Experience the Majesty of the Big Trees
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the largest and most impressive grove of redwoods in Yosemite National Park, containing approximately 500 mature giant sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum). It is located only about 4 miles from Tenaya Lodge.
See below for information on:
- Details on What to See in the Mariposa Grove — top highlights you won't want to miss.
- An overview of What's New at the Mariposa Grove — how the restoration has changed the Big Trees experience.
- Other Ways to See Giant Sequoias — Mariposa Grove is the best, but not the only sequoia grove in the region.
What to See at the Mariposa Grove
It is hard to walk the Mariposa Grove without being awestruck. Sequoia trees are the most massive trees on the planet. The oldest sequoias are estimated to be thousands of years old. Consider that at the height of the Roman Empire, some of these trees were already standing watch here in the Mariposa Grove.
The National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy created a wonderful video to give you a hint of what to expect when exploring a giant sequoia grove, but nothing can prepare you for seeing them in person.
One of the first named trees that you will see when you enter the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the Fallen Monarch. This tree toppled centuries ago, but thanks to the tannic acid present in the wood, you can still see the giant halo of the root system, and imagine the cavalry troop that lined up for a picture with the ancient tree that is so broad, they could lead their horses right up onto the trunk. (Help preserve this centuries old tree by not following the example of these soldiers from over a century ago when attitudes were different; please don't climb on the Fallen Monarch.)
The Grizzly Giant
This is one of the largest trees in the Mariposa Grove and thought to be more than 1,800 years old. Looking up, it can be hard to fully appreciate the scale and mass of this sequoia. The large limb high on the south side of the tree is nearly 7 feet in diameter all by itself. That one branch of the Grizzly Giant is larger than any non-sequoia tree in the grove. The fire scars in the base of the trunk provide shade for mule deer on hot summer days.
California Tunnel Tree
Just beyond the Grizzly Giant is the California Tunnel Tree. The tunnel was carved through the tree in 1895 to allow horse-drawn stages to pass through, and you can still walk through the tunnel today. The “tree you can drive through”, the Wawona Tunnel Tree, was further up in the grove, but that tree fell over in the winter of 1968/69.
California Tunnel Tree
Wawona Tunnel Tree
Many people turn around after visiting the California Tunnel Tree, but for those interested in a longer walk, the Faithful Couple is about a ½ mile past the Grizzly Giant. Two sequoia trees growing close to each other have merged over the years to form a single massive trunk. Nearby is an example of two younger trees in a similar situation which are likely to grow together over the years as well.
If it seems amazing to you that people would carve tunnels in these amazing trees, keep walking until you come to the Clothespin Tree. This tree has a natural tunnel carved through its base as the result of many fires through the centuries. The natural opening at the base is wider than a car!
Like the Clothespin tree, the Telescope tree is a testament of the sequoia’s ability to survive. The entire center of the tree is gone, so that if you were to walk inside the trunk, you could look straight up through the center of the living tree and see the sky beyond.
The Upper Grove and Cabin
The trees in the upper grove, perhaps because of their proximity and the open areas between them, have a particular majesty and unsurpassed, cathedral-like grace. For many, it’s their favorite part of the grove. The cabin in the upper grove occupies a site where Galen Clark, the first guardian of Yosemite, built a small cabin in 1861. Prior to the restoration, this building served as a small museum with information about the trees and the ecosystem surrounding them.
A spur trail leads a ¼ mile to Wawona Point, a beautiful overlook with views to the west and north.
A Few More Things To Watch For
Sugar Pine Cones
Many people assume that because the giant sequoias are the largest trees in the grove, they must also come from the largest cones. However, giant sequoia cones are some of the smaller cones, measuring only a few inches in diameter. The large cones that you may see decorating the forest floor belong to the Sugar Pine trees (Pinus lambertiana). At roughly 10-20 inches long, these cones are the longest cones of any conifer, and come from the tallest and largest of the Pinus species. These are magnificent trees on their own, when not being dwarfed by the sequoias.
Please leave the sugar pine cones where you found them. With so many visitors, collectors can easily rob the forest clean of sugar pine saplings.
Tamiasciurus douglasii is a squirrel with a horde of different names. They are also known as chickarees, pine squirrels, or Douglas squirrels, and were known as the Pillillooeet by the Native Americans of Kings River because of its alarm call. These small, darker, and brilliantly energetic squirrels were described by John Muir in glowing terms. “He is, without exception, the wildest animal I ever saw, -- a fiery, sputtering little bolt of life.”
Because chickarees remain active all winter, they cache hundreds of sequoia seeds in the ground, effectively planting them.
What’s New at the Mariposa Grove?
The recent restoration project brings a lot of exciting new things to the Mariposa Grove. Here are a few highlights. For a more detailed description see the official Record of Decision from the US Department of the Interior.
- There is a new, and more welcoming entrance to the lower grove.
- Pavement in the original parking area has been removed and restored to a more natural state. Accessible trails and boardwalks make it easy to get to stunning trees like the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree, while minimizing the amount of impact on the sequoias’ shallow root system, and allowing the water critical to the trees’ survival to flow more naturally.
- Expect to travel by shuttle bus from a new parking area at the South Entrance Station (2 miles from Tenaya Lodge) to a new shuttle stop in the lower Mariposa Grove.
- If you don’t want to wait for the shuttle, a new hiking trail runs directly from the parking at the South Entrance to the lower grove (roughly 2 miles).
- The Big Trees Tram Tour which used to bring visitors to the upper grove is no longer running.
- The Big Trees gift shop in the lower grove has also been removed. The new Yosemite Conservancy book store located at the South Entrance will have some snack items for sale.
Other Ways to See Giant Sequoias in Yosemite
If you’re hoping to see giant sequoias prior to the re-opening, there are a few options in Yosemite.
The Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove are located along Hwy 120 just past Crane Flat gas station. Each has about 2 dozen mature sequoias and can be reached after hiking a mile (Tuolumne Grove) or 1.5 miles (Merced Grove). Both of these groves are slightly more than a 1.5 hour drive from Tenaya Lodge.
It’s also still possible to hike to the Outer Loop Trail of the Mariposa Grove from Wawona. From the Outer Loop Trail, you can see some of the sequoias in the Mariposa Grove. However, this is a relatively strenuous 12-mile round-trip hike with 2400 feet of elevation gain. You can find a map and more information on this option here.