Sequoia National Park and co-located Kings Canyon National Park often get overlooked because of their more popular neighbor two and half hours to the north, Yosemite. But after our one-day visit this month, we will be life-long fans. We can’t recommend enough that you visit if you’re ever in the area. The sequoia trees are breath-taking in their size, and their natural characteristics result in a deep respect. We can now say that we’ve seen the largest living thing on earth!
Getting to Sequoia National Park
We left around 6 a.m. to make the easy two-hour drive from Bakersfield to the park, going through Three Rivers. This is the best place to enter if you’re coming from the south.
Don’t underestimate the temperature drop you’re likely to experience. Sequoia trees only grow between 4,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation, which made for a very cool morning during our early April visit! Of course, in my hurry to pack lunch and make sure everyone else had everything they needed, I completely forgot to bring a jacket for myself. Fortunately, Eric always keeps a backup jacket in the Jeep for himself, so I was able to borrow it for the day.
Foothills Visitor Center
We stopped at Foothills Visitor Center to get our passport stamp, pick up Junior Ranger books for the boys, and get some route advice from the ranger. Interestingly, 90% of his recommendations were identical to a blog post I had read as I was preparing for our visit. The article by No Back Home is really well done, so I won’t try to recreate the wheel. Definitely check it out!
Giant Forest Museum
Though small, the Giant Forest Museum offers a room of hands-on exhibits that will introduce you to the sequoia tree and how awesome it is. You can walk inside the replica of a hollow trunk, and see a cross-section of the sequoia’s layers, and how each layer has its own strengths that protect the tree and allow it to live for thousands of years!
There is also an interesting exhibit that compares the size and height of a sequoia to recognizable landmarks around the world, like the Statue of Liberty. These are some big trees, people.
Big Trees Trail
You can drive your vehicle just a little ways up the road, where there’s a parking lot for Big Trees Trail. Or you can do what we did, and take the pathway that starts just outside the museum. It connects to Big Trees Trail after a short distance.
We loved Big Trees Trail. It’s flat and easily accessible, and the view is magnificent. You’ll walk around a swampy meadow (wide open space because it’s too wet for sequoias to grow). On the outer rim of the trail, ancient trees tower over you.
Some of the sequoias are healing from forest fire. Their bark can actually grow back over time, closing a burn wound slowly. Many sequoias have fallen to the ground. In fact, the only way scientists know sequoias can actually die is from toppling over. Their root system is very shallow, especially for their massive height and girth, and they have no taproot to anchor them deep into the ground. Javen and Silas loved exploring the inside and outsides of the fallen trees.
The road to Moro Rock is directly across from the parking lot for Giant Forest Museum. It may be closed during winter, in which case you would need to hike an extra two miles to get to the stairway that leads to the top of Moro Rock. In the summer, there’s a shuttle to take you up and down. This is essential, since the parking lot is tiny and was overflowing during our early April visit.
The present-day stairway has 400 steps and was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The climb leads you along precipices and between boulders, offering views that can only be rivaled by the view at the summit.
Crescent Meadow Trail is another easy loop the whole family can do. I’ve heard that it’s especially beautiful when the wildflowers are blooming. We had our lunch at a picnic table here, after driving through Tunnel Log.
General Sherman Tree
And finally, the natural wonder we all came to see. The General Sherman Tree is the largest living thing on earth. The diameter of its base is 36.5 feet and the diameter of its largest branch is 6.8 feet. It adds enough wood every year to equate to a 60-foot tall tree. While it is not the tallest, widest or oldest tree, it is the largest by volume.
A 45-minute drive took us into Kings Canyon National Park. The boys received their Junior Ranger badges, and we stopped to watch the video in the visitor center. It was well done and gave us a good overview of the park.
Then we off to see the second largest sequoia tree, General Grant. President Coolidge even proclaimed it as the nation’s Christmas tree in 1926.
You history buffs may be wondering why the General Sherman Tree is larger than the General Grant Tree. Shouldn’t the names be reversed because of the generals’ positions in the Civil War? General Grant was actually named before General Sherman, and–more importantly–before the two trees’ sizes had been compared. It wasn’t until 1931 that General Sherman was recognized as the largest tree in the world.
Planning Our Next Visit
If we had been more ambitious, we would’ve done the Tokopah Falls Trail in Sequoia National Park, which I’ve heard great things about. But I prefer trips into nature to be peaceful and leisurely, and our itinerary for the day met that standard. Of course, there’s so much more to do in both national parks, and I’d love to hear your suggestions for our next visit.
We exited the park at the north end, making our drive home in about two hours, not including a stop for dinner. If you need a recommendation, try Mariscos los Compadres in the small town of Dinuba. We were blown away by their tacos. And, as the name suggests, this food truck’s specialty is seafood.