Balch Park and Mountain Home State Forest
Balch Park is a Tulare County park located in the southern part of Mountain Home State Forest. It is a wonderful place to go camping with groves of Giant Sequoias that rival those of nearby Sequoia National Park. There are fishing ponds teeming with fish, mountain streams cascading over rocks, and picturesque waterfalls. In addition, several trails snake among the big trees and other sites, including the Indian Bathtubs, before heading off into the backcountry to mountain lakes and granite peaks. Guide service and rental horses are available at the Balch Park Pack Station, which is located near Shake Camp.
Camping in Mountain Home State Forest
Balch County Park charges $12.00 per night per campsite. Unfortunately, this delightful campground, which is first come first serve, is often full on summer weekends. However, groups can make reservations for the Methuselah Group Camp Area (no water though). Current plans call for a reservation system to be set up in time for the summer 2001 camping season.
Also, there are an additional 92 individual campsites in the area that are maintained by the Mountain Home State Forest. If Balch Park is full, simply drive a little further to the Frasier Mill Campground, which many times is virtually empty. No fee is charged at any of the State Forest campgrounds. Permits are not required to build fires in the fire grills provided at each campsite, but open fires are not allowed anywhere in the forest!
|Area Name||Overnight Use||Day Use||Number of Sites||Elevation (ft)||Fishing|
|Sunset Point Picnic Area||No||Yes||2 tables||6,000||No|
|Old Mountain Home Picnic Area||No||Yes||2 tables||6,000||No|
|Methuselah Group (Reservations only)||Yes||No||1||5,900||No|
- Balch Park - 80 drive-in tent sites. Spigots with piped-in water, fire grills, picnic tables, bear boxes, flush toilets and showers are available. Pets are permitted on leashes. There are efishing ponds, several Giant Sequoias, a nature trail and museum. Fee charged, no reservations (although a reservation system is planned for the summer 2001 season). Bears are an occasional problem.
- Frasier Mill - 46 drive-in tent sites. Spigots with piped-in water, fire grills, picnic tables, bear boxes and pit toilets are available. Pets are permitted on leashes. There are There are Giant Sequoias and an unusual tree bridge across the creek running along the west side of the campground. No fees, no reservations. Bears are an occasional problem.
- Hedrick Pond - 14 drive-in tent sites. Spigots with piped-in water, fire grills, picnic tables, bear boxes and pit toilets are available. Pets are permitted on leashes. A stocked fishing pond is nearby. No fees, no reservations. Bears are an occasional problem.
- Hidden Falls - 8 walk-in sites for tents only located next to the Wishon Fork of the Tule River. Spigots with piped-in water, picnic tables, fire grills, bear boxes and pit toilets are available. Pets are permitted on leashes. There are small waterfalls and great swimming holes above and below the campsites, fishing in the river, an upstream trail that leads to more waterfalls and swimming holes, and a trail that leads one mile downstream to Moses Gulch. Look for the Indian mortar holes towards the back of the middle parking lot. No fees, no reservations. Bears are an occasional problem.
- Methuselah Group Camp - This is a reservation-only group site, with a large area suitable for large troops, and a small amphitheater that can be used for group campfires. Fire grills, picnic tables, bear boxes and pit toilets are available. Pets are permitted on leashes. Call the State Forest office for reservations at (209) 539-2321 (summer) and/or (209) 539-2855 (winter). The nearby Methuselah tree is well worth checking out. There is no water. Bears are an occasional problem.
- Moses Gulch - 4 walk-in and 7 drive-in tent sites located next to the Wishon Fork of the Tule River. Spigots with piped-in water, fire grills, picnic tables, bear boxes and pit toilets are available. A two-mile trail connects Moses Gulch to Shake Camp, and an easy one-mile trail along the river leads upstream to Hidden Falls. Pets are permitted on leashes. No fees, no reservations. Bears are an occasional problem.
- Shake Camp - 11 drive-in tent sites. Spigots with piped-in water, fire grills, picnic tables, bear boxes and pit toilets are available. Pets are permitted on leashes. The Balch Park Pack Station is close by, as is the Loop Trail, which passes by the Adam Tree--the second largest tree in Mountain Home State Forest. No fees, no reservations. Bears are an occasional problem.
- Sunset Point Picnic Area - Piped water, pit toilets, and two picnic tables with fire grills are available. Pets are permitted on leashes. A short trail leads to the Indian Bathtubs, which are well worth checking out.
Trails in Mountain Home State Forest
Griswold Trail - A very strenuous, seven-mile trail that begins at Moses Gulch Camp and crosses Galena and Silver Creeks before heading east into the Golden Trout Wilderness to reach Maggie Lake.
Loop Trail - A moderate, two-mile trail that begins and ends at Shake Camp. It passes by the Adam Tree, Eve Tree and a couple of Indian Bathtubs, similar to those at the Sunset Point Picnic Area. The Adam Tree is the second largest tree in Mountain Home State Forest.
Moses Gulch Trail - A moderate, two-mile trail that wanders through beautiful virgin redwoods and connects Moses Gulch with Shake Camp.
Nature Trail - An easy, one-mile trail that starts at Balch Park and passes by the Lady Alice Tree. A self-guided trail brochure is available at the Balch Park Museum.
Redwood Crossing Trail - A strenuous trail that starts at Shake Camp and leads an easy two miles to the Redwood Crossing on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Tule River (also known as the Wishon Fork). It is also possible to reach the Redwood Crossing by hiking upstream 1½ miles from the Hidden Falls campground. At the crossing, the trail then continues to Summit Lake at the 7-mile point, and to Hockett Lake at the 10-mile point, both of which are in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. A Wilderness Permit, which can be obtained at the Springville Ranger Stattion, is required before hiking to these lakes.
