Atwell Grove is a fine sequoia grove on Mineral King Road, a long, winding drive from the town of Three Rivers. Unfortunately, only a few short segments of trail pass through the grove, but these segments are exceptionally scenic and impressive. Although the grove has been partially logged, the trail that passes through it appears to be entirely old growth. In fact, although I haven’t explored the grove off-trail, the only signs of logging that I’ve seen are within and immediately adjacent to the campground, which appears to have been clearcut and contains numerous stumps, both huge and small.
The grove has a typical high-elevation appearance; in fact it reaches the highest elevation of any sequoia grove, presumably because of its warm, south-facing hillside location. There’s an abundance of really big, perfectly-formed, column-like trees. The grove is very open and with little or no groundcover, except that it has patches of ferns which give the grove a pleasantly lush look. Through the woods are occasional glimpses of broad, conifer-covered mountainsides. The grove is on a pronounced slope, which I think makes it more interesting.
The trailhead parking area is at the east end of the campground. Walk back on either Mineral King Road or the campground road to reach the Paradise Ridge trailhead.
The trail immediately begins a moderately steep climb and soon enters the first of three stretches of sequoia forest. The lower grove has recently experienced a severe forest fire and is rather unattractive, with a lot of dead trees, many of them now broken off at mid-trunk. Within this rather dismal dead forest are scattered some sequoias, which have mostly survived and are in good condition.
The trail crosses an open, boulder-studded meadow several times over the next few miles. The long, narrow shape of the meadow suggests that it was created by an avalanche, but dead trees within the meadow suggest a forest fire.
The first really scenic stretch of sequoias begins one mile into the hike, as the trail enters a very open and completely groundcover-free section of the grove. Patches of ferns appear as the trail winds around a wide, shallow gully. The most magnificent sequoias appear near the end of this section of old growth; due to the openness of the forest you can get a really good look at the trees, even if they’re some distance from the trail.
There’s another meadow and some regular conifer forest, then the next stretch of sequoias begins two miles into the hike as the trail passes next to a gigantic tree that’s severely undercut by a fire scar. This upper section of sequoias is a little less impressive, but still very scenic. In this case, the best sequoias are near the beginning of the stretch of old growth.
The rest of the hike to Paradise Ridge is much less interesting. The trail does, according to NPS vegetation maps, pass through a narrow tendril of sequoia forest in the last switchback before the ridge, a tendril that would contain the highest-elevation sequoias. This area contains a stretch of unusually dense conifers, but I looked closely and wasn’t able to see any sequoias. I did see one small sequoia seedling, though, on the trail a few yards above this area.
From the ridge, there’s an unmaintained trail that proceeds along the ridge for about two miles to a viewpoint. The trail looks like it was built as an official trail but hasn’t been maintained in years. I don’t really recommend this trail because it’s long and not especially interesting, it’s slow going due to all the fallen trees and deadwood, and the view at the end isn’t really all that great.
© 2012 David Baselt