So you’ve seen Yosemite Valley and you’re looking for something new. Or else you’re visiting the park during the summer or fall and the famous falls aren’t falling. Whatever the reason, you’re looking for another trail that’s different from other hikes in Yosemite National Park. Let me give you a suggestion: try hiking around the Mariposa Grove in the southern part of the park. This grove is filled (literally) with hundreds of sequoia pine trees, but this isn’t your average stroll through the forest. Sequoias can grow to be monster-sized—think over 20 feet in diameter and over 200 feet tall. Not all the giant sequoia trees reach these proportions, but the vast size of the trees and the number of them that can be seen makes this trail a worth-while stop for any visitor to Yosemite. Highlights of the trail include walking along a fallen tree, gazing upward at the Grizzly Giant, one of the largest trees in the grove, and walking underneath one of the standing trees.
To get to the Mariposa Grove, from Yosemite Valley, take CA-41/Wawona Road up through tunnel view 26 miles to the South Entrance. However, instead of turning right to go out of the park, keep driving straight towards the Mariposa Grove (this road is closed seasonally; check at a visitor center for current road conditions). Drive for another 2 miles to the parking area for the trailhead. If you’re coming from the south, simply turn right after you pass through the South Entrance Station and drive the 2 miles up to the parking area. The junction near the entrance station is well-marked, as is the way to get to the grove. The parking area fills up very quickly; I recommend you get an early start, especially during the summer and on weekends. If the parking lot is full, parking monitors will not allow you to drive up the road, but you can ride a free shuttle to the parking lot. Check with the driver to find out when the last bus returns to the South Entrance Station. You can also walk the two miles to the grove from the parking area near the South Entrance Station.
Once you’ve parked, head over to the side of the parking area that you first drove down—in other words, the side that’s near the beginning of the one-way loop. There is also water and primitive restrooms available on the side of the loop just before you get back onto the drive; these are the last restrooms you are going to see for a while, so you might want to use them! Anyhow, after you’ve gotten water and are ready, go over to the beginning of the trail. Almost immediately, you should pass the Fallen Monarch—a sequoia tree that fell over a very long time ago. Some say that it has been lying there for centuries. The make-up of the wood resists decay, so it can take many hundreds of years for sequoias to deteriorate like normal trees. The base of the tree is over 15 feet across. Being right next to the parking lot, many visitors never go any further than this. However, keep walking along this trail as you cross a blacktop road and the trail begins to go uphill.
After less than a quarter mile, you will cross the road again. The road is used for trams, which give tours of the grove in the summer and fall. These tours do cost, so don’t expect to catch a ride back to the parking lot! You can ski the tram road in winter, and I don’t think they’d object to you walking it in the summer, provided you stay well out of the way of the trams. However, the tram road is much longer than the trails that take you to the same places, so I recommend you stay on the trails. At some points in the grove, you will end up walking on the road for a short ways to get to a connecting trail. Always keep an eye out for trams while you’re on or near the road.
Soon after you cross the tram road for the second time, you will enter the Lower Grove. Here you will see some trees known as “Bachelor & Three Graces”. Here four giant sequoia trees stand close to each other. The trail also splits in this area. You want to turn right. This will take you over to the Grizzly Giant, about ½ mile from the parking area. (I’m very sorry about the lack of exact distances in this post. The park service doesn’t publish the exact distances; but in general there is no more than ¼ to ½ mile (usually less) between trail splits, not including the Outer Loop Trail, which we’ll run into later). Follow the trail up to the Grizzly Giant. You can see it from part way down the trail, but make sure you also follow the little trail to the viewing area. The tree itself is one of the largest in the Mariposa Grove, some 34 feet in diameter (96 feet in circumference) at its base and 209 feet tall! Its bark is 2 feet thick on average, and the first limb is over 7 feet in diameter—larger than any non-sequoia in the grove! Wow, that is some tree! It’s really quite awe-inspiring to stand underneath it, even if the sheer size is dwarfed because you’re looking up at it instead of walking along it, like you did with the Fallen Monarch.
When you’ve finished admiring the Grizzly Giant, continue along the trail to the left. I believe you can walk all the way around the tree if you want; do this if it strikes your fancy. Otherwise, keep walking about 50 feet farther to a trail split; trails will go four ways. Turn left and you will almost immediately encounter the California Tunnel Tree. This is one of the coolest parts of the Lower Grove, in my opinion. Here, you get to walk underneath a tree that is still standing, and appears to be in good health! We have a tradition of one member of our group standing on the shoulders of another group member just outside the tunnel opening. It’s quite the picture to see her standing there taller than the opening in the tree, but not taller than the tree itself. A word of caution: the sides of the tunnel are covered with black that will stain your clothes or hands if touched.
