One of the most visited areas of Yosemite National Park outside of the Valley itself is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, where there are over 500 sequoia trees.
The area was so popular that it was in danger of being “loved to death”- among other things, foot and road traffic over the years had compacted the soil, affecting the health of the shallow roots of the sequoia trees.
So the Grove closed completely in July 2015 for what was supposed to be a two-year restoration process – it took almost three years. The Grove re-opened in mid-June of 2018. Our recent visit last week was our first opportunity to visit the “new” Mariposa Grove.
The first change that visitors will see is the new “Welcome Plaza” near the South Entrance to the park (off highway 41). There’s a large two-level parking lot now which holds about 300 cars – many more than the old lot.
There’s also the Welcome Center itself, which includes a small store and MUCH larger restroom facilities than were available before. (The Yosemite National Park Passport stamp is available inside the store. Unfortunately there’s not a specific Mariposa Grove Stamp – it’s the same stamp that is available at the Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley.)
Outside the store are a few displays on sequoias, as well as descriptions and a map of the trails available in the Grove. I suggest taking a photo of the map, since no paper maps are provided.
Between the hours of 8:00 am and 8:00 pm, visitors must ride the free shuttle to travel the two miles to reach the actual Grove. There is an exception for vehicles displaying a “disability placard” which are allowed to drive directly to the Grove’s parking area. Before 7:30 am and after 8:00 pm, private vehicles can drive to the Grove, as long as parking is still available there.
The shuttles run every 10 minutes, so it’s not a long wait to get on one. The trip to the Grove takes less than 10 minutes.
As part of the restoration project within the Grove, the tram tour and gift shop there were removed, and a new set of (badly needed) restrooms was added.
Since there’s no tram tour now, a small portion of the Grove offers accessible trails. The Big Trees Trail is .3 miles. It’s relatively flat, and the surface is a combination of pavement and boardwalk. There are several beautiful sequoia trees along the route, as well as the tree called the Fallen Monarch.
The most popular trail is the 2-mile Grizzly Giant Loop. That’s the one that we did. It continues on past the Fallen Monarch, and be aware that it goes uphill, gaining about 300′ in just over half a mile, until it reaches the Grizzly Giant. This is the largest tree in the Grove, and estimated to be about 1000 years old.
Surprisingly, sequoias live in a wetland habitat – restoring that habitat was also part of the project. At this time of year there were a number of little streams running through the area. And a few wildflowers – mostly we saw many, many wild strawberry blossoms.
We also saw some deer, like this one.
And lots of Douglas squirrels. I enjoy these squirrels – they are cheeky, impudent little creatures. But very important to the propagation of sequoia trees.
At the Grizzly Giant, the trail splits. The Mariposa Grove Trail is a more strenuous route that continues upward, eventually reaching the Upper Grove, including the Galen Clark Tree, and terminating at Wawona Point. It’s 3.5 miles each way from the shuttle area.
The Grizzly Giant Loop continues slightly downhill to the California Tunnel Tree. This is one of several giant sequoias that had a tunnel cut through it…I think it is the only one that is still living.
Vehicles with a disability placard are allowed to drive up the old tram road to a parking area near the Grizzly Giant, where there’s a short accessible trail to view it and the Tunnel Tree.
Educational signs like this one are placed in various areas around the Grove.
The rest of the Grizzly Giant Loop is pretty anti-climactic. It takes a longer more round-about route down the 1.3 miles back to the shuttle area, going through mostly pine and fir forest. The trail passes some fairly young sequoia trees, but very few older trees. It’s a pleasant walk, though. The Grove is a very peaceful and serene place.
If you have kids (or fun-loving adults) there are a number of places to take some fun photos with trees that have large openings in their trunks – these are trees that are right along the trail, and not inside a protected area.
You could also pose with some of the sculptures, like this Pacific Fisher (a large weasel).
I would recommend getting to the Mariposa Grove before 10:00 if possible – or going late in the day. The parking lot will fill up on busy days. Be aware that no food is available at the Welcome Center but there are drinking fountains and a water bottle-filling station.
If you like to hike and you have a full day, you can easily spend it exploring the Grove. But if you have limited time you can still see some beautiful sequoia trees and get a very nice overview of the Grove in 1-2 hours.