There are many spectacular hiking trails in California’s Yosemite National Park—but the Washburn Trail is not necessarily one of them. Although the two-mile walk through a coniferous forest with some modest views is nice, the purpose of this trail is primarily utilitarian. From mid-May to late November each year, the park runs a shuttle service between the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, taking hikers from the primary parking lot to the foot of Yosemite’s most impressive sequoia grove. But the shuttle does not operate in the off-season, requiring hikers to either walk along the road or to take the Washburn Trail, a newly-constructed (in 2018) path that roughly parallels the drive. The two-mile connector trail gains around 500 feet with a modest grade, culminating at the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area, the launching point for much better hikes into the heart of the sequoias.
Situated just inside Yosemite National Park’s South Entrance, the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza boasts a very large parking area and a visitor center that is open seasonally. Park here and walk to the end of the parking lot, where hikers are greeted with a small wooden sign indicating that it is about 1.9 miles to Mariposa Grove, the finest of Yosemite’s three sequoia groves (see also the Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove) and the top destination in the park outside of Yosemite Valley.
The Washburn Trail, which follows part of an old stagecoach road originally constructed in 1879, is a wide and well-worn path that quickly dispenses with the modern, paved road and drops into a pleasant gully fed by a tributary of Big Creek. Cross a new wooden bridge, then settle into a steady but modest climb, first staying under the shade of the pines and firs but then emerging out into the sunny open after about ½ mile.
Along the manzanita-studded slope, hikers gain some decent views south and west beyond the park boundary to densely forested hills. At 1.1 miles, hikers come to a sign indicating there is only 0.8 mile left to Mariposa Grove, and the terrain gets a little more interesting as it passes under rock outcrops, all the while keeping Mariposa Grove Road within earshot.
After some ups and downs, the path eventually settles into a relative flat with a pretty drainage down to the right. Just before the Mariposa Grove Arrival Area, there is finally a sequoia tree on the right: not as large as the others farther east, but impressive nonetheless. From here it is steps to the end of the trail, which ends like it began—at a parking lot—although this time one is now tantalizingly close to the gentle giants of Mariposa Grove ahead.
With the Washburn Trail adding four miles each way, an onward hike to and from the Upper Mariposa Grove (pushing up to 11-12 miles round trip) may be too much for some, but a jaunt around the lower grove is certainly doable before heading back on the connecter path. All told, budget about two hours for the Washburn Trail section, plus additional time at Mariposa Grove.