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 National Park, 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 so 84 percent of the 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!
1. The General Sherman Tree
General Sherman is the name bestowed upon the biggest tree in the world. Named after the famed Union Civil War General, William Tecumseh Sherman, the tree stands an incredible 275 feet tall, almost the full length of a football field. The trail to see this monster makes for a beautiful day hike with a half a mile walking trail to the site. But don’t be in any rush, the elevation is at a towering 7000 ft. so feel free to take advantage of the numerous benches on the trail side if you’re not used to hiking up that high because those of us that live in the flatlands can find the air clear on the mountains, but also quite thin! If you’d like to not drive through the park there is a shuttle service to the trailhead from the Giant Forest Museum.
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 famed 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, 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, and guided horseback rides are available to the public in summer at two horseback riding stables in the park. Opening and closing dates for each location depend upon weather conditions, and there are age and weight requirements. But if you don’t have your own horse, burro, or lama to bring, 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 as a myriad of trails, though the altitude is high and the slopes steep, so make sure you pack plenty of water and don’t over do it if you’re not used to high elevations. Mosquitos can be a nuisance due to the many lakes in the valley, but if you can battle the blood suckers 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 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 that zig zag through lands untouched by human hands 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 which have many of the same features you’d find on the Appalachian Trail. In 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 for those of us seeking a more solitary time, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon wilderness is accessible for primitive hiking and camping by permit available. But be careful, just as our forefathers had to contend with wild animals, insects, harsh elements, and the dangers of solitude, be sure you 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 the people of this country, and 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.
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