By: Steve Stocking, FLCR Member
There are many trails in Calaveras County but only the three described here are in the Calaveras Watershed. Others are found around New Melones, Pardee and Comanche Reservoirs. In the upper elevations of Stanislaus National Forest near Lake Alpine and above there is an extensive trail system.
Hogan Dam blocks the flow of the Calaveras River where it exits the Sierra foothils east of Stockton. The reservoir provides water for farms east of Stockton and for some areas of the town. Once you have reached Valley Springs on your trip into the Sierra you are almostto the first of the trails to be discussed here. This trip will take you less than an hour from Stockton on either higway 12 and 88 or 26. The Lake sits at about 700 feet In hills covered by foothill oak woodland and chaparral. The lake itself is a good area to observe birdlife particularly in the winter and early spring. From March through late May wildflowers abound. Water sports are popular, except for the coldest months, as are the three campgrounds.
When you reach the Lake a road will take you from the dam east past the campgrounds. Parallel to the road is a paved trail which is popular both with hikers and bicyclers It is 10.5 miles in length and has no steep grades, This trail starts near the dam and goes around the east side of the lake past the campgrounds but does not circle the Lake., Parking and restroom facilities are available at the start of the trail near the dam. A visitor center there is open weekdays to provide information. A scenic overlook is also located here with picnic facilities as is the headquarters of the Army Corps of Engineers. Bald eagles can sometimes be spotted from this point in winter. Hogan is a popular fishing spot and there are boat-in campgrounds across the lake on the east side.
Another trail is the one mile “Trail of the Skulls” accessed below the dam on the Calaveras River. Calaveras means skulls and was named for the skulls found here by Spanish explorers The rough surfaced nature trail passes through oak woodland and along the river. Beaver, many birds, and fishermen may be seen in this area. The large parking area often contains horsetrailers as a system of horse trails begins here as well.
The ARNOLD RIM TRAIL is a “work in progress” in the Stanislaus National Forest near the towns of Arnold and Avery at about 4,000 feet. Some folks who didn’t want to see their motorized access to rails and logging roads restricted were not happy when this trail was proposed. Some still aren’t happy but trail construction has begun. More will be finished when grants are obtained. The trail is open to hiking, bicycling and horseback riding but not motorized vehicles. At present it stretches from White Pines, near Arnold, 10.5 mikes to the Avery-Sheep Ranch Road near Avery. This will form less than half of the total trail length and will eventually include a section in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
It is best to visit the Stanislaus National Forest Ranger Station at Hathaway Pines on Highway 4 to obtain a map and trail information. The station is open weekdays. The trail surface can be muddy after rain and snow. The Arnold Rim Trail Association is a group of volunteers who are helping to finish the trail. You could contact their website at http://arnoldrimtrail.org/
The developed portions of the trail are located on the Stanislaus National Forest in the San Antonio Creek drainage. San Antonio Creek is one of the upper branches of the Calaveras River. White
Pines Lake and Community Park as well as San Antonio Creek Falls are on this creek west of the lake. The trail passes through a second grouth mixed evergreen forest which has some snowfall each winter. There are trout in the creek and lake as well as deer, bear and other wildlife in the forest.
Restrooms, a picnic area, children’s playground, fishing and swimming are found at White Pines Lake at what is presently the Eastern terminus of the trail. There are no fees. This area is about a half hour east of Angles Camp on Hiway 4. White Pines Park is about a mile north of “downtown” Arnold north of Highway 4. Local volunteers care for the park.
Only a few miles further east is the NORTH GROVE TRAIL at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Here at 4,700 feet is a delightful walking trail wch can be enjoyed by all ages at many times of the year. It is 1.5 miles long and starts near the parking lot and visitor center just inside the Park entrance which is about four miles east of Arnold on Higway 4. The trail passes through one of the most accessible groves of giant sequoias. Otherwise muddy or rough areas are covered with boardwalks and the elevation change is less than a few hundred feet. That it has been visited by so many over the last 150 years has both led to its protection and to some damage. You can visit the remains of two of what were the largest trees in the grove which were killed to provide displays elsewhere. But many large and small giant Sequoias remain and the forest appears nearly pristine under the protection of the State Parks Department.
This beautiful grove contains many other trees including pine, fir, cedar, yew, dogwood and black oak. The grove is along both sides of upper Big Tree Creek which is a branch of San Antonio Creek itself a branch of the Calaveras River. Mountain dogwoods flower in the grove in the spring and their foliage is colorful in the fall. Wildflowers are abundant in early summer.
For information on this and other Park trails check in at the visitor center near the parking areas. Trail guides are available there and at the start of the trail for fifty cents.
The Park is about a two hour drive from Stockton on highway 26 or 88 and 12 from Stockton to hiway 49 at San Andreas. South on highway 49 to Angles Camp and from there east on hiway 4 to the Park. The Park offers campgrounds, picnic areas and other trails. The State Park is open all year and when snow is on the ground but campgrounds and most trails are closed. the North Grove Trail is used for snowshoeing. The visitor center has both slale items and exhibits. Check the schedule if you would like to join a guided North Grove walk. The Park entrance fee is $7/ $8 per vehicle.
The Calaveras watershed does not reach to the Sierra crest. In fact its headwaters are just a few miles and a few hundred feet in elevation higher to the east of Calaveras Big Trees State Park.