In 1864, the American Civil War was raging, Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to the Union Army’s general-in-chief and the North launched a series of strategies that left to the eventual defeat of the Confederate armies.
But in the midst of bloodshed and chaos, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias came to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln. There was a magnificent grove of ancient sequoia trees tucked in the wilds of California that needed to be protected before they were destroyed for lumber and development.
Lincoln never visited the more than 500 trees that dotted the grove. But they must have stirred his imagination. Perhaps it was the awe-inspiring photographs taken by photographer Carleton Watkins and the stories written about them by Galen Clark, a Canadian carpenter who built a cabin among the trees. On June 30, 1864, the president signed legislation introduced by Calif. Sen. John Conness that protected the grove and Yosemite Valley “for public use, resort, and recreation [and] shall be inalienable for all time.”
It’s difficult to understate the power of Lincoln’s signature on what was known as the Yosemite Grant. It was the first time our government designated land to protect it for the enjoyment of people. And it led to a new way of thinking about beautiful, wild places -that some natural corners of our country should be enjoyed and protected rather than developed. And that perhaps we needed these irreplaceable corners more for the human spirit than we ever had cared to admit aloud before. And that kind of thinking led to the creation of our first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872.
Experience the wonder of the inspiring Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias with trees stretching 300 feet high by walking the moderate-rated Grizzly Giant Loop Trail. It's a two-mile loop that takes 1.5-2 hours and circles the edge of the grove. You'll pass the iconic Bachelor and Three Graces trees, as well as the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree.
Visitors with a disabled placard can drive as far as the Grizzly Giant parking area and experience this area of the grove via a section of trail that is wheelchair accessible.
You may not realize as you’re strolling under these magnificent giants that can live up to 3,000 years that the grove was closed for three years, starting in 2015, to restore it. A paved concrete parking lot had been weighing on the roots of the sequoias, threatening them, so it, along with a gift shop, was removed. Tram roads, and the motorized tours that used them, were closed.
In partnership with Yosemite Conservancy, the National Park Service worked to improve natural hydrology, construct an ADA-accessible boardwalk, construct an improved welcome plaza and improve the overall visitor experience. It was the park’s biggest restoration project and aimed to protect the trees while still enabling visitors to experience them. It reopened in June 2018.
To visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, visitors can park in a new 300-vehicle parking area at the South Entrance and hop on a free shuttle at the Welcome Plaza, which will transport you to the Lower Grove.