fishing, particularly for rainbow trout. A valid California fishing license is required for anglers 16 and over.
Wildlife - Opportunities for wildlife observation are abundant in the park. Bird species include pileated woodpeckers, northern flickers, Steller’s jays, and darkeyed juncos. Raccoons, foxes, porcupines, chipmunks, chickarees, and flying squirrels are among the native animals. Black bears, bobcats, and coyotes are sometimes seen.
Trails Among the Giants
North Grove Trail
The trail through the North Grove is a gentle, well-marked loop about 1 1/2miles (2.3 km) long. Allow at least one hour for your walk through this magnificent, historically significant grove. Audio tapes for the North Grove are available on loan for visually impaired visitors. Ask at the Visitor Center.
Inside of the grove you will find markers along the trail that explains and give history of some of the more spectacular trees such as the Three Graces of Greek mythology, The Pioneer Cabin Tree, The Abraham Lincoln tree, The Father of the Forest, Old Bachelor tree, and the Granite State Tree. Views of giant sequoias’ with special twists and formations can be seen.
Continue and view the Empire State tree, plus giant redwoods viewed where they fell. You will cross the Big Tree Creek, which drains the North Grove basin. Although this creek in tiny, it is able to support a population of native trout. Sierra redwood groves are always located near a reliable source of water
Three Senses Trail
Located next to the Big Stump, this is a very short loop of just a few hundred yards, intended to help visitors enjoy a sensory experience of the forest. Trail markers display both printed words and Braille. Allow 20 minutes.
Grove Overlook Trail
This trail begins a short distance beyond the Big Stump, branching off of the North Grove Trail just past the #2 marker. It climbs the ridge above the grove and parallels the North Grove Trail for about ½ mile to provide views of the upper parts of the Big Trees. It rejoins the North Grove Trail near the Father of the Forest and trail marker #13. From there you can walk either right or left on the North Grove Trail to return to the trailhead. Allow 1–2 hours.
South Grove Trail
Road access to the South Grove, Stanislaus River and Bradley Grove are not accessible in the winter months. However, even though roads are closed, cross country skiing is available and encouraged in the Park during the winter months.
The South Grove Natural Preserve will lead you through a pristine stand of giant sequoia trees. The largest redwoods in the park are found here in the remote and tranquil South Grove.
Depending on your route, you may hike 3.5 miles to 5 miles on this trail. The first 1.5 miles of trail is a moderate, steady climb from the parking lot to the start of the loop trail, with a gain of 260 feet in elevation.
The loop trail passes through a representative portion of the lower part of the grove. Just over one mile in length, this section of trail first climbs 200 feet, then gently descends back to the start of the loop.
Halfway around the loop, you will find a side trail leading to the upper grove and the largest tree in the park – the Agassiz Tree. Just over 0.5 mile in each direction, this trail gently climbs 100 feet.
Allow 1 ½ to 3 hours for the 3.5 miles round-trip hike from the parking lot around the loop trail. Allow 2 ½ to 4 ½ hours for the 5 mile round trip hike to the Agassiz Tree.
All Other Trails
River Canyon Trail
This is a very strenuous hike into and out of the Stanislaus River Canyon. The hike is 8 miles round-trip, with an elevation change of over 1,000 feet. On summer afternoons this south-facing slope can be very warm.
There are three ways to access the trail. You may begin this trail from the River Picnic Area, Scenic Overlook parking, or North Grove Trail just past marker #2. At the far end of the Scenic Overlook parking lot, you will find a restroom, a display describing the trail, and access to the rest of the trail. From here, you will descend 1,000 feet over 3 miles to the Stanislaus River. From there, you will retrace your steps, traveling 3 miles and ascending 1,000 feet back up again to the Scenic Overlook. You can always do the climb first by starting at the River Picnic Area. This will allow you to enjoy the river after your hike.
Be sure you are physically able to do this hike and carry plenty of drinking water. There is no trail guide for this trail, but it is shown on the park brochure. If you decide to walk back along the park road, be aware that it is longer and just as hot. Watch for vehicle and bike traffic. Allow 4–6 hours.
Lava Bluffs Trail
This 2.5 mile lollipop trail will take you through varied environments, across a volcanic formation, and along a historic water ditch. This diverse area hosts the park’s most colorful spring wildflower displays and excellent birdwatching.
There are many steep sections along this trail, including some with difficult footing. The trail follows a south-facing slope and can be very hot in the summer. It can be enjoyed more in the spring or fall rather than on hot summer afternoons. This is the only trail in the park with poison oak.
The trail begins at the Lava Bluffs parking area, about 5 miles from the park entrance on the main park road. Allow 2–3 hours and bring plenty of water.
The boardwalk that crosses the meadow gives you some options on where to walk. It is a short hike but full of flowers with bees, bumblebees and dragonflies. Birds are also easy to see. If you are lucky, you may see a praying mantis. Please remember that dogs or bikes are not allowed on the boardwalk. It is important that you stay on the boardwalk and not trample the meadow.
You are welcome to hike or bike ride on any of the park’s fire/dirt roads. All are shown on the park brochure map. Dogs on leash are allowed on these roads as well.