From here, you have a choice: you can either retrace your steps, or you can do a loop through the Lower Grove, or you can continue further into the Upper Grove. Unless you’re turning around, continue walking straight after going through the California Tunnel Tree. After less than a ¼ mile you will come to a trail junction. If you want to go back to the parking area through the Lower Grove, turn left. Otherwise, keep walking straight. A bit further on you will come to another crossroads. Again, here you can turn left to get back to the parking area (making for about a 2-mile RT hike). However, I recommend that you turn right towards the Faithful Couple (and towards the Upper Grove). These two trees, which grow so close to each other their bases touch, are located next to the tram road, about a ¼ mile from the trail junction. Cross the tram road and keep walking about ½ mile to the Clothespin Tree, a giant sequoia whose inside has been burned out, but which is still living—creating an old-fashioned “clothespin” look. You are now entering the Upper Grove. It’s about 0.8 miles from the Grizzly Giant to the Faithful Couple; about 1 ½ miles from the Grizzly Giant to the Clothespin Tree.
Keep following the trail as it winds through the forest, mostly going uphill (most of the trails through the Mariposa Grove run uphill, it seems, and this trail is no exception!). After another ¼ mile, you will come to a crossroad again. Turn left and head towards the Mariposa Grove Museum. Here there are primitive restrooms, water, and information about sequoia trees. I actually didn’t go into the museum itself, but I hear you can buy postcards there and learn about the ecology of the area. The reason I brought you here was so that you can cross the tram road (again!) and continue on a trail towards the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree (you may need to turn right when this trail connects to the Outer Loop Trail—follow the signs to the Wawona Tunnel Tree). This tree was once a tunnel, like the California Tunnel Tree, but fell over in 1969 during a record snowfall. You can still walk up to it and admire the fallen giant. It may not be the most exciting part of the hike, but more is to come.
If you’re in the mood for a longer hike, you can go back up the trail (left from the trail junction) for about a ½ mile to Wawona Point. I have never done this, but I hear it’s a great spot to eat lunch and enjoy views to the west and north, into the park. Otherwise, keep walking and head somewhat downhill, paralleling the Tram Road. Walk for about another ¼ mile to the Telescope Tree, another wonder along the trail. Walk inside the tree (the park brochure actually suggests you do this), close your eyes, tip your head backwards, and then open your eyes. Wow! Pictures simply can’t capture this one! It’s worth the hike just to experience this. After you’ve had your fun inside the tree, keep walking along the Outer Loop Trail to the trail junction where you went up towards the museum last time. This time, turn left and head downwards towards Fish Camp. You’re not actually going to get there, but that’s the direction you want to go.
After a ½ mile or a little more heading towards Fish Camp, turn right onto a short trail that will take you out to the tram road. Cross the road and then walk back past the California Tunnel Tree, Grizzly Giant, etc. back to your vehicle (probably about 2 miles from the museum). Going all this way is about 6 miles round trip.
All of this is fairly confusing; I highly recommend you look at the map at http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/wawonahikes.pdf (on the second page). You can also learn more about the Mariposa Grove at http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/mgrove.pdf. Trail junctions are quite well-marked, so this will help you get from one famous tree to the next.
Round Trip Trail Length: Up to 6 miles
Facilities: Water, restrooms, interpretive signs
Fees: $20 per vehicle, valid 7 days. Interagency, Senior (Golden Age), Access (Golden Access), and Yosemite Annual Passes also accepted.
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
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Sat Jul 22
Some early morning breaks in the overcast, otherwise cloudy. A stray afternoon thunderstorm is possible. High around 90F. Winds light and variable.
Sun Jul 23
Chance of a Thunderstorm
Cloudy early. Scattered thunderstorms developing later in the day. High 92F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%.
Mon Jul 24
Intervals of clouds and sunshine. A stray afternoon thunderstorm is possible. High 93F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.
Tue Jul 25
Sunshine and clouds mixed. A stray afternoon thunderstorm is possible. High 93F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
Wed Jul 26
Chance of a Thunderstorm
Partly to mostly cloudy skies with scattered thunderstorms in the morning. High 93F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 40%.