Tuolumne Grove Trail (Yosemite National Park, CA)

Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, April 2021

Giant sequoias, close cousins of coast redwoods, are the largest trees (by total volume) on earth and grow naturally only in 75 groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California. Three such groves can be found in Yosemite National Park: Mariposa, Merced, and Tuolumne. Situated partway down a north-facing slope above the North Crane Creek drainage, Tuolumne Grove comprises around two dozen mature sequoias and is a popular destination in the western reaches of Yosemite. The route to the grove traces a portion of the Old Big Oak Flat Road, an early tourist track that predates the park, before culminating at a double-loop around the small but pleasant stand of towering trees.

Map of Tuolumne Grove Trail

The hike

Parking at the Tuolumne Grove Trailhead—situated just north of the Crane Flat Junction along Yosemite National Park’s Tioga Road—can be a bit of a frenzy as popular demand for sequoias often outstrips the supply of available parking spots. Arrive early or late in the day to avoid the rush, checking out the array of informational waysides at the trail’s start before you begin. Here there is also an old sequoia stump that gives you the sense of the trees’ massive scale: mature sequoiadendron giganteum, some more than 3,000 years old, can grow up to 35 feet in diameter and more than 100 feet in circumference.

Sequoia stump at the trailhead

Real living sequoias are not yet visible as the wide, asphalted Tuolumne Grove Road (or Old Big Oak Flat Road) begins to snake its way down the forested slope. Instead, the landscape is dominated by sugar pines and white firs. The steady downhill is a pleasant and easy walk (but remember, you’ll be returning this way, recovering the 500-foot elevation loss on the way back). At 7/10 mile, the old road rounds a sharp left-hand bend, where an information wayside offers more historical detail on the 19th century Old Big Oak Flat Road.

Entering Tuolumne Grove

At 9/10 mile, hikers are formally welcomed to Tuolumne Grove with a large-scale map and an entry sign. But it is another 150 yards or so until hikers get their first glimpse of an orange-hued sequoia down in the gully to the left. A minute later, the trail drops to the base of the giant sequoia, likely the largest in the area, known as “Big Red.” Here there is also a junction, with the end of the Grove Loop popping out from the right. Stay straight on the main road.

Big Red at Tuolumne Grove

Beyond Big Red, the road drops steadily and then reaches a small picnic area (three tables) surrounded by wooden fences. This is the formal start of the Tuolumne Grove Loop Trail, which actually comprises a brief circuit plus a short spur that connects back with the main road at Big Red. Follow the signs indicating to bear right from the road, then left at the base of a smaller sequoia, treading clockwise around the loop.

From here the trail enters the grove, skirting a pair of small sequoias and then crossing North Crane Creek, which is here relatively low volume. After traversing the stream, the trail rises steadily to a highland and bears right at the base of a huge fallen tree trunk. Levelling off, the trail bears east and south, following a second fallen tree, and then passes between three moderately large sequoias.

Sequoias at Tuolumne Grove

Just beyond, the trail drops to a massive fallen sequoia, revealing its wily root system and a hollow core. Curiously, for such large trees, sequoias have rather shallow roots, making them vulnerable to collapse amid heavy snow or wind.

Roots of a fallen sequoia

Follow the length of the tree as the trail courses onward and then drops back to another wooden bridge and the picnic area. Instead of getting back on the road, bear left on the Grove Loop continuation, a narrow path rising up the remains of an old paved track to the Dead Giant Tunnel Tree, a former drive-through tree that is now a carved-out stump. From here the trail rises to another pair of close-up sequoias but then drops back to the Old Big Oak Flat Road.

Dead Giant Tunnel Tree (aka the “Drive-Thru” Tree)

Bear left on the road and follow it uphill for 1.1 miles back to the start. What was an easy descent on the way down is now a difficult and steady climb of 500 feet back to the start. Allot 2-3 hours for the round-trip hike, a decent option for those heading in or out of nearby Yosemite Valley.

This entry was posted in California, Moderate Hikes, Yosemite National Park and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tuolumne Grove Trail (Yosemite National Park, CA)

  1. Pingback: Merced Grove Trail (Yosemite National Park, CA) | Live and Let Hike

  2. Calvin Kobielush says:

    I hope I get the opportunity to witness these awesome trees in real life.

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