The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Trees is an iconic gem of Yosemite and the National Park Service
A visit to Yosemite National Park isn’t complete without seeing some big trees, and the Mariposa Grove is the quintessential place to see them. This grove of Giant Sequoias is so popular that it sees more visitors than the entirety of Sequoia National Park!
The Mariposa Grove holds a unique position in the conservation of American lands. A law was passed in 1864 to protect the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley. This was the first time in the nation’s history that such a large area of land was set aside by the government for recreation.
The grove is home to more than 500 mature sequoias. The oldest trees here are about 2,000 years old!
Mariposa Grove Trail Guide
MAP: Trails Illustrated, or see below
PERMITS: Required for backpacking (Not required for day hikes)
DESIGNATION: Yosemite National Park ($35 entrance fee)
BEST SEASONS: June through September
DISTANCE: varies – 5.5 miles from the welcome plaza to Wawona Point via the Washburn Trail and Mariposa Grove Trail
WATER: only at the arrival area and welcome plaza
ELEVATION: 5,600ft at arrival area – 6,800ft at Wawona Point – ~1,200ft change
ACCESS: paved roads
DIRECTIONS: The entrance to the Mariposa Grove is located at the Welcome Plaza along the Wawona Road, Route 41. It’s a 33 mile drive south from Yosemite Valley. From Glacier Point to the Mariposa Grove is also 33 miles. The grove is located immediately at the south entrance of Yosemite National park.
ROUTE: well developed, often crowded trail
GUIDEBOOK: Yosemite: The Complete Guide
The Mariposa Grove is NOT dog friendly. Pets are not allowed on any of the trails at Mariposa Grove, and are not allowed on board the shuttle buses. Dogs are only allowed (when on leash) in the parking lot at the welcome plaza.
Mariposa Grove Trail Map
Here’s a map showing all the trails at the Mariposa Grove, provided by Yosemite National Park. You can right click or hold down on the image to view a larger version or download it.
Note that the 2-mile (one-way) Washburn Trail is cut off from the lower left corner of the map. The Washburn Trail and its parallel road facilitate an important connection between the Welcome Plaza and Arrival Area. See the “Getting There” section below for more details.
Getting There… simplified!
Access to the Mariposa Grove is strictly managed by the National Park Service. It can get confusing, so here I’ll break things down and simplify it all for you.
The Mariposa Grove is always open, even in winter. However, access from a farther starting point is required on a seasonal basis.
In other words, sometimes the short Mariposa Grove Road is closed.
Let’s break it down.
Step 1: Driving the Wawona Road
Let’s start with the big picture – you’re going to have to drive the Wawona Raod to get to the the Mariposa Grove. You’ll have to pay Yosemite’s entrance fee ($35 per vehicle) no matter which direction you come from – from the north (Yosemite Valley) or from south.
The grove is a 33 mile drive south from the heart of Yosemite Valley.
Covid 19 restrictions require you to have some version of a day use reservation to enter the park. Go here for more details.
Check on current road conditions and chain restrictions by calling 209/372-0200 (press 1 then 1).
Step 2: The Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza
When you turn off of the Wawona Road, you’ll immediately be greeted by the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza. This is the place to leave your car and park. The lot can accommodate about 300 vehicles, but it can still fill up on a busy day.
The best advice is to get there early. These kinds of National Park vacations tend to be exhausting, so finding the strength to get up early helps you beat the crowds.
When you stop at the Plaza, you’re still a full 2 miles away from the actual grove. This distance is connected via the Mariposa Grove Road.
The road is closed to all traffic in winter (and in 2020 for Covid). Under normal conditions, there’s a free shuttle bus that runs a regular cycle up and down the road.
Alternatively, the Mariposa Grove Road is paralleled by The Washburn Trail. The trail is 2 miles one-way from the Plaza to the Grove, with 500ft of elevation gain (from 5100ft to 5600ft).
