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Hiking To Merced Grove and Beyond On The Old Coulterville Road

Three Giant Sequoia Groves are located in Yosemite National Park and we also have Nelder Grove nearby. They say that Merced Grove is the least visited and since I had never been to this one, I had to go check it out. It was a very nice hike down the historic Old Coulterville Road to check out the 20 or so Giant Sequoias in this grove.

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 5.23 Miles (About 3.5 miles Roundtrip to Merced Grove)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 5,206’ – 5,915’
Date: November 6, 2017
Map: Ackerson Mountain, Buckingham Mountain Topographic Quads
Dog Hike? No

I headed up Hwy 140 to Big Oak Flat Road, then a little over 4 miles northwest of the Crane Flat Gas Station/intersection of Tioga Road to the marked parking area on the left side of the road. There was a clean restroom and as soon as I took care of that stop, I headed up the trail, which is the Old Coulterville Road.

The Merced Grove has been “discovered” and “lost” several times. I am sure that the Native Americans who lived and visited this area knew of the Merced Grove so it is a little strange that to me that history books say that the Walker party discovered Merced Grove in 1833, who also discovered Yosemite Valley. The location of Merced Grove was subsequently misplaced (perhaps the most believable part of its history) and rediscovered again in 1858, but apparently soon lost once more, because in 1871 a party surveying for the old Coulterville Road, which passed nearby (the first part of the trail is, in fact, this road), announced the discovery of this same grove of giant trees, which it named the Merced Grove for its proximity to the Merced River. The name Merced (mercy) is the shortened form of the Spanish name for the river, “El Rio de las Mercedes”, or is sometimes given as “Nuestra Senora de la Merced.” It was named by Gabriel Moraga in 1806.

As I walked on that old wagon and stagecoach road, I imagined what it must have been like to travel through this country, seeing those huge trees and the beautiful Yosemite Valley.

Approximate Route of the Early Big Oak Flat and Couleterville Roads (The Big Oak Flat Road (1955) by Irene D. Paden and Margaret E. Schlichtmann)

I came across an interesting description related to a trip up this road in 1855 from The Big Oak Flat Road (1955) by Irene D. Paden and Margaret E. Schlichtmann.

On June 16, 1855, the Sonora “Union Democrat” carried an announcement by A. J. Snow of Jacksonville that his express would be able to accommodate six passengers and that he was making four regular trips weekly. In this he reminded the traveling public that his express had been the first to run between Jacksonville and the Garrotes and asked for their continued patronage. In the same year his chief competitor, Archy Yochem, put a notice in the Sonora paper that his express would extend its run from Big Oak Flat to Coulterville and Mariposa, leaving Sonora daily, except Tuesdays. Stage stations were generally twelve miles apart. These early conveyances were commnonly known as “mud-wagons” and about the only consideration given to a traveler’s comfort was a stretch of canvas over the top to protect him somewhat from the scorching sun or downpour of rain. One passenger called her stage “a hard, lumbering, springless, unpainted fiend.” This was the hypercritical lady who, upon leaving Stockton via stagecoach, remarked upon the presence of an insane asylum in proximity to the hotel. “Can this have any connection,” she demanded bitterly, “with its being the returning point for YoSemite tourists?”

I could now really imagine what the trip to Yosemite must have been like back in the day. In 1874, the below schedule advertised the trip to the Merced Grove of Big Trees via the “all new wagon road.” And the trip only took 36 hours!

Somewhere between the 1890 and 1907, this flyer was distributed, advertising the Sierra Railroad and cutting the travel time down to 14 hours.

After about 7/10ths of a mile, I reached an intersection and headed toward the Merced Grove. The trail/road had been fairly level and nicely maintained, easy walking, and could be utilized by someone with mobility issues. But that changed a bit as I headed down the next stretch down to the Merced Grove, which would lose about 400′ of elevation in the next mile and the road had rocky and rutty portions that you needed to watch where you were walking to not trip.

