Visiting the parks in the Sierra Nevada is one of the best experiences of a California road trip and the West Coast in general. The magnificent mountain landscapes that characterize Yosemite National Park, for instance, have become well-known, and rightfully so, not only for their beauty and distinctiveness, but also due to their connection to American history, which is portrayed in novels and Hollywood movies. Just think of the Gold Rush in California, which took place predominantly in this remarkable area.
In terms of the natural features of the Sierra Nevada, in addition to Yosemite’s waterfalls and the immense granite peaks (for example, Half Dome) there’s a spectacular feature that everyone wants to see around here, namely, the giant sequoias. It is common knowledge that in California you can find some of the largest and tallest sequoias in the world. The Guinness Book of World Records trees are mainly found in the forests of the park with the same name as the trees, Sequoia National Park, a park that is smaller than Yosemite, but entirely dedicated to these giants. The presence of trees such as the General Sherman Tree is one of the strengths of Sequoia National Park to consider when facing the long-standing dilemma of trying to determine whether Yosemite or Sequoia is “superior”, which we tried to answer in our article on Yosemite vs Sequoia.
Of course, you could say that Sequoia is recommended for those longing to see the giant sequoias. However, not everyone knows that Yosemite also has its own sequoia forest called Mariposa Grove. Therefore, those who don’t have time to visit both parks during their road trip may find visiting this forest a better option. In this article, I want to give you some tips on how to organize your visit to Mariposa Grove, how to get there, how much time to dedicate to the visit and what to do on the trails.
- How to Get to Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
- Directions to the Sequoia Forest of Yosemite
- Hiking Mariposa Grove: Trails in the Woods
- How Long Does It Take to Visit Mariposa Grove?
- Where to Stay? Hotels near Mariposa Grove
How to Get to Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
The area of Yosemite where the sequoia (and the well-known Grizzly Giant) are found is called Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. You’ll find it just south of the park, just over an hour away from the actual Yosemite Valley. The area has undergone years of restoration work and reopened to the public in June 2018, completely renovated.
Among the various entrances to the park, those who want to see the sequoias of Yosemite should obviously choose the South Gate. The access point to Mariposa Grove Road is just a few feet from the park entrance, which makes Mariposa Forest a perfect first stop for those who are traveling to Yosemite from the south (Fresno or Oakhurst). Yosemite’s South Gate is located on SR-41, which starts in Fish Camp and leads to Wawona and then continues all the way to Yosemite Valley.
If you are coming from the north, from the heart of the valley, you will have to take Wawona Road (another name for SR-41) southward to Wawona/Fresno, until you reach the junction with Mariposa Grove Road, about 32 miles (about 1 hour) from the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. These are the directions that should be followed by those using the North Gate (from Groveland), the West Gate (Mariposa) and the East Gate (from the Tioga Pass), because in all three cases, you will reach the valley before heading south. To give you an idea, here are the distances:
- EAST GATE – Distance from Lee Vining, beginning of Tioga Road: 96 miles (about 2 hours 40 minutes without breaks).
- WEST GATE – Distance from El Portal: 32 miles (1 hour).
- NORTH GATE – Distance from Big Oak Flat Entrance: 45 miles (1 hour 20 minutes).
Coming from San Francisco…
Those who are traveling from San Francisco to Yosemite do not necessarily need to use one of these three entrances to the park. Instead, they can go to the South Gate and Mariposa Grove along a slightly shorter side road. You’ll need to drive to Merced (which is also a good stop to stay between Yosemite and San Francisco in case you want to break the journey that is close to the park), then take SR-140 E to Mariposa (the town). From there, drive south on the winding SR-49 and reach Oakhurst, from where you will proceed north to the park entrance. In total, it takes about 3 hours 45 minutes (1 hour 45 minutes from Merced), and this way you don’t have to deal with the incoming traffic to Yosemite Valley. Here is a map:
Coming from Monterey
It is not unusual for you to choose to travel to Mariposa Grove and to the southern part of Yosemite from the coast and in particular from Monterey. We have an article that explains precisely Monterey-Yosemite itinerary, a beautiful trip which you can follow faithfully. Make sure you take the right road (SR-49) as soon as you arrive in the town of Mariposa (see above).
