Friday, July 22, 2016

Yosemite National Park: Tuolumne Grove (Blog Hike #593)

Trail: Tuolumne Grove Trail
Hike Location: Yosemite National Park
Geographic Location: Crane Flat, CA
Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: An out-and-back with short loop on an old road to a grove of giant sequoia trees.

Directions to the trailhead: The signed trailhead for Tuolumne Grove is located on SR 120 (Tioga Road) 0.5 miles east of Crane Flat.  To get there from Yosemite Valley, drive Big Oak Flat Road 10 miles north out of the valley to its intersection with SR 120 in Crane Flat.  Turn right on SR 120 and drive 0.5 miles to the trailhead parking area on the left.  There is a large parking lot at the trailhead, but it can fill during the warm months.

The hike: For my general comments on Yosemite National Park, see my first hike in Yosemite Valley.  To greatly oversimplify, Yosemite has three main attractions: big waterfalls, big views, and big trees.  Some of the big waterfalls were featured on my hike up the Mist Trail, while the previous two hikes to Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point give a sample of the big views.
            Yosemite’s most famous example of big trees is the Mariposa Grove located near Wawona in the park’s southern section.  Indeed, the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley were the two areas protected by the Yosemite Grant of 1864, a precursor to the park’s founding as described in my first hike in Yosemite Valley.  Unfortunately, on my visit in 2016 the Mariposa Grove was closed to visitors due to a restoration project.  Not wanting to miss out on the big trees entirely, I chose to hike to the Tuolumne Grove on my way out of the park.  While there are not as many giant sequoias here as there are in the Mariposa Grove, the big trees that do live here are quite impressive, and I enjoyed my visit to Tuolumne Grove.
Tuolumne Grove trailhead
            The hike starts at an information board at the northwest corner of the parking area.  The Tuolumne Grove Trail’s wide asphalt treadway may look more like a road than a trail, and there is a good reason why: this route is the old Big Oak Flats Road that was used until modern SR 120 was built.  Some interpretive signs and some old road signs confirm this observation.
            The trail descends on a gradual to moderate grade at first heading due north but later via a pair of broad switchbacks.  The majority of the trail features nice high-elevation conifer forest, but the old paved road actually makes for rather uninspiring hiking despite this trail’s excellent destination.  Also, a large number of Yosemite’s pines have recently died as a result of the years-long drought that has plagued California, so brown tree carcasses lined parts of this trail on my visit.
            At the bottom of the second broad switchback, you reach an area with some benches where a sign announces your arrival at the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias.  Just past this sign, you reach the grove’s first truly giant tree.  You will have no problem picking out the sequoias from the rest of the forest: they tower more than 200 feet high and have trunks that are more than 6 feet thick.  Many people stop to admire this tree, but several more of its relatives lie ahead.
Giant sequoia tree
Another giant sequoia tree
            The first giant sequoia stands near the top of a short double loop trail that goes through the Tuolumne Grove.  Signs identify the trail through the grove as the Grove Loop.  To make the climb back up a little easier, I suggest staying with the asphalt trail until reaching the bottom of the double loop and then hiking the unpaved section back up, thus hiking the double loop clockwise.  In another 0.2 miles you reach a small set of picnic tables and the bottom of the Grove Loop.  As directed by a sign that says “Grove Loop Begin,” turn right to leave the asphalt and begin the dirt Grove Loop.
A fallen giant sequoia
            The trail crosses a small stream on a wooden footbridge before climbing briefly to reach a fallen giant sequoia.  The huge log that now sits beside the trail is probably thicker than you are tall, and a “normal-sized” tree on which the giant fell gives proper visual perspective.  More climbing takes you past a sequence of interpretive signs that tell you more about the giant sequoias.  Seemingly all aspects of the sequoias from their cones to their roots to their rings are explored by these signs.
The tunnel tree
            Just past 1.2 miles, you close the first of the two loops by arriving back at the picnic tables only to turn left and immediately begin the second one.  Another brief steep climb brings you to the Tunnel Tree, the stump of a fallen giant sequoia through which a person-sized tunnel has been drilled.  Walking through a wooden tunnel gives you an odd feeling, but it also reinforces the size of these trees.  A brief descent brings you back to the main asphalt trail and closes the double loop.  Angle left and walk back uphill for another mile to return to the parking area and complete the hike.

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