Yosemite National Park: A walk among Giants. Hiking in the Mariposa Grove

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.

 

Hiking in Mariposa Grove,Yosemite National Park

 (Family and friends starting the hike)

 

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. That's our featured hike this week -- a walk through the Mariposa Grove, about a 20 minute drive from the Wawona hotel.

 

Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

(Giant sequoia tree.  Note its base has been darkened by fire) 

 

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 at them 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!

 

The Fallen Monarch, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park    (Fallen Monarch.  Friend Neil McAleer gives us a handy size perspective)

 

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 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.

 

Bachelor and Three Graces, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

Bachelor and Three Graces, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Bachelor and Three Graces -- and DrF)

 

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. 

 

Upper Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

Upper Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Upper Mariposa Grove)

 

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 presents some of the options as well as trail highlights:

 

Mariposa Grove Hiking Map (courtesy of NP maps)

 (NPS hiking map of Mariposa Grove)

 

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've got two brief U-tube video clips to give you a better look at these giants.  Here's the link to the Bachelor and three Graces and here's another to the Grizzly Giant.

 

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

 

Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Grizzly Giant)

Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Grizzly Giant)

Tunnel Tree, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Tunnel Tree)

Clothespin Tree, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Clothespin Tree)

Upper Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Upper Mariposa Grove)

Fallen Tunnel Tree, Upper Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Fallen Tunnel Tree)

Deer, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Deer in Mariposa Grove) 

Snow plant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

Snow plant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Snow plant)

Horsetail, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

 (Horsetail) 

Wild Strawberries, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park

(Wild Strawberries)

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Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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Comments (4)

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These days, I think of myself as a walker rather than a hiker—although I'm hard-put to really define the difference—but I love the accessible or easier walks you've been featuring...and one of these days, I really HAVE to get to Yosemite.

 

Thanks!

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

I'm so jealous you got to see deer! We were there a couple of weeks ago and the most wildlife we saw were some birds and adventurous squirrels. I was hoping for a bear or deer. 

Random question - I've been trying to find out the temperature of the water in Yosemite. Mirror Lake in particularly. You don't happen to know, do you? I went swimming in Mirror Lake and everyone looked at me like I'd spontaneously sprouted a second head. 

Thanks for all your comments.  Followup:

 

DrY.  Yes, you and your family should see this sometime.  You would love it!  We need to plan out a trip to California for you that includes its best parks and some city sites.

 

PHeymont.  Yes, you must DO Yosemite.  I recommend mid to late May as the best time to go as the waterfalls are brimming with meltwater.  I like hikes of all types and can still do "moderate" hikes, though no longer take on "challenging" ones.  But the Mariposa grove is doable by anyone.  If you can't walk uphill, take the tram and walk down.  

 

Jessica:  Summer is actually not the best time to see wildlife in the parks.  During the summer the larger animals tend to go to the high mountain meadows for the fresh grass, so spring and fall offer better opportunities for wildlife viewing along the roads at lower altitude.  That photo of deer in Mariposa grove was taken in May a number of years ago.

 

That said, I was just in Banff National Park today and saw bighorn sheep, a male elk with an impressive rack of antlers and several deer.  So you never know what you'll see.  I'll get some photos up in Gumbo on the Go in a day or so.

 

Mirror lake's temperature very much depends on the season.  In the winter it is quite cold, though I don't think it freezes over.  The lake is fairly shallow so it warms in the summer.  My guess it was probably about 20 degrees C.  Not warm for water, but won't freeze you to death if you swim in the summer.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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