I love places that make me feel small, places that remind me of my infinitesimal spot in the universe. Standing among the giants of Sequoia National Park, home to some of the oldest and largest trees in the world, is a beautiful place to do just that. With its granite domes and breathtaking views of the Great Western Divide, there’s more to see than even the giant sequoias. Though for this hiker, they would be spectacular enough on their own.
Sequoia National Park is situated in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Elevations range from 1370 to 14494 feet above sea level. This huge range lends itself to the rich biodiversity of the different zones. The low elevation foothills that lie below 4500 feet were hot and dry as we drove through at the end of July 2020, and those elevations have plant growth typical of a Mediterranean climate. Highest in elevation are the alpine mountains above 9500 feet. These areas include some of the highest points in the 48 contiguous United States. The mid elevation forests, located between 4500 and 9500 feet in elevation are where you will find the perfect growing conditions for Sequoiadendron giganteum, the giant sequoia. These trees, while not the tallest in the world (this distinction belongs to their cousins, the coast redwoods that grow on California’s northern coast), they are by volume the largest. Their trunks are massive, and at over 200 feet tall, they are not exactly short either.
We began the trip at Mineral King, a subalpine valley east of the main entrance to the national park. The drive up to the Cold Springs Campground by the Mineral King Ranger Station was a winding 23 miles from the California 198. The road wasn’t too hard to navigate and was for the most part decently maintained, but it did require some concentrated driving as it was about a lane-and-a-half wide, going down to one narrow lane between sequoias at parts. It took a solid hour to go those 23 miles, and it was totally worth it. The views from the road were stunning, and the scenery surrounding the campgrounds peaceful, with the east fork of the Kaweah River flowing through it.
After lunch, and dropping the boys off for their Sierra Trek at the Eagle-Mosquito Trailhead at the end of the road, Sami and I backtracked to California Route 198 and headed two miles east from the start of Mineral King Road to the main entrance of the park. This took almost as long as driving the windy mountain road. Traffic heading into the park was backed up those two miles with other summer adventurers waiting to enter the park. This delay put a bit of a damper on Sami’s spirits, especially since there was no cell service in this part of Three Rivers. After patiently (and impatiently) waiting, we finally got to the point in the queue where we were able to get in the “express” lane for annual passholders. Having our parks pass saved us about 10-15 minutes, which for us was the difference between a fun excursion and a full meltdown.
As I promised Sami that we would do very little hiking on this trip, we skipped a few of the park’s highlights, such as Moro Rock, the granite dome that looms proudly over the highway. You can climb up 350 steps to the top of the dome, which offers spectacular views of the San Joaquin Valley and the Great Western Divide. We’ll have to do that on another trip, one where I don’t make promises that are hard to keep.
The one sight that was non-negotiable was the Giant Forest and the General Sherman Tree. Giant Forest is home to the largest collection of sequoias in the world. Among these gargantuan trees stands the famed General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on the planet when measured by volume. It stands at about 275 feet tall, with about 52500 cubic feet of tree. This behemoth is also ancient; its age is estimated to be about 2200-2700 years old. It’s only about a half-mile hike down some stairs from the large parking lot to pay a visit to General Sherman, and there is an accessible parking area for those who require it. It is definitely a must-do; to stand among these wonders of the world and feel our inconsequence in comparison to these ancient groves is really humbling in an awesome way.
I would have liked to spend more time at the park, and even make the trip up to its neighbor, Kings Canyon, but Sami was getting hangry and I unfortunately needed to get to a place where we had cell service. We spent a good day at Sequoia and truly enjoyed the beautiful drives. One day we’ll have to return to spend more time really exploring the national park and enjoy a few more happy trails.
Some things to consider:
One of the hindrances we had to extending the trip beyond a day was the Covid19 closures. At time of writing, we found that only the Giant Forest Museum was open; the Foothills Visitor Center closest to the main park entrance was closed, as was the Mineral King Ranger Station. There were also no walk-up camp areas available. Open campgrounds were extremely limited and by reservation only. Services are still extremely limited.
Social distancing is encouraged. Even with the popularity of the Giant Forest and the multitude of hikers we saw on the trails, we were able to maintain the recommended six feet between ourselves and other hikers. We also carried masks with us for when the trail was busier, as well as for our bathroom stops.
Cell service was spotty within the park. I did pick up a Verizon signal when close to the General Sherman Tree, but that was it. Be prepared to not rely on your cell phone, and enjoy the journey.
An America the Beautiful parks pass is the most expedient way of entering the park. Regular park entrance is $35 per vehicle and is good for seven days. If you plan on visiting other national parks and parks service lands, the parks pass is a deal at $80 annually.
I loved even our limited time at Sequoia National Park. The giant sequoias are a wonder to behold, and there are many more adventures to be had within the park boundaries. I hope to return soon. Happy trails!
To plan your Sequoia and Kings Canyon adventure visit https://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm.
General Sherman Tree: