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Nelder Grove Trail Map

Hike Distances:
Big Ed Tree Trail:  0.2 miles (0.3 km) round trip
Bull Buck Tree Loop:  0.75 miles (1.2 km) loop
Chimney Tree Trail:  1.1 miles (1.7 km) loop
Shadow of the Giants:  1 mile (1.6 km) loop
Graveyard of the Giants:  5.5 miles (8.9 km) round trip

Trailhead Elevation:  Shadow of the Giants 5,200 feet (1,585 meters); other trails 5,380 feet (1,640 meters)
Big Ed Tree Trail Elevation Gain:  less than 50 feet (15 meters)
Bull Buck Tree Loop Elevation Gain:  less than 100 feet (30 meters)
Chimney Tree Trail Elevation Gain:  less than 100 feet (30 meters)
Shadow of the Giants Elevation Gain:  less than 100 feet (30 meters)
Graveyard of the Giants Elevation Gain:  650 feet (200 meters)

Closure Alert: The Shadow of the Giants Trail is closed due to damage from the 2017 Railroad Fire.

Shadow of the Giants:  The Shadow of the Giants trail loops through a narrow draw with a brook running down the middle of it. This short (just over 1 mile/1.5 km), mostly level, and strikingly serene trail contains several mature sequoias and a pleasing arrangement of complementary species like dogwoods (great in both the spring, when they flower, and the autumn, when their leaves turn) and cedars (ferns on steroids, at least visually). Striped Coralroot, not the most prepossessing of orchids but an orchid nonetheless, can be found here in large numbers some years.

The Big Ed Tree Trail:  If you turn right at the fork and head for the four trails at the Nelder Grove Campground instead of the Shadow of the Giants trail, the first bit of campgroundish infrastructure you'll encounter is the interpretive center, which includes a pair of 19th-century cabins (moved here from Biledo Meadow) and a topographical scale model of the area. The Big Ed Tree trailhead is here, just beyond the topo model. The Big Ed Tree itself is just a hundred meters or so down the trail; the cabins at the trailhead are still in sight from the base of the tree. Beyond the Big Ed Tree, the trail crosses a stream, then turns left and ends next to the Bull Buck Tree Loop trailhead.

The Chimney Tree Trail:  A tenth of a mile past the interpretive center is a large parking area shared by the trailheads for the Chimney Tree and Graveyard of the Giants trails. The highlight of the mile-long Chimney Tree Trail is, naturally enough, the Chimney Tree, whose insides at the base have been hollowed out by fire, forming a natural tunnel. Not only can you walk through this tree, but a pair of smaller trees are growing out of it. The trail eventually intersects with the Buck Bull Tree Loop just past the latter's clockwise trailhead.

The Bull Buck Tree Loop:  The trailhead for this hike is a tenth of a mile past the Chimney Tree/Graveyard of the Giants trailhead parking area mentioned in the previous paragraph. The Bull Buck Tree is a monster, the single most impressive tree in the grove. It's actually taller, older, and slightly larger around at the base than the Mariposa Grove's legendary Grizzly Giant, though its upper branches are smaller and it has less overall volume. The loop trail is 0.75 miles; if you hike it clockwise, you'll reach the Bull Buck Tree in a quarter mile, while it's half a mile going anticlockwise. The anticlockwise hike is, in my opinion, the more dramatic path. Via the clockwise route, you just sort of happen upon the tree, while the anticlockwise route includes an impressive approach reminiscent of the trail to the Grizzly Giant. You'll see signs for the clockwise trailhead a tenth of a mile past the Chimney Tree/Graveyard of the Giants trailhead lot. There's parking to your right, and a picnic table beyond the parking area. The anticlockwise trailhead is near the picnic table - it's clearer in person than it sounds here.

Adjacent to the Bull Buck Tree are the stumps of two more immense sequoias that were logged in the late 19th century, and you'll see several more of these scattered through the grove. This is the great tragedy of the grove's history - about three times as many mature sequoias were logged as remain in the grove, even though sequoias tend to splinter when felled and the wood doesn't have many uses. You'd think that after cutting down the first enormous tree, counting the rings, and seeing that it takes a thousand years for one of these to grow, the lumberjacks would have deliberated a bit before cutting down a few hundred more of them.

The Graveyard of the Giants:  This is the longest (5.5 miles round trip) of the trails in the Nelder Grove area and the only one with significant elevation gain, climbing steadily, albeit not steeply, throughout, and passing a scattering of mature sequoias along the way. The trailhead is a tenth of a mile past the interpretive center.

Just under a mile into the Graveyard of the Giants, you'll reach The Leaner, the first notable tree along the route. True to its name, it leans to the right at a roughly Pisaesque angle, and is in fact about the same height as the Tower of Pisa. You'll pass a large unlabeled sequoia soon afterwards, and then, roughly .8 miles from The Leaner, you'll reach the Clothespin Tree, which is cleft in two at the top - an upside-down version of the Mariposa Grove's Clothespin Tree, basically. Another three quarters of a mile along you'll reach two more large sequoias, the Kiowa and the Hawksworth. Just past the Hawksworth, the trail forks. The left fork goes to Road 5S18, and the right fork will take you, after a few hundred meters, to the Old Grandad Tree, a large sequoia with an immense branch a hundred and fifty feet or so up. If you continue past Old Grandad, in about a hundred meters you'll reach another mature sequoia whose top appears to have been clipped off, possibly by lightning. Past this tree, the trail begins to descend steeply and intersects with a road a quarter of a mile later.

While the other trails all proceed entirely through forest, the Graveyard of the Giants route includes a few clearings with views off to the mountains, though the mountains you can see are round-topped and tree covered and not as memorable as the rocky spires inside Yosemite. From one of the clearings - near the Kiowa Tree - you might spot a building on the far slope; this is the Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp, three miles distant as the crow flies, assuming the crow flies very, very straight. If the crow were driving instead, it would be a 16-mile trip from the trailhead.

Miscellaneous Trail Notes:  If you're planning to hike the Big Ed Tree, Chimney Tree, or Bull Buck Tree trails (the three shorter trails in the campground area), check out the interpretive guide PDF from the Friends of Nelder Grove. It includes explanatory text for the cryptic markers that appear intermittently along these trails, along with a printable trail map that, while not to scale, is nonetheless a useful approximation. The map is also available as a standalone PDF download.