People come to Sequoia National Park to see giant trees, and they won’t be disappointed. But Sequoia National Park is much more than giant trees. The scenery of the Sierra-Nevada mountain range and the tranquility of walking under the canopy of the giants are extremely enjoyable.
Guide to Sequoia National Park
Top Attractions at Sequoia National Park
One Day Visit Plan
- Drive into the park from the south entrance via highway 198 and onto General Sherman Highway.
- Stop at the Foothills visitor center to get oriented. Take in the view of the mountain and river from nearby view point. Get tickets for Crystal Cave if open.
- Continue on General Sherman Highway through the switchbacks.
- Stop at Giant Forest Museum and walk the flat, beautiful Big Trees trail.
- Drive to Moro Rock and hike the granite dome. Enjoy the view.
- Drive to Crystal Cave if open and have tickets.
- Drive to General Sherman Tree. View the tree.
- Walk the flat, two mile Congress trail.
Our Visit to Sequoia National Park
Strong Currents, Snow Capped Mountains
Sure, Sequoia National Park’s feature attraction is the giant tree, but it is much more than giant sequoias. The mountains are tall and snow capped on the spring day we visited. As we approached from the south, we passed the beautiful lake Kaweah and started the climb. The road narrows, twisting through the forest. Just beyond the Foothills visitor center, a beautiful view of Kaweah river below. The high water level accentuated the rush of water that beat on the rocks and boulders. Water was doing its natural work of carving a path through the boulders. High water also meant danger. Rafting trips were banned and two people drowned the week we were there.
The first view of the Panther Peak with its green sides and snow capped peaks was picture perfect, just like what you would see on Sierra-Nevada mountain postcard. The perfect compliment of mountain and stream.
Switchbacks and Changing Trees
The road climbed sharply in a series of switchbacks, as we ascended towards the land of giant sequoias. The climb was steep with many pull-offs to admire the scenery. The trees changed from oak to sugar pines, which was already larger than any pine in the Carolinas. The temperature dropped ten degrees as we climbed from 4000 feet to 6000 feet. The Just Ahead audio guide told us to look for sequoias and a few minutes later, we saw it – the giant sequoias. The reddish bark was unmistakably giant sequoia and the size is much larger than any sugar pines. Oak trees disappeared, replaced by sugar pines and giant sequoias.
Numerous waterfalls from the spring snow melt flowed from the mountains as the first of the giant sequoias came into view. The temptation was to stop and gawk at these giants but Just Ahead told us to proceed to the Giant Forest area with the giant trees. Sure enough, a parking area with a museum had many more bigger trees.
Big Trees Trail
My jaw dropped when I saw the giant sequoia. Nothing prepared me on the size and height of these trees. The trunks were as straight as an arrow and it reached high into the sky. The reddish bark with black holes recorded the history of forest fires that cleared the ground for a new generation of sequoias.
The Big Trees Trail was a loop around a beautiful meadow with lush green grass surrounded by a giant sequoia forest. On the left was light green grass with an occasional fallen sequoia trunk. The meadow was lightly flooded from the melting snow. The air was warm but with the crispness of early spring. There were patches of snow in the shade, leftover from winter. Giant sequoias on the opposite side of the meadow formed the perfect backdrop.
Sequoias trees of all types and sizes surrounded the meadow. There were trees with almost all of its trunk at the base gone, damaged by previous forest fires. I walked inside a few of them. With my hands outstretched completely, I was nowhere near being able to touch the inside of the tree. The tree made good shelter, big enough to fit a few people.
Sequoias are immune to forest fires. The fire burns the thick trunk, but the tree seals the damaged area to prevent further damage. The tree knows when a fire happened, and releases its seeds after the fire passes so the seeds have the best chance to reach bare soil and germinate.
