Hiking through the Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park is an amazing experience.
Following an early morning breakfast, the 12 mile (19.2 KM) commute is a twenty-minute drive north on the twisting, turning Highway 41 past Fish Camp to the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. An immediate right turn proceeds along narrow, twisting and winding road to the parking area for Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Very big trees.
At the trail-head an inexpensive map/guide is available in several languages. This map and guide is an important acquisition, otherwise it is likely the hike might still be ongoing, wandering aimlessly through a maze of intersecting trails interspersed with occasionally confusing signage. Be forewarned: all the trails are not on the map.
Major forest fires have swept through Mariposa Grove many times over the past two thousand years. The Giant Sequoias show amazing resilience in spite of serious damage utilizing unique methods of survival under duress which is impressive but not always successful.
In the Lower Grove, at trail beginning, the route past the Fallen Monarch continues along to the group of four giant sequoias called the Bachelor and Three Graces.
The Grizzly Giant is estimated to be about 1,800-years-old. To put its size in perspective, the bottom limb of the Grizzly Giant is nearly 7 ft (2 meters) in diameter which is larger than the diameter of the trunk of any other non-sequoia tree in Mariposa Grove. The Grizzly Giant has a volume of 34,010 cubic feet (963 m3), and is counted as the 26th largest tree in the world. This tree is 210 feet (64 m) tall, and has a heavily buttressed base with a basal circumference of 28 m (92 ft) or a diameter of 30 feet (9.1 m). Above the buttresses at 2.4 meters above ground, the circumference is only 23 m. The tree is huge and the seeds of the massive cones serve as food for squirrels.
Nearby is the California Tunnel Tree, channeled in 1895 to allow horse-drawn carriages to pass through as a tourist attraction. It is one of two trees which were tunneled and the only one left standing.
Interspersed among interconnecting foot trails is a paved trail for trams to navigate tourists in open wagons with bench seats, towed by a truck through the grove. Interpretive narration is provided and the service provides people unable to walk significant distance to experience and learn more about the magnificent Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
The Faithful Couple Tree provides evidence of the Sequioas' ability to survive for multiple millenniums. The trees can merge together to share strength. Underground, their root systems are broad (can be more than 150 ft; 45 meters) and shallow (usually less than 6 ft; 2 m) to efficiently collect precious and often very limited moisture required to sustain these massive, natural structures. Root systems can also join to optimize mutual benefit.
The Telescope Tree is living testament to the damage a Giant Sequoia can endure from fire damage and continue to survive.
The nearby Clothespin Tree is another example of the Giant Sequoia's capacity to endure multiple forest fires over hundreds of years. The opening in this tree is wider than a car. Relative size can be very deceptive in this magnificent forest.
Crossing the paved tram route and hiking into a magnificent forest leads to visiting the Mariposa Grove Museum, constructed in 1930 and restored in 1983, on the site where Galen Clark, an influential and historic figure, built a small cabin in 1864.
Did you know Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress on June 30, 1864 ceding Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley to the State of California? Disagreement over land administration led to the State returning the Grove to federal control with the establishment of Yosemite National Park in 1890.
Past the Mariposa Grove Museum the hike continues to the famous, and now fallen, Wawona Tunnel Tree. Many millions of people drove or walked through the tunnel cut into the tree between 1881 and 1969 when the giant, but weakened, tree collapsed under the burden of a record snowfall.
From the fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree, the hike continues along an unlikely and more difficult route than necessary to arrive at the old and partially reclaimed, paved road to Winona Point Vista at the north edge of Mariposa Grove for a spectacular view towards Wawona Dome and the valley beyond.
The viewpoint is about 3 miles (4.8 KM) from the parking area but distance hiked has exceeded that by covering a variety of trail options. The parking area beginning elevation is 5,600 ft (1,707 m) and at Winona Point Vista the elevation is 6,810 ft (2,076 m).
The return from Winona Point Vista by the same paved road meets the original trail complex at the Galen Clark Tree. Galen Clark entered the grove in 1857 and remained in the area as a guide and protector of this amazing natural resource.
Abraham Lincoln took time in 1864, during the Civil War to allocate Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley as a protected State of California Reserve. Galen Clark lived long enough to experience Yosemite National Park created in 1890 and Mariposa Grove added in 1906.
The decision to hike back on the longer and more remote Outer Loop Trail turns out to be an excellent choice. The unoccupied and much more diverse forest is an incredibly beautiful place with evidence of many burns and new growth of oak, cedar and maple.
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is an excellent hiking experience and in mid-September is much busier than expected.
The early arrival secured one of the few remaining parking spots in an arrival area busy with throngs of people. The farther the hike continues away from the parking area, the less busy the hiking experience becomes. The Outer Loop is a quiet, peaceful wilderness experience. The Giant Sequoias are impressive and majestic.
Mariposa Grove is one of three groves in Yosemite National Park. The remaining two are the Tuolumne Grove or Merced Grove and require a two or three miles of hiking over about 500 ft (150 m) of elevation before encountering majestic sequoias.