Sequoia National Park in California marked the end of the driving portion of our trip. Located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, the park is home to some of the largest trees on Earth, as well as a diverse array of plants and wildlife. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking to take in the beauty of nature, there’s something for everyone.
Established by President Benjamin Harrison on September 25, 1890, Sequoia National Park became the nation’s second national park following the creation of Yellowstone in 1872.
When we were driving toward the park, we passed multiple oil rigs and orange plantations, slowly heading higher and higher up the mountain. The winding roads offered breathtaking views, but the longer we drove, the more confused we were – we couldn’t spot the sequoias! We figured surely that humongous trees would be visible from far away. And while we were wondering if we were in the correct spot, we drove into the forest, and there they were – towering mightly over the road.
As we drove through, it was easy to feel small and insignificant in the grandeur of nature. With our mouths agape, we found a parking spot and approached the first tree. You know the tree is gigantic when you must take a panoramic shot to fit it in!
Some of the giant sequoias reach up to 83 meters tall and are over 11 meters in diameter at the base. These ancient giants are not the oldest trees in the world, but they can reach ages of up to 3,000 years and are truly a sight to behold. They are found only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at elevations ranging from 1219 and 2438 m in elevation.
We were surprised to see that many of the trees had visible burn marks. As we explored the park and read the informational signs, we learned that fires are a natural occurrence in this ecosystem and are actually necessary for the health and survival of the giant sequoias. In fact, the heat from fires helps to release the seeds from the cones of the trees and clears out dead brush, allowing for new growth.
What to see and do
While you might be planning to only drive through the area, do yourself a favor and stay at least one or more days there to fully experience all the park has to offer. There is so much to see and do in the park, with countless trails to explore and plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure. Trust me; you won’t feel bored with all the options available.
Not to mention Sequoia National Park is neighboring Kings Canyon National Park, adding even more area to explore.
The park boasts a highly efficient transportation system, with regular buses transporting visitors to the most popular viewpoints. Whether you’re short on time or looking to stretch your legs, you can choose to either rely on the buses to get around or opt to hike from one destination to the next, using the buses as a convenient means of returning to your starting point.
Beetle Rock Trail
We parked our car near the Giant Forest Museum and set out to explore.
After seeing signs for the Beetle Rock Trail, a short 0.5-km out-and-back trail, we decided to follow it and see where it would lead us. As it turned out, the trail took us to Beetle Rock, a granite dome that offers breathtaking views across the entire park.
Big Trees Trail
We then went back to the parking lot and noticed signs for Big Trees Trail, and we figured, why not try this one 🙂
If you’re short on time but want to experience the beauty of Sequoia National Park, I recommend taking the Big Trees Trail. This 1.9-km scenic loop trail is ideal for those looking to take in the park’s stunning landscape in a shorter amount of time. The trail takes you through a grove of massive, ancient old-growth sequoia trees, allowing you to walk among these towering giants and take in the beauty of nature. Along the route, you will encounter many signs explaining where the trees came from and how they thrive.
After exploring the Big Trees Trail, we decided to visit the iconic General Sherman Tree. There were a few options for getting there – we could drive our own car, take a park bus, or enjoy a leisurely hike. Since we had some extra time on our hands, we chose the latter and set out on the Rimrock Trail, a 3 km hike through beautiful scenery.
Even though we got a little lost and somehow ended up on Alta Trail earlier than we were supposed to, it was a great way to see more of the park and experience the natural surroundings up close.
As usual, with our “well-planned” trips, we barely made it to the last bus that took us back to where we had left our car. Lucky again 🙂
The Rimrock Trail intersected with the Congress Trail, a 4.7-km loop trail taking visitors to the General Sherman Tree and into the heart of the Giant Forest. This trail was particularly noteworthy for its concentration of giant sequoias, with so many “monarch” trees packed into a relatively short distance.
Other notable trees within the grove include the McKinley Tree, General Lee, and the President Tree.
General Sherman Tree
General Sherman Tree is a must-see when visiting Sequoia National Park. It is the largest tree in the world by volume and is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. It stands at the height of 84 meters and has a trunk circumference of over 31.3 meters.
Even though we were taking panorama pictures standing quite a distance away, it was still hard to fully capture the grandiosity of this tree.
General Grant Tree
While the sun was setting, we decided to make the most out of the day and drove towards Kings Canyon National Park. We really wanted to visit Grant Grove to see the General Grant Tree – the second-largest tree in the world.
General Grant Tree is also crowned as the official national Christmas tree of the United States and is the country’s only living national shrine – a memorial to those who died in the war. It stands at the height of 81 meters and has a trunk circumference of 32 meters.
A short 1.1-km loop trail takes visitors to General Grant Tree, the settler’s cabin, and the Fallen Giant.
Kings Canyon National Park Scenic Drive
I was eager to take a drive along the road that winds through the Kings Canyon, one of the deepest in North America. However, I knew that the round trip would take about 2-3 hours, and it was already getting dark as we left the General Grant Tree. Reluctantly, we drove away, making a mental note to plan for a longer visit next time we go for adventure.
Crystal Cave is a breathtaking marble cavern that can only be explored on a guided tour. The tour follows a less-than-kilometer-long loop trail through the cave.
Unfortunately, the cave was closed for the 2022 season due to damage to the trail caused by the fire.
You need to buy tickets in advance, and you can do it here.
More details here.
As you walk through the park, you may come across a couple of fallen giant sequoia trees with holes drilled through them. These ancient giants’ sheer size and majesty are jaw-dropping as you walk through them to emerge at the other side. Plus, they make for awesome pictures!
I hadn’t known that before and missed it, but if you follow along Crescent Meadow Road in the Giant Forest, you’ll have the opportunity to drive through Tunnel Log, which became a tourist attraction in the summer of 1938. Make sure though your car can fit in 🙂
When it comes to accommodation, there are several options within the park, including tent and RV campsites, as well as a few lodges. There are also several hotels and vacation rentals located in the nearby towns of Three Rivers and Visalia.
Check current pricing here, or get the America the Beautiful Pass like us 🙂