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Yosemite National Park: Hiking in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

The “Grizzly Giant” in the Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

The state of California has some pretty remarkable scenery.  Where else can you find the world’s …

  • Oldest trees (bristle-cone pines)
  • Tallest trees (redwoods)
  • Largest/most massive trees (sequoias)…

…but in California?  I know it’s a rhetorical question, but there’s no area I know of that offers such variety.

As one might imagine, to walk in a grove of giant sequoias is a most memorable experience.  If you’ve never felt small and insignificant in life, you likely will when you stand beside an ancient sequoia tree.   The largest density of sequoia trees is in California’s Sequoia National Park, south of Yosemite, including the tree known as “General Sherman”, the world’s largest living thing.  Yosemite National Park has two groves of giant sequoias, including the very accessible Mariposa Grove at the southern end of the park, about a 20 minute drive from the Wawona hotel.

Giant sequoias live for over 2,000 years so some of the trees you’ll see during your hike were alive when Jesus walked the earth.  They can be more than 270 ft (80 m) tall and more than 33 ft (10 m) wide.  The largest trees have a trunk volume of 50,000 cubic feet.   It’s hard to fathom how huge they are from a distance.  You really need to be beside them and see their broad girth and look up at them as they reach to the sky to appreciate their massive size.

Despite their immensity, sequoias have a shallow root system usually less than  6 ft (2 meters) deep, but the roots can spread over a large area — half an acre or more.  The trees are extremely resistant to mold and fungus, and when they fall it takes centuries for them to decompose.   They do not make good timber-wood trees as they tend to shatter into many pieces when they are cut down; those few sequoias that were harvested (you can see their massive stumps in “Stump Basin” down by Sequoia National Park) ended up being used for roof shingles, fence pickets and toothpicks; a humble end for something so magnificent in life!

There are 300 sequoia trees in the Mariposa grove, several of which are specifically named (eg. Fallen Monarch,  Clothespin tree, Bachelor and Three Graces — one massive sequoia surrounded by three smaller ones).  The most impressive specimen in the grove is the the 2,700-year-old Grizzly Giant, in my opinion by itself enough of a reason to go on the hike.  It is 209 ft tall and has a diameter of almost 30 ft. (9 m).  Some of its branches are more than 2 meters across (and  these branches would by themselves be impressive trees)!  As with many sequoias, you can see fire damage on its lower trunk; sequoias are quite fire resistant and with time the bark grows over burnt areas, like a skin cut healing itself.   Fire is important in the tree’s life cycle as the heat opens the sequoia cones and clears brush to help the seeds germinate.

Not how small the people are against the trunk of this giant

Upper Mariposa Grove:  Note how small the people are against the trunk of these giants

The walk is a fairly gentle uphill climb, with some flat areas.  The forest is not thick so you can easily see the sequoia trees.  A really special place is the Upper Grove.  This area has a large meadow containing some extremely large sequoias, as well as a small museum.  I really enjoy visiting this peaceful place, although there are many hikers on the trail so you won’t be alone.

There are a number of options to hiking here.  You can walk uphill to the Upper Grove, walk just part of the way (many people go to the Grizzly Giant) and back, take a tram uphill and walk back down stopping at all the major trees (or for that matter take the tram both ways, but then that’s not a hike!)  The following map (courtesy of the National Park System) presents some of the options as well as trail highlights:

Trail Map of the Mariposa Grove (Courtesy of the National Park Service)


Some common destinations for hikes:

  • Grizzly Giant: 1.6 miles (2.5 km) round-trip (easy)
  • Wawona Point: 6 miles (9.6 km) round-trip (moderate)
  • Outer Loop Trail: 6.9 miles (11 km) loop (moderate — less commonly hiked)

A note of caution.  The parking lot at the Mariposa Grove is not large and fills up quickly.  So if you want to drive to the Grove get here early to ensure a parking spot.  If you come later, you’re better off parking at the Wawona hotel and taking the shuttle over.  If you want to take transportation to the Upper Grove, you need to buy tram tickets at the gift shop

I love the sequoia forest!  Some more of the sights from the Mariposa Grove follow:


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