Calaveras Big Trees State Park – Fly Fishing the Stanislaus River

RV Camping and Fly Fishing on the North Fork of the Stanislaus River

We arrived at Calaveras Big Trees SP 10pm Thursday evening. This was Memorial Day weekend and we were expecting crowds but the campground was mostly empty.  Nice.

Day One – Camping!

The sun woke us up to a beautiful view of the big meadow.  Now this is camping!  Our site, North Grove #60, was one of the few that was not located in the trees but the lack of privacy was offset by the wonderful view.


The first thing we did was to take the motorcycle out for a reconnaissance mission down the Big Trees Parkway which is a nice nine mile road inside the park.

As we crossed the bridge over the North Fork of the Stanislaus River bridge, Gi immediately said “OOOHHH” seeing that the river was flowing strong.  Gi said that she wants to go fly fishing so we headed back to camp, picked up the RV, and drove back down to the river. We crossed the bridge and parked in a spot on the other side.  Gi put on her fishing gear and headed to the river.

As I headed down the stairs to the river I saw these warning signs everywhere.

Gi found a nice spot under the bridge and she fished for about three hours. We ate lunch, enjoying the scenery and sound of the rushing river.

Fly fishing on the North Fork of the Stanislaus River
After a day of fishing, we returned to our site and walked the boardwalk that crosses the big meadow.  This was a great way to see the park and the people so we sat down and enjoyed the scenery for about an hour.  It sure would have been better if we brought a glass of wine and chairs with us, maybe tomorrow..

From the boardwalk you could see our RV in site 60.  We returned to the RV when it started to rain and we sat inside listening to the loud thunder. It was a nice evening in the cozy RV.

Day Two – Camping or Fly Fishing (probably fly fishing)

In the morning we stopped by Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods for some local fly fishing tips.  The shop has a wide selection of supplies for both fly fishing and spin reel fisherman.  Bill, the owner, was a great guy and he recommended fly fishing with sparrow nymphs for the Stanislaus River.  He gave us a couple of his “special” flies that they don’t sell at the store and he assured us that these are the trout catchers.  Bill said that fly fishing the North Fork of the Stanislaus by the bridge would be crowded on Memorial Day weekend and he recommended that we park at the day use picnic area and hike to the river to avoid the crowds.  Checkout Bill’s weekly fishing report on his website the next time you plan a trip to this area.  He also has the fishing report board posted outside his shop.

We made it to the Day Use Picnic Area as Bill suggested and after a short walk through the bushes, Gi found a great fishing spot.  She spent another 3-4 hours on the river and had four nice hits but did not land any fish.  She was very happy with the day and was determined to return tomorrow.

Fly fishing on the North Fork of the Stanislaus River
After we got back to the campground, we headed out on our bicycles in search for some Big Trees!  We quickly found the Discovery Tree which was first seen in 1852 and chopped down in 1853 (really??).  The stump measures 24 feet in diameter and you can see how massive it is.


Day Three – Fly Fishing for sure!

Gi dropped hints all night that she would like to go fishing Sunday so we returned to the Day Use Area by the river.  This time we drove all the way to the back of the picnic area near the start of the last leg of the Stanislaus River trail.

FISH ON!  It was the best fishing day because Gi had a bunch of hits and caught a rainbow trout and a brook trout.

Fly fishing on the North Fork of the Stanislaus River
I stayed close and tried to attract the fish by playing the ukulele.

After another day of fishing, we returned to the campground and needed to relocate to site 32 which was much closer to Highway 4 (this was due to my reservation snafu).  You could hear the traffic but it wasn’t bad at all.  We had a roaring fire and stayed outside in the cold way past sunset.

Day Four- All good things come to an end

Monday morning we woke up at 6:30am and decided to pack up quickly and hit the road to get back home.  We didn’t do much camping on this trip but Gianna had a wonderful time fishing all three days.

What we learned

I was surprised that all these years camping in the Bay Area we never ventured up Highway 4.  This road is very accessible from Santa Cruz and there are lots of camping spots that we plan to investigate.  We are already looking for our next fishing/camping spot along Highway 4. Probably the Wa Ka Luu Hep Yoo (Wild River) Campground at the end of June.

Calaveras Big Trees has two campgrounds, North Grove (where we stayed) and Oak Hollow.  North Grove has a great visitor center where we were able to get 3G cell coverage (despite the sign that read ‘no cell phone service in this park’), it’s close to the big trees, it has more facilities for kids, and it’s closer to Highway 4 which give you a good jumping off point for other adventures.  We drove through the Oak Hollow campground and it seemed much more quiet, closer to the river, but many of the sites were not level so you may need to walk up/down a hill to get from your RV to the table and fire ring.  Here are our grades for the top North Grove RV sites:

  • A+ sites: 6 and 7 (where we met Rick and Linda!)
  • A sites: 2, 4, and 8
  • B+ sites: 19, 40, 58, 59, and 60
  • B sites: 3, 5, and 32
  • The rest of the  RV sites are hit or miss

This was Memorial Day weekend so we expected crowds but the campground really didn’t seem over crowded.  I think next time we come to Calaveras Big Trees here we will try the Oak Hollow campground because it’s closer to the river.  This is a great state park and I wish we had discovered it earlier.

Dates visited

  • May 21-25, 2015

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment!


  1. Cecilia Stipes

    Wonderful report and fabulous photos. Brian, you write your stories so well and paint a clear image of your adventures. Kudos to Gianna for her perserverance and fish-catching success.

  2. mark holle

    Cool place did G catch anything

  3. Mike Absher

    Great stories Brian. I highly recommend checking out Oak Hollow next time. It really is a different experience. I like sites 93 and 94 over there. They are kind of close to Hwy 4, but also back away from the main hustle and bustle of the campground. I find them very peaceful. Also, I would stick with spring. In the summer and fall, the yellow jackets/wasps get crazy thick out there and will get into everything.

    All in all, this is a great place and am glad you have found it. Love the big trees area. Keep up the reporting as I am truly enjoying hearing about your exploits.

    Cheers my friend,

  4. Josh Bey

    Great resource for camping/RVing in California. I really like the dense forest and rushing river, this spot will definitely make my list of places to see!


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