by Donna Amis Davis

Not too far from the south entrance to Yosemite National Park is a quiet, almost-secret treasure. During the summer months, Yosemite Valley is full of cars, campers, and day-trippers. But the giant sequoias at Nelder Grove are just waiting for your visit.

We recently returned and experienced again amazing Nelder Grove. We love it! And here are our five top reasons why:

1. The Air.

After climbing, climbing, climbing up the mountain, winding through ever more beautiful forests of pines, you turn off on a dirt road, kicking up dust for the last 2-mile climb to Nelder Grove. When you open the door of your car, the first impression that hits you is The Air! The Smell! There is something fresh, clean and delightful about the piney-scented high mountain air. I found myself taking in big, deep inhalations of that pure, pure air.

Majestic Sequoia Nelder Grove
Majestic Sequoia, Nelder Grove

2. The Silence.

The second impression you will find is the silence. How rare it is to ever be alone on this planet. And to be alone with gorgeous ancient trees is a special treasure. No traffic, no city noises. The silence wraps itself around you. And then your ears can start to take in nature’s sounds. A bird’s call. A different bird’s fluting song. Squeaking and scolding from a baby squirrel. The hollow tap, tap, tap of an unseen woodpecker at work.

Nelder Grove   Shadow of the Giants

As you wander into the grove so hauntingly named Shadow of the Giants, scurrying squirrels scatter off the path. All set the stage for. . .

3. The Majesty of the Sequoias.

As impressive as the huge sugar pines and ponderosa pines were on your drive up the mountain, nothing compares to the majesty of a giant sequoia. Sequoias are the most massive trees on earth. And some of the oldest, as well. Giant sequoias, also known as giant redwoods and Sierra redwoods, only grow naturally on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. There are about 70 groves of sequoias. I’ve been to the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite, and the Calaveras Big Trees. I’d love to visit them all.

 Sequoia with Travel Bear

4. The Eco-system.

The whole world of the giant sequoias is magical. Light filters down through the forest canopy, lighting up the bright green leaves of dogwood trees. Cedars vie with sequoias in height, but lose the contest in girth. The grove is home to the squirrels we saw, but also to shy mule deer and black bears. I’d love to see a bear — from a distance!

The Shadow of the Giants trail is an easy one-mile loop on a smooth trail. It is mostly flat, with just a little climbing. Charming wooden bridges cross the stream at both ends. The elevation at the trail head is 5,600 feet, so you might feel winded as you hike. Several interpretive markers teach interesting facts along the way. For example:

Sequoia Cones

Sequoia cones are surprisingly small for a tree so huge. A mature tree produces 2,000 cones per year. Each cone contains 200-300 seeds.

The seed is tiny, 3000 seeds weight about an ounce, yet it took only one to produce this forest giant. Squirrels cut and store many cones for their winter food supply.

And I learned that squirrels don’t eat the seeds, just the cones, dispersing the seeds. Very cool, that.

Travel Bear two sequoias
Travel Bear with Giant Sequoias

5. The History.

Sequoias were logged in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but are now protected. They apparently don’t make great lumber, as they splinter when they fall, though the wood is rot resistant. The Shadow of the Giants grove circles a deep ravine. That ravine probably saved them, for if they were cut, they would fall way down, and would have been difficult to remove in the old days, just using a horse or donkey-drawn cart. In other, less-steep parts of Nelder Grove, you can see many stumps left from logged sequoias.

Sequoias Nelder Grove
Giant Sequoias, Nelder Grove

Sequoia Facts:

Giant sequoias are the world’s largest single trees and largest living thing by volume. Giant sequoias grow to an average height of 164–279 ft (50–85 m) and 20–26 ft (6–8 m) in diameter. Record trees have been measured to be 311 ft (94.8 m) in height and over 56 ft (17 m) in diameter. The oldest known giant sequoia based on ring count is 3,500 years old. Giant sequoias are among the oldest living things on Earth. Sequoia bark is deeply furrowed, and may be 3 feet thick at the base of the trunk. It provides significant fire protection for the trees. Sequoias are related to the giant redwoods on the northern Pacific coast.

Getting to Nelder Grove:

From the south exit of Yosemite National Park: Drive south 12 miles and make a left turn onto road 632 – Sky Ranch Road.

Coming from the south: Drive about 4 miles on Highway 41, north of Oakhurst, CA, and make a right turn onto road 632 – Sky Ranch Road.

Drive for 7 miles. Turn left on dirt road 6S47Y, and drive about 1 mile.

At the fork, turn left for Shadow of the Giants trail, 1 mile. Turn right for campground and other trails. Then turn left at 5S19. The campground/trails are about 1 mile from the fork.

Donna at Nelder Grove

If you visit Yosemite, try to fit in a visit to beautiful Nelder Grove!