Giant Sequoias are the largest, by volume, of all living things. These redwood trees can survive for thousands of year While not as tall as the Coastal Redwoods you might see in Muir Woods National Monument, at Big Sur, or in other California coastal areas the closely related giant sequoias grow larger in diameter and live longer. There are three groves of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park
Two smaller groves are located west of Yosemite Valley near Crane Flat where Tioga Road meets Big Oak Flat Road and require you to hike in and out. The larger and more famous grove is near the south entrance to the park and is more accessible to non hikers though it too will be best enjoyed on foot. Use my Yosemite Park Map (opens in second window) to locate the giant sequoia groves and the trail maps linked below for more details.
Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove
The Tuolumne Grove (where the photo to the right was shot) is accessed by hiking down the old Big Oak Flat Road which is now restricted to pedestrians. It is about 2.5 miles round trip with a elevation change of approximately 400 feet down to the grove.
The Merced Grove is the smallest of the three groves and consequently is less visited. The trail to Merced Grove involves about a 600 foot elevation change down to the grove and is about 3 miles round trip.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the largest and most accessible grove of some 75 groupings of giant sequoias on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains. A lower grove can be quite crowded with visitors on a summer day, while the upper grove is typically less so.
During summer months (early May to late October) you can drive to the trail head and ride a guided, motorized tram through Mariposa Grove. You might consider taking the tram up and walking back down.
In winter there is a two mile hike to the trail head. Skiers and showshoers have the option of unplowed road/ski trail and marked ski trails.
Many of the trees have been named and some are internationally famous. The Bachelor and Three Graces were apparently named for their proximity to one another.
The Grizzly Giant in Mariposa Grove is thought to be Yosemite’s oldest living sequoia, at an estimated 1,800 years old (from park brochure, other web sites say it is 2,700 years old). It is also the largest tree in the park. One limb, just visible at the top right of the photo to the left, has a larger diameter than the trunk of any other non-sequoia in the grove. People standing in front of the tree may help you judge its massive size. A nearby giant sequoia, known as the California Tunnel Tree, is one of two in the Mariposa Grove that have had tunnels cut through them for people and/or cars (originally stagecoaches) to pass through.
The more famous Wawona Tunnel Tree, in the upper grove, had millions of visitors drive through it between the time the tunnel was cut in 1881 and 1969 when it collapsed under the weight of a record snowfall.
Another downed tree known as the Fallen Monarch, which biologists think may have fallen centuries ago, graphically demonstrates two unusual features of these redwood trees. First they have very shallow root systems which spread across the forest floor and second the tannic acid in the wood suppresses the growth of fungi and bacteria slowing decay.
Slideshow—four Giant Sequoias photos