Directions to the Sequoia Forest of Yosemite
When you arrive at the junction of Mariposa Grove Road and Wawona Road, you’ll find yourself in front of the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza, where you can leave your car in one of the 300 parking spaces available and take the free shuttle that passes every 10 minutes. In a matter of about 6 minutes, you’ll get to the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area, where the trails to the giant sequoias of Yosemite start. The shuttle hours of operation are as follows:
- March 15 to May 14: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
- May 15 to October 14: 8:00 am to 8:00 pm
- October 15 to November 30: 8:00 am. to 5:00 pm
From December 1 to March 15, the shuttle is not available because of the winter road closure. For any updates or changes to the schedule, I suggest that you consult the official website of the park.
Hiking Mariposa Grove: Trails in the Woods
Below I will show you the trails in Mariposa Grove and I will specify their type, difficulty and duration. In this way, you can decide which one to do on your own time.
Big Trees Loop Trail
This trail is perfect for those who have little time and want to get a glimpse of Yosemite’s sequoias. The trail leads to the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area and gives you a general idea of the sequoias in the area. You will also see the Fallen Monarch, the huge “corpse” of a sequoia that fell 3 centuries ago. Neither the Washington Tree (the tallest sequoia in the park) nor the Grizzly Giant (the oldest) can be found on this trail.
- Duration: about 35 minutes
- Length: 0.3 miles
- Level of difficulty: easy
Grizzly Giant Loop Trail
This trail is a bit longer and more tiring than the previous one, and is ideal for those who have a couple of hours to spend in this part of the park. It is a loop starting from the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area, so you can start it as soon as you get off the shuttle. Of course, you’ll have to be careful to calculate your return time well, because if you miss the last shuttle, you’ll have to walk back. The route of this trail covers a larger area within the forest and allows you to see, among other things, the Grizzly Giant and the famous group of redwoods called the Bachelor and Three Graces.
- Duration: about 2 hours
- Length: 2 miles
- Level of difficulty: moderate
Mariposa Grove Trail / Guardians Loop Trail
Mariposa Grove Trail is the main trail, from which the Guardian Loop Trail branches off, covering part of the forest adjacent to the main trail. To walk both of them, you need to invest more than half a day, but if you study the map of the trails well, you can also decide to walk only a part of them. In any case, I advise you to consider these trails only if you have a lot of time to spend in this part of the park. The Mariposa Grove Trail also starts at the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area. This trail partly follows the route of the other two trails mentioned above, but extends towards the northern part of Mariposa Grove where, at a higher elevation, there are points of interest such as the Washington Tree, the Faithful Couple, the Columbia Tree, the Mariposa Grove Museum and the overlook of Wawona Point (6800 ft above sea level), the furthest point from the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area.
- Duration: 4 to 7 hours
- Length: about 6.2-7.45 miles
- Difficulty level: difficult
Mariposa Grove Trail Map
How Long Does It Take to Visit Mariposa Grove?
Since Mariposa Grove is slightly out of the way compared to other parts of Yosemite, you’ll need to figure out how much time to spend in the sequoia forest, including travel time within the park (minimum 1 hour each way). Reading the descriptions of the trails, you will have understood that in order to have a satisfactory taste of Mariposa Grove, you need to invest 40 minutes to 2 hours, not counting the travel time with the shuttle (which, in any case, is a matter of minutes).
In my opinion, those who come from San Francisco or Monterey and travel east via the Tioga Road and vice versa (Death Valley, Eastern Sierra) and cannot devote more than half a day to the park due to their itinerary, which means it is more of a short visit, will have to leave out Mariposa Grove. Or, on the contrary, they will have to focus their visit only on this part of Yosemite (perhaps, with careful planning, there could be time left for a stop at Glacier Point), sacrificing the Yosemite Valley and determining the best time to travel in and out of the park to Lee Vining. Don’t forget that Tioga Road is long and deserves more than a couple of stops!
If you’ve decided to spend a few days exploring Yosemite by staying overnight in the park or the immediate surroundings, then you’ll have all the time you need to properly visit both Mariposa Grove and the other areas of the park, including some trails in Yosemite Valley.
Where to Stay? Hotels near Mariposa Grove
If you’re in this last category and want to give the park and its sequoias the time they deserve, you’ll need to know the most strategic places to stay in Yosemite. If you want to experience staying in the park, you’ll be interested to know that in Wawona there is the beautiful Big Trees Lodge, which has a limited number of rooms.
If you want to consider other accommodations near the south entrance, you can look in Fish Camp, Oakhurst and Fresno. The link below contains some tips for accommodations in these towns, but the article also contains other suggestions in case you want to choose accommodations in another area that are better for the itinerary of your visit to Yosemite.