Typically for a lower-elevation sequoia grove, South Calaveras Grove is densely wooded and has a dense understory of dogwoods. The grove also has a low density of sequoias; over 3 miles of hiking in the grove, you might see only about 30 or 40 big trees, most of them some distance from the trail. It's essentially a normal Sierra pine forest with a few big trees scattered here and there throughout the grove. The sequoias are fine-looking examples, though, with the characteristically pinkish, stout and perfectly cylindrical trunks that don't taper as they rise through the canopy.
The South Grove is wonderfully remote and feels much more pristine than the North Grove. The 8-mile drive into the park, followed by a 1-mile uphill hike to reach the grove, ensures that the grove isn't too heavily visited. The rushing sound of a little (mostly unseen) creek that flows near the trail emanates through the woods.
Interestingly, Dwight Willard's book says that the South Grove is "open", while to me it seems just the opposite. How open or dense the grove appears may depend on how long it's been since the last controlled burn.
The woods can be a little buggy, even in fall when mosquitos usually aren't a problem in other areas.
Here's the trailhead location in Google Maps.
The trail starts at a little parking lot just off Big Trees Parkway. The trail winds through a flat area until it reaches Big Trees Creek. This wide, granite-line creek, typical of Sierra waterways, is a popular stopping point; a path to your left leads to the Beaver Creek Picnic Area, which has some creekside picnic tables. The trail crosses the creek on an arched steel bridge and begins a gentle climb.
The trail officially enters the South Grove when it crosses a dirt road, but there aren't any sequoias at first. Turn right at a Y-intersection, following a sign that says "South Grove Loop Trail". The trail almost immediately crosses a little creek and begins to climb a hillside. Here the first sequoias appear, as the trail enters a cluster of a few dozen good-sized sequoias, culminating in two mammoth trees near the trail's highest point. There are fewer sequoias as the trail decends back to the creek.
The side trail to the Agassiz Tree is the best part of the hike. The trail levels out and runs through a broad valley with a typically dense pine forest of tall, straight-trunked trees. Here and there are a few big sequoias, most notably a concentration at around the halfway point, where the trail passes between a pair of big trees. The Agissiz Tree itself is pretty big; walk around to the back to see a huge goosepen.
Return on the creekside branch of the loop trail. This section of trail does have a few sequoias, especially a cluster of three big trees, but otherwise the sequoias are very widely spaced, and about halfway along this section the sequoias peter out altogether.
© 2011, 2012 David Baselt