Pioneer Cabin Tree

The Pioneer Cabin Tree, also known as The Tunnel Tree, was a giant sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, California. It was considered one of the U.S.'s most famous trees,[5] and drew thousands of visitors annually.[6] It was estimated to have been more than 1,000 years old,[5] and measured 33 feet (10 m) in diameter; its exact age and height were not known.[A][9][10] The tree was topped before 1859.[11] It fell and shattered during a storm on January 8, 2017.[3][5][1][12]

Pioneer Cabin Tree
Photo of the tree from 2006. Tree has a tunnel through center of trunk. There is a marked path for people to walk through it.
The Pioneer Cabin Tree in 2006
SpeciesGiant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
LocationCalaveras Big Trees State Park, California, U.S.
Coordinates38°16′48.6″N 120°18′11.3″W / 38.280167°N 120.303139°W / 38.280167; -120.303139Coordinates: 38°16′48.6″N 120°18′11.3″W / 38.280167°N 120.303139°W / 38.280167; -120.303139[1]
Date felledJanuary 8, 2017 (2017-01-08)[2][3][4]


c. 1860–1880, before the tunnel was opened further

The Pioneer Cabin Tree got its name from its distinctively hollow trunk, partially burnt by lightning strikes and forest fire.[13][8] It had small compartments as in a log cabin, with the tree's burnt core as a chimney, and a small opening as a backdoor.[14][15][16][17]

In 1857 it was noted that the "top half" of the tree was broken off at about 150 feet, and that the tree was hollow.[11][18]

A stereoscope image of the Pioneer Cabin with people and horse passing through (c. 1867–1899)

In the early 1880s,[19][20] a tunnel was cut through the compartments by a private land owner at the request of James Sperry, founder of the Murphys Hotel, so that tourists could pass through it.[10][21][22][23][24] The tree was chosen in part because of the large forest fire scar. The Pioneer Cabin Tree emulated the tunnel carved into Yosemite's Wawona Tree, and was intended to compete with it for tourists.[25][26][27]

Since the 1880s and for more than 50 years, visitor graffiti was encouraged,[3] but this practice was prohibited in the 1930s.[21] At first only pedestrians were allowed to pass through the tree.[28] Later, for many years, automobiles drove through it as part of the "Big Trees Trail".[28] It was one of several drive-through trees in California.[B] Subsequently, only hikers were allowed to pass through the tree's tunnel as part of the North Grove Loop hiking trail.[3][31]


The Pioneer Cabin Tree fell during a rain storm and flooding on January 8, 2017.[3][28] It was the strongest storm to hit the area in over a decade.[5] The flooding, combined with the shallow root system of giant sequoias, likely caused it to fall.[3] A park volunteer reported that the tree had been weakening, becoming brittle and leaning to one side for several years, with only a single branch remaining alive.[3] It had been weakened by the severe damage caused by the tunnel carved through its trunk.[25][26] The tree shattered on impact with the ground.[3][28]

After the fall of the tree the park trail closed for a cleanup operation.[32] Some sections of the tree remained intact, but the park's preservation policy prevented them from being cut up, for example to determine the tree's exact age.[33]

At least one observer suggested that the tree fell victim to the profit motive and greed, not just a storm.[34] It was one of several trees that were mutilated to promote tourism.[1][35] California State Parks supervising ranger Tony Tealdi said that today the hollowing out of a tree would not be permitted.[36]

Drive-through and other noted treesEdit

This was one of several trees that were hollowed out for the amusement of tourists.[35][37]

A stereoscope image of the Pioneer Cabin and Pluto's Chimney (left in the distance)[38] (c. 1864–1874)

The two giant sequoia drive-through trees have both fallen:

Two walk-through giant sequoia tunnel trees still stand:

Two others have edifices carved within:

Tunnel Log is a fallen giant sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park. The tree, which measured 275 feet (84 m) tall and 21 feet (6.4 m) in diameter, fell across a park road in 1937 due to natural causes. The following year, a crew cut an 8-foot (2.4 m) tall, 17-foot (5.2 m) wide tunnel through the trunk, making the road passable again.[39]

There are three coast redwood trees that can be driven through near US 101 in northern California, namely: Klamath Tour Thru Tree; Shrine Drive-Thru Tree; and Chandelier Tree.[39]