I could spot the tops of some of those tall Giant Sequoias before I reached the actual grove. These trees are not as huge as the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove or Nelder Grove, but once I was int the grove, it was a challenge for me to capture the entire tree.

Is it just me, or does the base of this Giant Sequoia look like a foot?

There are split rail fences around the Giant Sequoias along the road to keep traffic off of their tender root system.

The road led me by the old Merced Grove Ranger Station. This building replaced the first ranger station in Merced Grove, which was a 1915 checking station on the Old Coulterville Road, now long gone. The current building was designed by the National Park Service and completed in July of 1935. The building consists of a living room, bedroom, and kitchen. Outside and up a hill to the north of the cabin are 2 small outhouses. The structure was employed for a time as a summer retreat for Yosemite park superintendents.

I continued down the road.

I think this Giant Sequoia looks like a guy with a big mustache. What do you think?

There are many dogwoods in this area and a couple of them were still sporting their fall color.

Most of the dogwood leaves provided a colorful carpet on the ground.

The old road and trail started following Moss Creek and the moss was hanging from the trees like Christmas Tree tinsel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I followed the road out a while, crossing Moss Creek, appropriately named.

I continued down the road over the cattleguard and old fencing where the Yosemite National Park boundary was marked, heading down a little farther because I was hoping to get a good open view but I didn’t, so I turned around and walked back the same way I had come down. The only difference is that I had walked downhill the whole way, losing about 700 feet in elevation, so the return trip was payback for that easy downhill.

I was almost back to the car when I encountered a friendly deer.  I stood still and it started walking toward me. I watched it for a bit then headed back up the trail to my car.

In addition to the dogwoods, there are many wild Azaleas. I think the spring would be a very pretty time of year to visit this area to view those blooms and I bet there are other wildflowers to see. If I had visited a little earlier in the fall, this area could be full of dogwood color. You can also go farther down the road than I did, crossing the creek and looping back on the Moss Canyon Truck Trail, maybe 12-ish miles total. Someday I hope to do that one.

Dog Hike? No

Dogs are not allowed on the Merced Grove Trail.

Where Pets Are Not Allowed

  • On trails, including the trail to Vernal Fall (however, pets are allowed on the Wawona Meadow Loop)
  • On unplowed roads covered in snow
  • In undeveloped and wilderness areas
  • In public buildings
  • On shuttle buses
  • In lodging areas
  • In all walk-in and group campgrounds/campsites, including Camp 4
  • In any other areas, as signed

These regulations protect both pets and wildlife from disease and each other. The National Park Service has prohibited pets on trails for many years. In particular, some pets chase wildlife, pollute water sources, and can become defensive and dangerous in unfamiliar surroundings. Pet owners have the burden to assure their pet does not damage the park values for others in those areas where pets are allowed.

Yosemite Hospitality operates a dog kennel in Yosemite Valley from approximately late May through early September. Written proof of immunizations (rabies, distemper, parvo, and Bordetella) must be provided. Dogs must be at least 20 pounds (smaller dogs may be considered if you provide a small kennel). You can get more information about the kennel by calling 209/372-8326.

Maps and Profile:

Merced Grove and Beyond Doarama

Merced Grove Hike Topographic Map (Flag is Yosemite National Park Boundary)

Merced Grove Hike Profile

Sources:

Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias Yosemite National Park

Merced Grove Trail Satellite View Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Transportation Company

History of Big Oak Flat Road Wikipedia

The Big Oak Flat Road (1955) by Irene D. Paden and Margaret E. Schlichtmann

Browning, Peter, Yosemite Place Names: The History of Geographic Names in Yosemite National Park

Hartesveldt, Richard J., Yosemite Valley Place Names (1955)

Merced Grove Ranger Station

Merced Grove Ranger Station Register of Historic Places Mariposa County

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Hiking Along the Old Big Flat Road December 7, 2015

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