Several years ago, we attempted to hike through the Placer Big Trees Grove over Memorial Day weekend, but when we arrived, it was blanketed in snow. We had a blast playing in the snow, but didn’t get to do any hiking. This summer we finally got around to hiking through the Placer Big Trees Grove along with the nearby Grouse Falls Overlook Trail. Both are located in the Tahoe National Forest about 20 miles east of Foresthill in Placer County.
At 5,243 feet elevation, Placer Big Trees Grove is northernmost grove of naturally occurring Giant Sequoias in the world. With only six living trees, one sapling, and two fallen giants, it is also the smallest grouping of giant sequoias in California. It sits tucked away in the forest 60 airline miles from the next closest grove, Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
The giant sequoias at Placer Big Trees Grove aren’t actually all that giant. In fact, in comparison to other giant sequoias we have seen like the Chandelier Tree near Avenue of the Giants, the giants in Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park, and the sequoias in the South Grove and North Grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, they are quite small!
Discovered in 1855 by a prospector named Joe Matlock, the grove of 1,000 to 2,000 year old giant sequoias sits in a small bowl-shaped depression that has a small seasonal creek flowing through it. The forest surrounding the grove was heavily logged and in 1892, protections were put in place to protect the small grove. Over the years, the US Forest Service continued to protect Placer Big Trees Grove by naming it a Botanical Area and designating the trail through the area as a National Recreation Trail.
The Big Trees Trail
The Big Trees Trail is a half mile loop trail that passes two fallen giants, six living giant sequoias that are between 1,000 and 2,000 years old, and other big trees like unusually large Sugar Pines and a Douglas-Fir measuring 70 inches in diameter that is around 500 to 600 years old.
The easy hike takes about 30 minutes to complete.
The trail begins by dropping into a shady wooded area where you encounter a grouping of four small sequoias. As you near the creek, the ground landscape becomes more lush, dense, and green and the trail passes by the fallen giant sequoias, which are thought to have fallen between 1861 ans 1862.
Next, you’ll pass the Joffre Tree. Standing over 250 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, the Joffre Tree is the tallest tree in the grove. It is named after Marshal Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre, a French general from World War I.
The trail then follows a couple switchbacks up the hillside to it’s intersection with the Forest View Trail. This is where you’ll find the fire-scarred Pershing Tree. When When measured by volume, the Pershing Tree is the largest tree in the grove, standing at 225 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter.
As you near the end of the Big Trees Trail, you’ll once again pass through a break in the Roosevelt Tree, the largest of the two fallen sequoias. The Roosevelt Tree stretches about 200 feet across the forest floor and measures 16 feet wide.
The Forest View Trail
The Forest View Trail is a 1.6 mile loop trail that extends around the edge of the grove’s bowl into the surrounding forest and reconnects to the Big Trees Trail. While the forest area has not been logged, this trail doesn’t pass by any other notable trees of scenic viewpoints.
We kept our adventure to the Big Trees Trail so we could see all six notable giant sequoia trees, the two massive fallen sequoias, and still have time for a picnic and the hike to the Grouse Falls lookout.
Day Use Picnic Area
After our hike through the grove of giant sequoias, we relaxed in the shade and enjoyed a picnic lunch at the Big Trees Picnic Area before heading to the Grouse Falls trailhead. The day use picnic area, next to the trailhead and parking area, has a few picnic tables, pedestal grills, and restrooms.
Know Before You Go
- The Placer County Big Trees Grove, in California’s Tahoe National Forest, is the northern-most grove of giant sequoias in the world.
- Placer Big Trees Grove is about 45 miles from Auburn. To get there, follow Foresthill Road for just under 17 miles to the town of Foresthill, turn right on Mosquito Ridge Road and travel 28 miles, then turn right on Jarvis Road (Forest Road 16) and travel just over a half mile to the parking area.
- The grove sits at 5,243 feet elevation and is open from May to November, but the best months to visit are from June to September.
- The Big Trees Nature Trail is a half mile loop through the northern-most grove of giant sequoias.
- The Forest View Trail is a 1.6 mile loop trail traveling through the forest and connecting with the Big Trees Nature Trail.
- The trail is open for hiking only. No equestrian, bicycle, or motorized use is allowed.
- There is a day use picnic area with picnic tables, barbecue grills, piped water, and vault restrooms next to the parking area.
- Visit the American River Ranger District in Foresthill on your way to pick up an interpretive brochure for a trail map and interpretive guide with more information on the numbered trees you’ll see along the trail.
- Overnight camping is prohibited but there are several campgrounds within a 30-minute drive, including French Meadows Reservoir campground and Robinson Flat campground.