The loss of the Pioneer Cabin Tree occasioned an encomium to other important trees that still remain.[43]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ An 1856 news article lists the height of the tree without its broken off top as 150 feet (46 m).[7] In 1900, the United States Forest Service wrote it was 280 feet (85 m) tall.[8]
  2. ^ "It's unclear exactly how old the tree was, but the Los Angeles Times reports that the trees in the state park are estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. Sequoias can live for more than 3,000 years. The iconic tree was one of just a few tunneled-through sequoias in California. The most famous was the Wawona Tree, in Yosemite National Park; it fell during a winter storm in 1969 at an estimated age of 2,100 years. The other remaining sequoia tunnels are dead or consist of logs [lying] on their side, the Forest Service says."[2][29][30]


  1. ^ a b c "A Guide to the North Grove Trail of Calaveras Big Trees – Marker 21" (PDF). H Calaveras Big Trees State Park. California State Parks. 2006. p. 12. Retrieved January 15, 2017. USGS satellite view of N Grove Trail
  2. ^ a b Domonoske, Camila (January 9, 2017). "Iconic Sequoia 'Tunnel Tree' Brought Down By California Storm". National Public Radio. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Hockaday, Peter (January 8, 2017). "Historic Pioneer Cabin Tree toppled in California storm". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  4. ^ Andrews, Travis M. (January 9, 2017). "Morning Mix: Winter storm fells one of California's iconic drive-through tunnel trees, carved in the 1880s". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d "Pioneer Cabin Tree in California felled by storms". BBC. January 9, 2017. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  6. ^ McCann, Erin (January 9, 2017). "Giant Sequoia 'Tunnel Tree' in California Is Toppled by Storm". New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  7. ^ "Excursion to Mammoth Cave, Big Trees". Sacramento Daily Union. 11 (1603). May 15, 1856.
  8. ^ a b USFS (1900). Report on the Big Trees of California. Original from the University of Michigan: Govt. Print. Off. p. 14.
  9. ^ "Beloved California Giant Sequoia Tree Felled by Storm". ABC News. January 9, 2017. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  10. ^ a b "The Latest: Famed giant sequoia topples in California storms". Associated Press. January 9, 2017. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  11. ^ a b "The Mammoth Trees of California" (PDF), Hutchings’ California Magazine (33), p. 393, March 1859
  12. ^ Harala, Josh (January 13, 2017). "California's iconic 'tunnel tree' has finally fallen: Goodnight, sweet prince". Retrieved January 15, 2017. "Sierra redwoods (also known as Giant Sequoias) are the largest objects ever to have lived on Earth. The fossil record of the redwood family dates back 180 million years to the age of the dinosaurs, and individuals can live over 3,000 years", explains the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
  13. ^ "Heavy Rains Topple Iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree at Calaveras Big Trees State Park". California Department of Parks and Recreation. January 9, 2017.
  14. ^ "The Mammoth Trees". Sacramento Daily Union. 5 (769). September 10, 1853.
  15. ^ The Odd Fellow's Companion. XIX. M.C. Lilley & Co. November 1876. p. 239.
  16. ^ "The Big Trees". Sacramento Daily Union. 24 (3606). October 18, 1862.
  17. ^ Farmer, Jared (2013). Trees in Paradise: A California History. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 15. ISBN 9780393241273.
  18. ^ "The Giant Trees of California". The Morning Post (25981). April 8, 1857. p. 3 – via British Library Newspapers. The "Pioneer's Cabin" is 150 feet high; where the top is broken off it has a small opening through it. (subscription required)
  19. ^ "Trip to the Big Trees". Sacramento Daily Union. 18 (15). September 8, 1883. p. 2. The "Pioneers’ Cabin" had a large burnt cavity, which this year has been so enlarged by workmen, that a stage could easily pass through it with enough of the tree left on each side to support it in health.
  20. ^ California State Parks (2008). "Hanging On By A Branch: The Pioneer Cabin Tree".
  21. ^ a b Carol Kramer; Calaveras Big Trees Association (September 6, 2010). Calaveras Big Trees. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 118–. ISBN 978-1-4396-2522-4.
