We chose a hike close by where we had Giant Sequoias all to ourselves and our crazy dogs could stretch their legs. If you have never visited Nelder Grove, it is a small grove of Giant Sequoias, full of local history and relics from the logging that occurred in the 1880s.
Where: Sierra National Forest
Distance: 7.71 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 5,124′ – 6,064′
Date: January 24, 2014
Highlights: Just a short drive out of Oakhurst, we took the dogs for a hike up to see some really big trees. We decided to go off trail and “discovered” some little visited and unique Giant Sequoias. We also walked on several of the shorter trails to see some famous Giants such as the Bull Buck and Hawksworth Trees.
The interpretative area with the logging information was very interesting and the old cabins and their weathered wood took my imagination back to what the times must have been like back in the day.
We headed north on Highway 41 out of Oakhurst, turning right on Sky Ranch Road, following it past the turnoff to Nelder Grove (Road 6S47Y) to Road 6S90 on the left.
The campground was closed for the season and a gate was across the entrance to it so we parked just outside the gate in a wide spot and walked up the road. Raven and Sally waited patiently, well not so patiently, for us to get moving.
We walked down the dirt road into the campground. They don’t recommend long trailers or vehicles with low clearance head down this road to the seven free camping spots, two of which are walk-in sites.
As we walked, I wondered about the people who had resided in Nelder Grove over the years. My research showed that the Southern Sierra Miwok camped in Nelder Grove while gathering acorns and hunting for several thousand years.
The area’s first historical reference appears in the 1851 diary of one of the soldiers in the Mariposa Battalion and Galen Clark of Yosemite saw the grove in 1858, naming it Fresno Grove, as it was then a part of Fresno County. But it got the name that we know today from John Nelder, who is said to have left New Orleans in 1849, headed for California in search of gold.
By 1875 he had quit prospecting and built a log cabin in the shadows of the towering trees, on homesteaded land. In that year, John Muir was exploring the sequoia groves south of Wawona to establish the boundaries of Fresno Grove. The famed naturalist came upon Nelder sitting outside his new log cabin.
Muir describes Nelder as “a fine, kind man, who in going into the woods has at last gone home; for he loves nature truly and realizes that these last shadowy days with scarce a glint of gold in them are the best of all.” Nelder lived another 14 years and died when his cabin burned in 1889.
This area was heavily logged from 1878 until the mid-1890s by the Madera Flume and Trading Company. They logged mostly sugar pines, ponderosa pines, white firs, and incense-cedars, but they did cut down some of the sequoias as well.
Nelder Grove is managed to protect the larger trees, the historical remnants of Native Americans and logging in the grove, while fostering the establishment of new seedlings and the growth of the younger trees. It has an interpretive area with historical replicas and displays that include life-size replicas of logging devices used by Madera Flume and Trading Company.
Sally and I took a close look at the two cabins that were moved from Biledo Meadow during 1980-1981 to Nelder Grove. These cabins were used during the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century in Biledo Meadow. The weathered corners were beautiful in my eyes. Imagine who would have walked through that door to the cabin way back in the days the cabins were in their original cow camp location.
Both cabins are excellent examples of the types of cabins that were built when the first white settlers took up residence around the Yosemite area. The first cabin detail shows square hand-hewn logs joined by a Box Notch and very similar to one of the existing cabins still standing in Biledo Meadows. The second cabin picture detail shows a Saddle Notched corner. There is also a similar cabin still located in Biledo Meadow that was built by Thomas Biledo in 1890 that was chinked with hand-split shakes laid parallel to the logs.
Raven and Sally told us that they were ready to explore more so we moved down the trail a bit. Photo by Debra Sutherland
Sally said “this way to the Big Ed Tree.” What a beautiful big tree but how in the heck do you capture that in a picture. This is one of those reasons that you need to go and see for yourself.
There was also a beautiful little creek with reflections not far from “Big Ed.”
The Madera Flume and Trading Company, which logged the Nelder Grove, was later taken over by the Madera Sugar Pine Company. The logging that occurred back then would be considered wasteful by our standards of today.
Many giant trees were cut down and the logs left to become waste, which we can still see today. Fortunately they left some wonderful giant trees for us to see today. Time has helped heal some of the wounds of the past but the huge remaining stumps still help remind us of nature’s healing process.
John Hawksworth built life-size replicas of the logging aids used by Madera Flume and Trading Company back in the 1880s. A two-pole chute, cross-log chute and an example of the tramway the loggers used to get the lumber produced from Mill #4 to the flume have descriptive signs on them to help you understand how those loggers got the trees to the mill.
There are many trails to explore and from what we saw, they were well signed. Photo by Gail Gilbert.
We then left the trail where Nelder Creek intersected it and headed up along the creek, bushwacking and traveling the mode of less resistance when we encountered a lot of down trees or brush.
We arrived at a couple of huge Giant Sequoias with a lot of character. Fire plays an important role in their success and these giants had obviously survived a significant fire although they bore the scars to show it.
How can you capture their hugeness? Photo of my arm stretched by a big tree by Gail Gilbert.
We tried to capture a picture of us with the dogs in front of a tree. Treats helped get their attention but we sure couldn’t get them to turn the other way and pose for the picture so settled for this picture of dog rear ends. Photo by Gail Gilbert.
Even the dead giants were beautiful.
We arrived at the Hawksworth Tree. Photo of Sally and I by Debra Sutherland.
Then the Old Granddad Tree.
We had a great lunch spot on a big rock near Old Granddad.
Heading back down the trail to the campground, then took a few of the short trails. One of them led up to the Bull Buck Tree, once considered a contender for the title of “The world’s largest tree.” A sign says that it is 247 feet tall and has a circumference at of 84 feet at 4.5 feet above the ground! I had to walk a long ways out in order to get the entire tree in one picture.
I sure like the mossy split rail fence that was around the Bull Buck Tree. Compaction of the ground above the root system of the Giant Sequoias can be detrimental to these trees so it is important that we give them some space to happily grow.
We continued along the trail, crossing the creek on this picturesque bridge.
What a great day with the dogs. We saw a lot of dogwoods and azaleas that I am sure will be putting on a show this spring and look forward to making it back up here then to enjoy a whole different look to Nelder Grove.
I added a map located on the Neldergrove.org site that helps illustrate than many options that you will have to explore the trails and Giant Sequoias. Friends of Nelder Grove have done an amazing job on this website and you can also send off for an email copy of their free interpretative guide Please visit their site for more detailed information.