The Mariposa Grove is the largest and most famous grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park and has been a large tourist draw for over a century and a half. With over 500 mature sequoia trees, some over 2000 years old, the idea of the National Park System can be traced back to the desire to protect the grove. For modern-day visitors, several trails allow you to walk in the shadows of these magnificent giants, including the famous "Grizzly Giant," "Faithful Couple," and the now-fallen "Wawona Tunnel Tree." Hiking options range from a family-friendly stroll to a long and strenuous hike all the way up to Wawona Point.
The Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza is located along Wawona Road (Route 41) just north of the South Entrance to Yosemite National Park. The Welcome Plaza has a large parking lot where visitors can then pick up the free shuttle bus to the Grove Arrival Area. The Mariposa shuttle runs March 15 through November 30, 8am to 8pm during the busiest months (May 15-October 14) and 8am to 5pm during the remaining spring and fall months. (Parking is only allowed at the Grove Arrival Area when shuttle service is not available.)
|Rating:||Family-friendly stroll to strenuous hike|
|Access:||Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza (along Wawona Road, just north of the South Entrance to Yosemite National Park)|
|Time Required:||2-6 hours total (depending on length of chosen hike)|
|Length:||~1.7 miles roundtrip (Arrival Area to Grizzly Giant), ~9 miles roundtrip (Arrival Area to Wawona Point)|
|Elevation Change:||300' ascent to Grizzly Giant, 1200' ascent to Wawona Point.|
|Mariposa Grove Arrival Area: 5600'|
Base of Grizzly Giant: 5900'
Wawona Point: 6800'
|Seasons:||Early summer to autumn for casual tourists|
There are several hiking trails and loop options ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous, but the main Mariposa Grove Trail is probably the trail to stick to if this is your first visit and you want to see the most famous landmarks of the area. Please reference the excellent NPS Mariposa Grove Map when visiting the grove. (This map is also displayed on several informational boards throughout the grove.)
From the Grove Arrival Area, walk along the raised boardwalk of the Mariposa Grove Trail to enjoy the lower grove. Of note are the Fallen Monarch (a large fallen sequoia with impressive roots that can be seen up close along the boardwalk), the Bachelor & Three Graces, and Grizzly Giant (one of the largest trees of the area with a diameter of 25.5 feet and a height of 209 feet). Just beyond the Grizzly Giant is the California Tunnel Tree, one of the few surviving sequoias that was deliberately hollowed out so that tourists can walk through. For those looking to only do the short and easy hike, the California Tunnel Tree is a good turn-around spot.
Continuing beyond the Grizzly Giant, the Mariposa Grove Trail becomes more strenuous, gaining over 1000 feet in elevation over the next few miles as it follows the old road. Along the way, you will see the Faithful Couple (two sequoias with intertwined roots and trunks that have seemingly melded into one tree), Clothespin Tree (a fire-damaged sequoia that looks like, you guessed it... a clothespin), and Mariposa Tree (another large sequoia that is the namesake for the grove).
Soon after, you will reach the upper grove with an increased density of large sequoias amongst the other pines. Beyond the Mariposa Grove Cabin (the site where Mariposa advocate Galen Clark built his cabin in 1864) and the Galen Clark Tree, a good destination is the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree (another majestic sequoia that was tunneled for tourism--more on that later).
If you have extra energy, you can continue up the last .6 miles of the Mariposa Grove Trail to reach Wawona Point, the top of a ridgeline that gives an open view to the north. While the view isn't as jaw-dropping as viewpoints overlooking Yosemite Valley, it is still a worthwhile destination and a relaxing spot. (While crowds of people visit the Mariposa Grove, very few make it all the way to the top.) For your return hike, consider taking one of the alternate trails like the Guardians Loop Trail, back down to the Grove Arrival Area.
Between 2015 and May 2018, the Mariposa Grove was closed for major renovations to make tourism less detrimental to the giant sequoias. To lessen the effect of vehicle exhaust, parking has been moved out of the grove to the new Welcome Plaza with a shuttle bus now providing access. Paved roads have been removed and replaced by boardwalks and dirt roads to minimize their effect of damaging the sequoias' shallow root systems.
This is a far cry from the late 1800s when making "tunnel trees" was an accepted practice to promote tourism. The Wawona Tunnel Tree was tunneled in 1881 as a tourist attraction for people to drive their cars through. Later in 1895, the California Tunnel Tree was tunneled with a smaller hole for stagecoaches and pedestrians. While sequoias can survive with giant holes in them, it weakens their root system and makes them more susceptible to falling over, and in February 1969 during a winter of heavy snow, the Wawona Tunnel Tree did wind up falling over and dying; the tree was roughly 2,300 years old.
As barbaric as tunneling sequoias sounds by today's standards, ironically, America's fascination with driving cars through large trees helped get the Mariposa Grove protected by inclusion into Yosemite National Park in 1906. The California Tunnel Tree still survives, but it makes one ponder... what do we do and take for granted today that will be ridiculed by future generations?
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is definitely worth a visit, especially if you have the energy to hike to the upper grove. But as with all popular things Yosemite, there is a large potential for crowds and gridlocks here. Try to get to the Welcome Plaza early or later in the day and avoid summer weekends if you can.