  22. ^ Bourn, Jennifer (September 28, 2016). "The Calaveras Big Trees North Grove Trail". Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  23. ^ "The Pioneer's Cabin and Pluto's Chimney – Big Tree Grove, Calaveras County" (Albumen Photograph). Library of Congress. 1866. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  24. ^ "Iconic Pioneer Cabin tree falls during strong Northern California storm" (Video). CBS News. January 9, 2017. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  25. ^ a b Hongo, Hudson (January 9, 2017). "After More Than 100 Years, California's Iconic Tunnel Tree Is No More". Gizmodo. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  26. ^ a b Mazza, Ed (January 9, 2017). "GREEN: Pioneer Cabin Tree, Iconic Giant Sequoia With 'Tunnel', Falls In Storm". The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 9, 2017. The tree was “barely alive” due to the hole punched through it in the 1880s.
  27. ^ Summers, Jordan (May 15, 2012). 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Sacramento: Including Auburn, Folsom, and Davis. Birmingham, Alabama: Menasha Ridge Press. p. 120. ISBN 0897326040.
  28. ^ a b c d Melvin, Don; Chirbas, Kurt. "Pioneer Cabin Tree, Famous for Tunnel, Is Toppled by Storm" (Video). NBC News. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  29. ^ St. John, Paige; Hamilton, Matt (January 8, 2017). "An iconic tunnel tree in a California state park is no more after huge storm". Los Angeles Times. Truckee, California. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  30. ^ a b c "Destination drive through trees". Retrieved January 9, 2017.
  31. ^ Stienstra, Tom; Brown, Ann Marie (July 26, 2016). Moon Northern California Hiking. Avalon Travel Publishing. p. 516. ISBN 978-1-63121-549-0.
  32. ^ Hale, Jamie (January 9, 2017). "Iconic drive-through tree in California has fallen". The Oregonian. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  33. ^ Recede, Kay (January 9, 2017). "Iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree Crashes Down in Calaveras County". FOX40.
  34. ^ "Opinion California's iconic Pioneer Cabin Sequoia was felled by more than weather". Los Angeles Times. January 14, 2017. Retrieved January 15, 2017. Those who created this “tourist attraction” killed the tree slowly. ... We appear to be a nation of short-term thinkers, ... and people who take the long view seem to be in the minority. I wonder why humans can’t simply see the beauty of nature as it exists. Rather, they need to “improve” it or “make it into a profit center” Why can’t a millennium-old tree just be valued because it exists?
  35. ^ a b Meier, Allison (January 11, 2017). "The Drive-Through Tree, a Relic with Roots in American Tourism" (Photo Essay). Retrieved January 15, 2017. Last weekend, the Pioneer Cabin Tree in California collapsed. It was one of a number of West Coast trees that had holes cut through them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  36. ^ Sepulvado, John (January 9, 2017). "AROUND THE NATION: Pioneer Cabin Tree, Giant Sequoia With Tunnel, Toppled By Storm" (Audio). All Things Considered. National Public Radio. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  37. ^ a b McCannjan, Erin (January 9, 2017). "Giant Sequoia 'Tunnel Tree' in California Is Toppled by Storm". The New York Times. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  38. ^ "Tree Wonders of California". The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated. 53 (1): 46. July 1871. [The Cabin Tree is] so named from the cabin like chamber and chimney its hollow trunk exhibits...
  39. ^ a b c d e f "Where is the tree you can drive through?" (PDF). United States Forest Service. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  40. ^ a b "The Myth of the Tree You Can Drive Through". Sequoia & Kings Canyon. National Park Service. Retrieved January 10, 2017. [The Wawona Tree] was the second standing sequoia to be tunneled (the first, a dead tree, still stands in the Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite).
  41. ^ "Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias - Yosemite National Park (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  42. ^ Kaiser, Harvey H. (2002). An Architectural Guidebook to the National Parks: California, Oregon, Washington. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. pp. 96–97. ISBN 1-58685-0660.
  43. ^ "Lifestyle: 10 Incredible Trees You Can Still Visit, Now That Pioneer Cabin Is No More". Travel+Leisure. January 14, 2017. Retrieved January 15, 2017 – via Yahoo.

Further readingEdit

  • Flint, Wendell D.; Law, Mike, photographer (2002). To Find the Biggest Tree (2nd ed.). Three Rivers, California: Sequoia Natural History Association. ISBN 1878441094.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

External linksEdit