Yosemite’s Grove of Giant Sequoias Reopens After Wildfire

The grove of roughly 500 trees—some of the oldest in the world—was largely unscathed by the Washburn Fire.

Many of the 500 or so giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.

Many of the 500 or so giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.

Photo by Shutterstock

After having been closed for nearly a month due to wildfire threats, Yosemite National Park’s legendary Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias reopened to visitors this month.

The famed grove boasts roughly 500 mature sequoias, the most extensive collection within the park. It includes the Grizzly Giant, a tree estimated to be about 3,000 years old, and is one of the most popular areas for visitors to Yosemite. However, the future of the towering trees was put in question when the Washburn Fire broke out in surrounding areas on July 7.

Although the fire ultimately burned nearly 5,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada range (it’s now completely contained), the Mariposa Grove was largely spared. There are some fire scars on the trees, but none died.

Part of what kept the flames from creeping into the grove was a sprinkler system set up to keep the tree trunks moist. Many small, intentional control fires lit in the past 50 years also played a role—it meant there was less fuel for the fire when it approached the grove, allowing firefighters to prevent the flames from doing more than charring the thick bark on some of the world’s largest trees

“We’ve been preparing for the Washburn Fire for decades,” Garrett Dickman, a biologist at Yosemite National Park, told the Associated Press.

The giant sequoias, native in only about 70 groves spread along the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada range, were once considered impervious to flames but have become increasingly vulnerable as wildfires—fueled by a buildup of undergrowth from a century of fire suppression and drought exacerbated by climate change—have become more intense and destructive.

Lightning-sparked wildfires over the past two years have killed up to a fifth of the estimated 75,000 large sequoias, which are the biggest trees by volume. The cause of the Washburn Fire is still under investigation.

While the grove reopened on August 10, some trails remain off-limits to visitors, specifically the Washburn Trail (between the Mariposa Grove welcome plaza and the arrival area), the western bit of the perimeter trail, and the path from the grove to Wawona. Still, many popular loops, like the one that passes Grizzly Giant, are available for hikers to enjoy.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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