Step 3: Arrival
Normally the bus would drop you off at the Grove Arrival Area, marked in the lower-left corner of the map.
The Washburn Trail also terminates here at the arrival area.
You may bicycle the extent of the Mariposa Grove Road, and continue beyond the arrival area to the very end of the road near the Grizzly Giant Tree. Bikes are not permitted off-road.
If you’re in a vehicle with a disability placard, you may also drive to the end of the Mariposa Grove Road near the Grizzly Giant.
5 Hiking Trails at the Mariposa Grove
Now that you’ve successfully found your way to the Grove Arrival Area, you’re free to explore and hike all the trails! This is what you came here for.
Here’s the 5 main trails in the heart of Mariposa. Mileages are listed as “full loop” and “round trip.” You can mix and match these trails in an infinite number of ways – consult the map above to work out your total distances.
1) Big Trees Loop Trail – 0.3 miles
This wheelchair-accessible loop is the easiest way for the most casual visitors to experience the giant sequoias.
The highlight along this trail is the Fallen Monarch tree, shown in the photo above. In many ways the Fallen Monarch is even more striking than a live and healthy tree, since its size and stature are more tangible as it lies on the ground.
If you enjoy the typical “nature trails” in parks with a generous number of interpretive signs, then this simple loop is just what the doctor ordered.
2) Grizzly Giant Loop Trail – 2 miles
The next step up from the Big Trees Trail is the classic Grizzly Giant Loop Trail. This loop is named after the most famous tree in the entire Mariposa Grove; the Grizzly Giant is said to be the oldest tree in the Park. Some sources will tell you it’s also the tallest, but this distinction belongs to the Columbia Tree.
You’ll have the opportunity to see the California Tunnel Tree, via a short spur trail. The California Tree is the last surviving Giant Sequoia with such a tunnel feature.
The loop is generally closed with a segment of the “Mariposa Grove Trail,” along which you’ll see The Bachelor and Three Graces. This set of four trees is another iconic site within the grove.
The elevation gain is 300 feet.
3) Mariposa Grove Trail – 7 miles
This is the main trail that cuts through the heart of the Mariposa Grove and ends at its far terminus of Wawona Point. In addition to the aforementioned trees on the Grizzly Giant Loop, you’ll see the following trees along the Mariposa Grove Trail
- the Faithful Couple
- the Clothespin Tree
- the Mariposa Tree
- the Galen Clark Tree (via a short spur)
A 1.5-mile round trip on the Guardians Loop will also bring you to the Columbia Tree and Mariposa Grove Cabin.
The trail reaches its climax at the scenic Wawona Point. With panoramic views to the north, the point sits at 6,800 feet. Elevation gain from the arrival area to Wawona Point is 1,200 feet.
4) Perimeter Trail – 5.5 mile loop
As the name implies, the Perimeter Trail traces the outskirts of the grove. It’s also the only trail that allows horses.
For hardier explorers, off the west side of the loop there’s a steep 5-mile trail that leads to the Wawona Hotel. Likewise, from the east side there’s a trail that leads out of the National Park into Sierra National Forest, toward Mount Raymond and White Chief Mountain.
Notable Giant Sequoias on the Perimeter Trail are the Galen Clark Tree, the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree, and the Telescope Tree. All 3 of these are also accessible via short spurs from the Guardian Loop Trail.
Horseback riding on the Perimeter Trail is arranged through Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures. Rides are available once a day, only in the summer months (June, July, August), and are priced at $190 per person for a 4 hour ride.
5) Guardians Loop Trail
The Guardians Loop Trail is just a 1.5-mile loop, but hiking to it from the Arrival Area entails a 6.5-mile round trip via the Mariposa Grove Trail. Popular named trees near the Guardians Loop are the aforementioned Galen Clark Tree, the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree, and the Telescope Tree.
One of the most notable features on the Guardians Loop is the Mariposa Grove Cabin.
