If ever there was a national park to make you feel dwarf-like, Sequoia National Park would be the one. And while that may sound diminishing, it is quite the opposite; the landscape of the Sequoias holds an inspiration unparalleled. Affectionately known as the Land of Giants, Sequoia National Park is located in the southern Sierra Nevada. This extraordinary Californian terrain is a dynamic alpine country encompassing towering mountains, an intricate system of caverns, deep canyons, and many of the largest trees on the planet.
Sequoia National Park was established on September 25, 1890, by President Benjamin Harrison; the 2nd national park to be created after Yellowstone back in 1872. Summer is always a popular time to come to Northern California. Consider an autumn or late spring trip. Not only will you avoid the hordes of tourists and be able to explore the park in a more intimate way, but you will discover little pockets of places not easily found when you are trying to navigate your way amongst the crowds.
Drive Through a Giant Sequoia
The obligatory tree-hugging experience takes on a new meaning when you can literally drive through one of the largest tree species on Earth. Make your way along Crescent Meadow Road in the Giant Forest – you will drive through a giant Sequoia, a fallen behemoth that has been carved out specifically for motorists to drive under. Tunnel Log is a passageway through a tree that is estimated to be over 2,000 years old. It fell across the road in 1937 and was cut to form an arch big enough for vehicles, of which untold numbers have driven through since the summer of 1938.
Pay Homage to the Largest Living Tree on Earth
You simply cannot go to Sequoia National Park without visiting the General Sherman Tree. In a land of big things, this tree is the granddaddy; the largest tree (by volume) in the world. Standing tall at 52,508 cubic feet, with a circumference of over 102 feet, you cannot literally hug this tree, but you can certainly try. To get to it, go to Wolverton Road off the Generals Highway, and stroll a mere ½ mile to the tree.
Climb Moro Rock
For souls of the adventurous variety, Moro Rock offers challenges and exhilaration beyond measure in its unique climbing opportunities. But for those of us who are not so apt, we can still experience magnificent views of the Great Western Divide while ascending the 400-step staircase to the summit. The adventure begins at the Moro Rock parking lot, with a short but intense 0.6-mile trek to reap the reward.
Underground Sequoia National Park – Crystal Cave
Take a sojourn through magnificent underground chambers holding remarkable formations in Crystal Cave. From May through November tours are usually offered by the Sequoia Natural History Association and vary in length from less than an hour to a several hours-long affair. Be sure to stop by the Foothills Visitor Center or the Lodgepole Visitor Center for tickets.
The Tallest Mountain in the Lower 48
Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. Visitors of all skill levels are able to experience the glory of this mountain. The easier option allows you to view Mt. Whitney by taking Highway 395 to the Interagency Visitor Center. For those who want the challenge, a hearty 10.7-mile hike from Whitney Portal awaits. Summiting this epic trail requires a backcountry permit and technical climbing gear, so be sure to get the required information.
King Canyon Waterfalls
Sequoia National Park has several waterfalls, each with its own unique splendor. Grizzly Falls can be appreciated after an easy 0.1-mile hike from the picnic area on the north side of General Highway. Just off of Hwy 180, take in the beauty of the Roaring River Falls by walking a mere 0.3 miles from the Cedar Grove Area on a paved, tree-covered trail. The water forces its path through a narrow gap of granite and cascades 40 feet below, creating a theatric event of nature.
Then there is Mist Falls, with its striking 100-foot drop. To get here requires trekking an 8-mile loop, so be sure to carve out at least half a day for this one. You’ll be rewarded with vistas of one of the largest falls in the park. The most impressive falls, however, is no doubt Tokopah Falls, which tumbles down 1,200 feet. The trail begins just beyond the Marble Fork Bridge in the Lodgepole Campground. An easy 1.7-mile stroll along the Kaweah River will lead you there.
No matter if you are looking for a short easy hike, a full-length day hike with some elevation gain, or anything in between, Sequoia National Park provides. Be sure to hit the visitor center for current trail conditions and to get trail maps; not all trails are open year-round due to weather conditions. There are hundreds of miles of trails in these parks to choose from. In the summer, consider heading out early or waiting until late afternoon for shorter hikes to avoid the heat of the day. Enjoy cool conifer forests, exhilarating vistas, sun-splashed meadows, and of course the mighty sequoia trees.
With more than 800,000 acres of designated Wilderness, the Sequoia and neighboring Kings Canyon National Parks give incredible opportunities for overnight trail exploration. Immerse yourself in natural wonder and excitement, from the tangled woodlands of the foothills all the way to the impressive heights of Mt. Whitney. Wilderness permits are required to stay in designated campgrounds and can be obtained on a reservation basis at several points throughout the park and online.
Appreciating the Wildlife
These mighty woods host an astonishing array of wildlife across a range of elevations. Depending on the time of year and conditions, you will likely see a few different species during your visit. Dawn and dusk are a good time for spotting majestic creatures lurking near the edges of the landscape, where forest trees meet grassy areas. Look for signs such as tracks and scat. And when you see one, sit quietly, simply observe, and enjoy.
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who studied under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, he's creating iconic WPA-style posters for each of our National Parks. Click Here to learn more about his story and The National Park Poster Project.
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