We investigated the physical and burning characteristics of sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana Douglas) cones and their contribution to woody surface fuel loadings. Field sampling was conducted at the Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot (YFDP), a 25.6 ha mapped study plot in Yosemite National Park, California, USA. We developed a classification system to describe sugar pine cones of different sizes and decay conditions, and examined differences among cone classes in biomass, bulk density, flame length, burning time, consumption, and relative contribution to surface fuel loads. Sugar pine cones comprised 601 kg ha-1 of surface fuels. Mature cones comprised 54% of cone biomass, and aborted juvenile cones accounted for 44%. Cone biomass, diameter, and bulk density differed among cone condition classes, as did burning characteristics (one-way ANOVA, P < 0.001 in all cases). Flame lengths ranged from 5 cm to 94 cm for juvenile cones, and 71 cm to 150 cm for mature cones. Our results showed that the developmental stage at which sugar pine cones become surface fuels determines their potential contribution to surface fire behavior in Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forests. Sugar pine cones burn with greater flame lengths and flame times than the cones of other North American fire-tolerant pine species studied to date, indicating that cones augment the surface fire regime of sugar pine forests, and likely do so to a greater degree than do cones of other pine species.