Pioneer Cabin Tree

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°16′48.6″N 120°18′11.3″W / 38.280167; -120.303139[2][3][4]

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]


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, 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 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]