As a lifelong Sierra National Forest resident, normally I wouldn’t set foot in Yosemite National Park in the summer months. There are just way too many people there for my comfort, during what I affectionately refer to as the “stupid tourist season”. But this isn’t a normal year – it’s a COVID-19 year. So with day-use passes required, and visitation capped at my favorite national park, I decided to roll the dice and pay a visit to Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove one hot August day. And here’s the skinny on how you can do the same thing for a wheelchair-accessible day trip to this secluded giant sequoia grove.
First off, you need to get a day pass if you want to visit the park. One pass per vehicle is required, and it’s good for unlimited use for seven days. That said you absolutely must use it on the first day, or it will be deactivated. There is a $2 reservation fee (in addition to the entrance fee), and you need a day pass even if you have a National Park Service senior or access pass. Day-use passes are available at https://www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/300015.
As far as timing goes, 80% of the available reservations are released on the first of the month for the next month. The remaining 20% of the reservations are released 48 hours in advance, so technically it’s still possible to plan a semi last minute visit. It should also be noted that reservations are even required on fee-free days, and there is still a $2 reservation fee on those days. The remaining fee-free days for 2020 are August 25, September 26 and November 11.
As always it’s a good idea to get an early start, as the park gets more crowded later in the day. Also try and avoid weekends, holidays and those fee-free days, as they are the most popular times. And if you’re visiting the Mariposa Grove, remember there are no concessions open, so pack along a lunch and some snacks and bring plenty of water.
Visit Mariposa Grove
During normal times, shuttle buses transport visitors from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza (near the South Entrance to the park) to the Grove Arrival Area, just two miles up the road. Unfortunately during these COVID-19 times, there is no shuttle service in the park, and regular vehicle traffic is prohibited along Mariposa Grove Road. The good news is, people with an accessible parking placard can drive along the road and park in the Grove Arrival Area and the Grizzly Giant Parking lot.
And the better news is, the two-mile hike to the Grove Arrival Area seems to have discouraged visitation in this area. I’m not saying you won’t find any visitors in Mariposa Grove, but certainly the numbers are down, which makes for a pleasant summer visit.
The best place to begin a visit is at the Grove Arrival Area. Again, if you have an accessible parking placard you can drive directly there. The .3-mile wheelchair-accessible Big Trees Loop begins near the accessible parking area winds around the giant sequoias and out to the Fallen Monarch – a downed sequoia – before it loops back to the parking lot. There are benches to sit and take a break along the way, and interpretive plaques are dotted around the grove. It’s really a pleasant little trail.
From the Fallen Monarch, most visitors follow the Grizzly Giant Loop to the upper grove, but since that trail is steep and not accessible, visitors with accessible parking placards can drive to the Grizzly Giant parking lot.
From the Grizzly Giant parking lot it’s just a .18-mile level walk out to the Grizzly Giant, an 1800-year old 209-foot giant sequoia. The wide level trail continues on for another 425 feet to the California Tunnel Tree, a tree that was carved out in 1895 so that stagecoaches could pass through it. It was once quite the kitschy tourist attraction. After that the accessible part of the trail continues through the forest for another 425 feet before it become too rocky for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. Still the 2/3-mile out-and-back hike is a great opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with these massive trees, and it’s a great way to top off any Mariposa Grove visit.
A Slight Detour
Although Highway 41 leads directly back to Fresno, a slight detour through North Fork offers a nice picnic stop with a great view of Redinger Lake. Just head south on Highway 41, then make a left on Road 274, and continue along past Bass Lake. At the roundabout take Road 225, and follow the signs for Mammoth Pool and the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway (https://www.sierravistascenicbyway.com/). Redinger Lake Overlook is about 15 minutes up the road on the right.
It’s just a tiny overlook with a comfy spot to sit down and enjoy your lunch. There’s no striped parking but there’s plenty of room to park and adapted van. There’s curb-cut access to the overlook and a nice bench to sit and enjoy the view. You’ll most likely be the only one there too. Plus it’s just an hour drive from Mariposa Grove, so it’s a good place to take a break.
Afterwards, head back towards the round about and take road 200 into town. Continue on through North Fork on Road 200, which eventually reconnects with Highway 41. Not only will this scenic detour help you dodge the highway crowds, it will also give you a taste of life in the Sierras. It’s the perfect end to any Mariposa Grove adventure.
Thinking of spending more time in Yosemite? Then check out these five wheelchair-accessible Yosemite views. barrierfreeyosemite.com/five-fantastic-wheelchair-accessible-yosemite-views
And for more information about accessible things to see and do in and around Yosemite National Park, check out my guidebook, Barrier-Free Travel; Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. www.barrierfreeyosemite.com