The Galen Clark, Mariposa Grove Cabin
Pioneer Galen Clark settled here at the Mariposa Grove soon after his first visit to the area in 1855. A bout with tuberculosis first brought him to Yosemite as a tourist, where he came to become established as one of the early “guardians” of Yosemite.
Clark is credited as the first European to “discover” the Mariposa Grove, but it was actually a few prospectors that tipped him on this area of big trees on the Wawona Hill. He built a cabin at the present site, and operated a rest stop for travelers called Clark’s Station. He’s thought to be the first to count and measure these Giant Sequoias.
In a similar fashion to John Muir, Clark’s name is intertwined in Yosemite history – he was instrumental in advocating for protection of this landscape. Muir later wrote “Galen Clark was the best mountaineer I ever met, and one of the kindest and most amiable of all my mountain friends.” The full chapter about Clark in Muir’s “The Yosemite” can be read online here.
Near the southern boundary of Yosemite, the high Mount Clark is named for him, as is the surrounding “Clark Range.” He passed in 1910, and his grave is located in the Yosemite Cemetery in the heart of Yosemite Valley.
The cabin that you see here today was built in 1930 as a replica. It sits on the site of Galen Clark’s original cabin, which he built in 1857.
His original cabin lasted for almost 30 years. The State Board of Commissioners built a replacement in 1885.
The 1930 reconstruction was designed as a museum, and this Mariposa Grove Museum operated until 2015, when the Park Service re-imagined its facilities at the grove to account for modern traffic. The museum still stands, but is now closed and boarded up.
The Columbia Tree (tallest tree in the grove, at 286 feet high) sits across the meadow from the cabin.
Backpacking the Mariposa Grove in Winter
It’s possible to go backpacking in the Mariposa Grove, but only in winter. The term “winter,” in this case refers to the time when the Mariposa Grove Road (the road beyond the Welcome Plaza) is closed for the season. This usually occurs at the end of November.
Permits are required, available in person at the Visitor Center in Wawona. You’ll have to self-register and write-in Mariposa, as this is not a viable trailhead in Yosemite’s system throughout the main backpacking season.
Camping is only allowed north of the Clothespin Tree, and a handful of pit toilets are available throughout the grove (see map).
Most Famous Trees
The Grizzly Giant (oldest)
The most well-known tree in the Mariposa Grove is called the Grizzly Giant. Nobody knows for certain how old it is. Some estimates say that it’s more than 2,700 years old, but others estimate it’s as young as 1,800 years old.
Regardless, the Grizzly Giant is viewed as the oldest tree in Yosemite National Park.
It measures at 209 feet (63 meters) tall! To put this in perspective, if the Grizzly Giant were lying on the ground, it would be the length of about 3 semi trucks, or 14 cars.
Here’s some more stats from the back of its baseball card:
Widest Circumference: 92 feet (28 meters)
Widest Diameter: 29 feet (9 meters)
Bark Thickness: 2 feet (61 centimeters)
Height: 209 feet (63 meters)
Washington Tree (biggest)
The Washington Tree is the largest tree by volume in the Mariposa Grove. It’s located off-trail, near the Lincoln tree off the main Mariposa Trail.
Age: ~2,100 years ?
Height: 233 ft
Width: 23 ft
Columbia Tree (tallest)
The Columbia tree is the tallest tree in the Mariposa Grove, located off the Guardians Loop adjacent to the Galen Clark cabin.
Height: 286 ft
Width: 16 ft
California Tunnel Tree
The California Tunnel Tree is the last surviving Giant Sequoia to have a developed tunnel feature. It’s located on the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail, also a short distance off the main Mariposa Grove Trail.
My Trip Notes & Photos
I spent the afternoon of September 25, 2009 hiking the Mariposa Grove with a friend (also named Jamie). We were en route from Yosemite Valley to Sequoia National Park. The stop was totally worth it.