Wishon Fork Trail - A moderate 4-mile trail that starts at Camp Wishon and heads upstream along the Wishon Fork of the Tule River to the Moses Gulch Campground. From Moses Gulch it is possible to continue up the river another mile to Hidden Falls Campground, or to follow the Moses Gulsh Trail two miles to Shake Camp. For a 13- to 14-mile loop, you can hike from Camp Wishon to Hidden Falls, continue another mile upriver to the Redwood Crossing, then head southwest on the Eastside Trail which loops back to the Wishon Fork at a point about 3 miles upstream from the Camp Wishon trailhead.
Adam Tree - A Giant Sequoia located on the Loop Trail near Shake Campground. It is 23 feet in diameter at breast height and 247 feet tall. This tree is listed as the 14th largest Giant Sequoia in the world in Wendell Flint's book "To Find the Biggest Tree".
Centennial Stump - This stump, located on dirt road between Frasier Mill and Hidden Falls, a short distance uphill from where the Hercules Tree stands, was once claimed to be the largest tree in the world before it was cut down by John McKiernan in 1878. The tree was originally destined for an 1876 exhibition of the one-hundreth anniversary of U.S. indpendence, but a Sequoia from the General Grant Grove above Kings Canyon, went instead. Despite the early claim that the Mountain Home tree was the biggest of them all, its stump indicates that the Adam, Methuselah and Russell Trees are all bigger. Twenty-five years later, McKiernan returned to cut down the Nero Tree, another giant of the forest.
Genesis Tree - A Giant Sequoia considered to be the 7th largest tree in the world. It is located on the north side of Dogwood Meadow, which can be reached reached by dirt roads, well off the beaten track, to the east of Balch Park. This giant is 23 feet in diameter at breast height and 258 feet tall.
Hercules Tree - An unusual Giant Sequoia with a large room in the base that a local rancher named Jesse Hoskins began carving in 1897 and used as a cabin during his summer trips to the forest. He named several of the larger trees in Mountain Home forest and is credited with saving many of them from the lumberman's ax. The Hercules Tree was badly burned by a carelessly dropped cigarette in 1984, and the door to the room at the base was stolen shortly afterwards. This unusual giant sits in a grove of several large trees on the road between Frasier Mill and Hidden Falls.
Lady Alice Tree - A Giant Sequoia at the entrance to Balch Park that, at a reported height of 310 feet, was billed in the early 1900s as the tallest tree in the world. Although the tree today is clearly much shorter, it is impressive nonetheless. It is named after Alice Doyle, the wife of an early owner of Balch Park. The famous Hollow Log, a fallen Giant Sequoia next to the Lady Alice tree was used by Mrs. Doyle's husband at various times beginning in the 1870s as a shelter and a warehouse.
Los Angeles Tree - An impressive Giant Sequoia, which fell in 1960, is located near the Frasier Mill Campground. A section of this tree is on display at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds.
Methuselah Tree - A Giant Sequoia in the Methuselah Group Camp Area. It is 24 feet in diameter at breast height and 197 feet tall.
Nero Tree - The stump of a Giant Sequoia in the Frasier Mill Campground that, when it was still standing in the late 1800s, had a crawl hole leading into a large hollow in the center of the tree. It received the name Nero Tree because it had a "totally degraded heart inside a regal exterior". It was cut down in 1903 by John McKiernan, the same man who cut down the Centennial Stump in 1878.
Oliver Twist Tree - A unusual Giant Sequoia with a conspicuous spiral pattern to the bark that makes the tree look as if it had been twisted. It is located about 1/2 mile east of Balch Park on the dirt road that leads to Hidden Falls.
Russell Tree - A Giant Sequoia located at campsite number 44 in Balch Park. It is dedicated to Allen I. Russell, who was a ranger here for over 30 years. It is the same as the "Balch Park Tree", mentioned in Wendell Flint's book "To Find the Biggest Tree". The tree is 25 feet in diameter at ground level and 254 feet tall. Nearby is the Sawed-Off Tree, a spectacular remnant of a Giant Sequoia that lumbermen cut all the way through in 1881, yet the tree still remains standing on its stump. Down the hill and next to the upper Balch Park fishing pond is the Wishbone Tree, which resembles a giant wishbone that you can walk through. In the early days, the Balch Park road passed through this tree.
Fishing Ponds - There are two ponds at Balch Park, and another at Hedrick Pond about one mile past the park. All are kept well stocked with Rainbow trout by the State Fish and Game Department. Although the fish are a little harder to catch, the Wishon Fork of the Tule River at Moses Gulch and Hidden Falls Campgrounds offers good opportunities for the adventurous to stalk native Rainbow, Brook and Brown trout. Two or three weekends a year the State offers "free fishing days" when fishing licenses are not required.
Indian Bathtubs - Curious deep basins known as the "Indian Bathtubs" are found on several granite outcrops in the Mountain Home forest. Excellent examples of these features can be seen at the Sunset Point Picnic Area, just off the main road about two miles west of Balch Park. Although the "bathtubs" resemble giant Indian mortar holes, no one knows for sure how they were formed. However, regular arrangements of bathtubs and similarity in size at Sunset Rock, as well as a close association of bathtubs with bedrock mortar holes and Indian artifacts in other areas of the forest strongly indicates a man-made origin. Most likely, the bathtubs were made by Indians that frequented the area when Mountain Men and miners first arrived in the 1850s. The Yaundanchi tribe of the Yokuts, and the Tubatulabal (Pitanisha) and Balwisha (Potwisha) tribes of the Paiutes, also known as the Mono Indians, all frequented the Mountain Home area, and any of them may have been the makers of these strange archeological wonders.