Many visitors (and residents) to our area may be unaware that there is a small jewel of a Giant Sequoia Grove just a few miles from Oakhurst. This grove is not in Yosemite National Park. It's just north of Oakhurst. If you arrive in Oakhurst in the late afternoon or want a short morning exploration, this may be just what you are looking for!
Human occupation of the Nelder Grove began with the Southern Miwoks. They had been camping in the area and harvesting acorns for several thousand years. The first evidence of Europeans visiting the Grove came in the form of the diary notation of a Mariposa Battalion soldier in 1851. Galen Clark visited in 1858 and named it the Fresno Grove as it was part of Fresno County. Subsequently the Grove was renamed for John Nelder, a retired miner who came to California in 1849 from New Orleans looking for gold. By 1875, he had grown tired of prospecting and homesteaded some land and built his home in the Grove. In 1875, John Muir spotted the Grove when he was hiking on Fresno Dome, hiked to the Grove and met Nelder who he described as "a fine, kind man". Nelder lived in the Grove until his death in 1889 when he died in the fire that destroyed his cabin.
Because of the demand for lumber following the California Gold Rush and California's growth, it wasn't long before lumbermen headed to the Grove. The Madera Flume and Trading Company located its California Mill #4 in Nelder Grove in 1888 and logged the area until 1892. Visitors will be stunned by the dozens of stumps left by the logging operations. Yet, keep in mind with the tools of the day, it was quite a feat to down one of these trees. With a bed of branches to soften the fall of these brittle trees, it would take the loggers a week or so using a 25 foot saw to topple a 1000 year old sequoia. Because of the brittleness of the wood, most of the lumber was used for posts, grape stakes and shakes! Operations were careless and wasteful but that does present today's traveler with the opportunity to view waste wood still as solid as the day it was cut over 100 years ago. While the cutting of the sequoias certainly testified to the hardiness and resolve of these early loggers, the careful management of the U.S. Forest Service (since 1928) has given us what we enjoy today including a healthy number of young sequoias.
While the road is not paved the entire way to the Grove, this should not stop summer visitors at all. As a contrast to the summer crowds in the Mariposa Grove, the Nelder Grove offers a chance to enjoy these trees up close in a very natural setting. There are approximately 101 trees not counting those logged as well as a very healthy crop of young sequoias situated on over 1500 acres. The whisper of wind through the trees, sounds of the birds and solitude rein here. Several short walks (under a mile) meander through the area. The Shadow of the Giants is a one mile self-interpretive walk along the banks of Nelder Creek offering flowering dogwood in the spring and fall colors of red and gold. Early spring flowers include snow plants with later flowering plants of Lady Slipper Orchids and Western Azaleas. Another trail for exploration is the one mile loop to the Bull Buck Tree which is considered among the world's largest Giant Sequoias at a height of 246 feet and a ground level circumference of 99 feet! A three mile hike will take you to the Graveyard of the Giants where you will see several fire-killed sequoias.
With an elevation of 5,500 feet, the Nelder Grove is perfect for those seeking relief from the heat of summer. For those who can't resist the temptation to linger, there are seven campsites available on a first come first served basis with a 20 foot vehicle length limitation. On your drive into the campground, be sure to visit the interpretive center. There are two restored historical cabins with life-size replicas of chutes used to transport logs. The chutes are found along the original beds used by loggers at the turn of the century. During the summer only, there is a 10 foot square 3-D model relief map of the Grove.
Nelder Grove is located directly off Road 632, also known as Sky Ranch Road. You'll find it 10 miles (16 km) south of Yosemite National Park's south entrance. If you're approaching from the south, it's 4 miles (6.4 km) north of the intersection of Highways 41 and 49 in Oakhurst.
Stay on Road 632 for about 7 miles or 11 km, until you reach a signed left turn to the Nelder Grove just as the pavement ends. Take the left turn and travel just over a mile (1.6 km) until the road forks. There's a sign at the fork that appears to indicate that Nelder Grove is to the right, but it's actually the Nelder Grove Campground that's off in that direction. What the sign calls "Shadow of the Giants", half a mile to your left, is your destination. Once you reach the grove you'll find a sign and a short but steep and rutted driveway leading to the parking lot and trailhead.