When most people think of “big tree” they think of the iconic California Redwood tree. Also known as “the Sequoia”, the redwoods are legendary across this country for their stature and beautiful addition to the natural world around them. And there’s no better place to view these whispering giants than in Sequoia National Park. Sequoia’s beauty is rivaled by it’s sister park, Kings Canyon, which consists of a mile deep glacial carved valley characterized by some of the steepest mountains in the American West.
In keeping with the true rugged beauty of the area, no road crosses the Sierra Nevada within either park. 84 percent of the two parks combined is designated as wilderness and is accessible only by foot or by horseback. This makes both these parks the perfect destination for those of us seeking the call of adventure – which is why we put together the top five “must do’s” for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks!
Top things to See in Sequoia and kings Canyon
1. The General Sherman Tree
General Sherman is the name bestowed upon the biggest tree in the world. Named after a Union Civil War General, the tree stands an incredible 275 feet tall, almost the full length of a football field. A short 1/2 mile trail to see this monster makes for a beautiful day hike. There is a shuttle service to the trailhead from the Giant Forest Museum if you’d prefer not to drive. But it it is certainly one of the iconic things to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
The elevation is at a towering 7000 ft. and the air is quite thing, so feel free to take advantage of the numerous benches on the trail side if you’re not used to hiking up that high.
2. Moro Rock
Another giant to conquer in Sequoia, Moro Rock, makes for an excellent day hike in the park. This massive granite dome has 300 ft. stairway to the summit for a breathtaking view of the Great Western Divide and the western half of the park. As with General Sherman, there is a shuttle that takes you to the trailhead parking area from the Giant Forest Museum. But please be careful in planning your trip; ice and snow can sometimes be present on the stairs, turning this 1 km day hike into a treacherous endeavor.
3. General Grant Grove
The second biggest tree in the world, the General Grant Tree, is in the General Grant Grove. It was part of the original General Grant National Park that was expanded in the 1940s to become what we know today as King’s Canyon. The grove is renowned for it’s beauty. Guided horseback rides are available to the public in summer at two horseback riding stables. Opening and closing dates for each location depend upon weather conditions, and there are age and weight requirements.
Renting a horse only runs $50 for a one-hour ride, or $90 for a 2-hour ride. It’s a fantastic deal to add a new perspective to your typical hiking adventures. While reservations are recommended, they are not required. Other trails for riding include North Grove, Lion Meadow, and Dead Giant Loop.
4. Mineral King Day Hikes
Mineral King Valley is a large section of Sequoia that will make you feel like you’ve been transported onto the set of “Hell on Wheels”, “Dances With Wolves” or “Into the West”. This unblemished landscape has a myriad of hiking trails. The altitude is high and the slopes steep, so make sure you pack plenty of water. Don’t over do it if you’re not used to high elevations.
Mosquitos can be a big nuisance due to the many lakes in the valley. But if you can battle them head on, the many scenic trails are worth the irritation and bug spray.
Crystal, Monarch, Franklin, Eagle and Mosquito Lakes all have trails that will provide a wide array of potential Instagram photo ops and wildlife viewing. While the White Chief trail and Timber Gap will give you breathtaking scenes with every step you take!
5. 800 Miles of Wilderness Trails
We saved the best adventure for last. Over 90% of both parks are designated as “wilderness” land. This offers both a challenge and an escape to those of us who are hunting for untamable adventure. There are over 800 miles of primitive wilderness trails in over 808,000 acres of wild land. Some trails are very social trails, such as the High Sierra Trail or the Rae Lakes Loop. Both of these have many of the same features you’d find on the Appalachian Trail. As a matter of fact, a great portion of the park is on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 trail that spans the western coast of the US.
But if you’re seeking a more solitary time, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon wilderness is accessible for backpacking by permit. Be aware of the dangers of solitude and plan accordingly as bears, cougars, and other critters looking for an easy snack are always a concern to be taken seriously. But these are no reason to stay out of this pristine country. Just remember, like the Park’s website reminds it’s visitors, “Leave only footprints and take only memories.”
These sister parks have so much to offer, it’s impossible to make a list that fully captures the grand majesty and scale of this California treasure. The only thing bigger than the trees and mountains in this park are the memories you’ll take with you when you leave.
So be sure to plan ahead, plan smart, and soak up every moment you can in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks!