Giant sequoias, the largest known trees living on earth, grow only on the western side of the Sierra Nevada range. Found nowhere else on the planet, they are nevertheless closely related to California’s coast redwoods, the tallest trees on earth. In Yosemite National Park, you can get acquainted with giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove, outside Wawona in the southern area of the park, as well as at two smaller and less crowded groves near Crane Flat.
Boasting over 500 stunning specimens of giant sequoia trees, the Mariposa Grove is a highlight of any Yosemite vacation. It’s worth the detour down to the park’s southern entrance station near Wawona, where you can park and ride the seasonal shuttle bus into the grove. Limited parking is available at the grove itself, although the access road is usually only open from April to November; during the winter, snowshoers and cross-country skiers use it.
Once you arrive, you can take a narrated tram tour of the grove or walk along gentle foot trails leading uphill through the grove, which is the best way to experience the majesty of the giant sequoias. Pick up a self-guided interpretive brochure at the trailhead.
Then start a scavenger hunt with the kids, looking for the walk-through California Tunnel Tree; the whimsically named Bachelor and the Three Graces; the oddly shaped Clothespin Tree; the Telescope Tree, a hollowed-out survivor of several wildfires, through which you can look up to see the sky above; and the Grizzly Giant, which scientists have recently estimated to be 1,900–2,400 years old.
Click to enlarge the “Grizzly Giant” below.
Learn more about these venerable giants at the Mariposa Grove Museum, which is about a four-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead parking lot.
Two Smaller Sequoia Groves in Yosemite
To avoid the biggest crowds at the Mariposa Grove, drive northwest of Yosemite Valley to the Crane Flat area. Off Highway 120, two different trailheads leading to more remote groves of giant sequoias. If you go early enough in the morning, you may be lucky enough to get some quiet time alone by yourself to contemplate the giant trees.
Tuolumne Grove of Sequoias
The two-mile round trip hike to Tuolumne Grove is the shorter and more popular of the two trails. Be prepared for a steep downhill walk to the grove, followed by a stiff uphill climb back to your car. The trailhead is just east of Crane Flat gas station, on the north side of Tioga Road. The trail follows an old park road that once connected to Big Oak Flat. Don’t miss the Dead Giant, a hollow-out fallen giant sequoia (also called the Tunnel Tree), which you can walk through.
Merced Grove of Sequoias
Less often visited, the Merced Grove is a smaller grouping of giant sequoias around a historic cabin. The trailhead is on the south side of Big Oak Flat Road, west of Crane Flat as you head toward the park’s Big Oak Flat entrance station. It’s a three-mile round-trip hike, again losing some elevation on your way down into the grove, then working pretty hard to regain it on the way back up.