Life Cycle of a Giant Sequoia
Ranger Skyler, with his slightly slurred speech, gave us a very informative talk on the giant sequoia. These trees are here for the long haul, with many that are thousands of years old. They are resistant to disease, due to the high concentration of tannin in its bark. Sequoias are fire resistant with self healing capabilities. They take advantage of fire by releasing its seeds after the fire cleared out the underbrush, giving the seeds a competitive edge to survive. For a tree this large, the seeds are tiny – 91,000 of them in one pound. Eventually, the tree falls because of the shallow root system that are only three to six feet.
Ranger Skyler pointed to a six foot tall scrawny looking tree and said it was 100 years old! They grow slowly! Major logging of sequoias took place in the 1800s but slowed considerably when the loggers realized the tree were only good for fence posts, not building or furniture.
Marriage Proposal and Moro Rock
Crescent Meadow road from the Giant Forest area took us to Moro Rock, the Tunnel Tree, and Crescent Meadow. Moro Rock is a granite dome with a spectacular view after a steep 300 foot climb in a quarter mile. The view was well worth the effort to climb the dome.
We saw a young man coming down the mountain with a bouquet of roses on one hand and holding the hand of a pretty girl on the other. They were smiling from ear to ear. He proposed at the top of the dome and she accepted! How romantic!
We drove through the Tunnel Tree, which was an “underpass” for cars carved from a fallen sequoia. It was fun to drive through and appreciate how big these trees are.
Crescent Meadow was host to our normal Subway sandwich picnic lunch with squirrels begging for food. We sat under the giant sequoias, admiring them as we ate.
General Sherman and Congress
General Sherman tree is the largest tree by volume and the star attraction of the park. It is 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter at the base. To put that into perspective, General Sherman tree is nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty, which is 305 feet tall including the pedestal. A wide, paved trail descended from the parking lot among many giant sequoias. This tree stood out even from a distance for its size, but it was not a “pretty” tree. The needles at the top were sparse and didn’t look very healthy.
The title of the biggest tree in the world attracted “theme park” people. This was the only place in the park that felt congested. I saw one lady on the trail with bare feet and another with flip-flops.
Once we got on the two mile Congress trail that started at General Sherman tree, the crowd disappeared. This was a fantastic trail that meandered through giant sequoias and a crystal clear stream. There were groves named after the senate and the house. This trail gave me the true feeling of “walking among the giants” and the awesomeness of these giant trees.
Thought for Sequoia National Park:
Build margin of safety in your life with defenses against common threats, just like sequoias live long and grow big by being resistant to disease and fire.
Impressions of Sequoia National Park:
Sequoia National Park delivers on the promise of giant trees, which are awe inspiring. No picture or video can convey the massiveness of these millenniums old giants. Some of these trees predate Jesus! You have to see it to appreciate it.
The park is much more than the trees. The mountains are beautiful and a great representation of the Sierra-Nevada mountain range. The streams are crystal clear and full of energy. The trails are pretty and peaceful. General Sherman Highway is one of the most scenic drives. The park is similar to Rocky Mountain National Park plus big trees and less crowds. This park is a hidden gem.
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Sequoia National Park Rating:
(Note: Ratings are on a bell curve, which means there are as many 5 star ratings as 1 star ratings. All National Parks are wonderful, which makes this a very strict rating scale)
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Practical Info for Visiting Sequoia:
- Fuel up before you get to the park. No gas is sold inside the park
- Pack food. Food service is limited, especially during off season
- Shuttle buses run from late May.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are administered as one park. They are next to each other but the road between the two passes through National Forest land
- One day for each park is sufficient unless you plan to do a lot of hiking
- Visalia is a good gateway city to Sequoia with good services.
Sequoia National Park Facts:
- Size: 404,051 acres, ranked 22nd.
- Visitors: 1,254,688 in 2016, ranked 21, a new record.
- Peak Month in 2016: 221,476 visitors in July.
- Low Month in 2016: 33,815 visitors in February.
- Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle, $15 per person not in a vehicle for both Sequoia and Kings Canyon.