Standing just 5 hours from the towering skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles is a forest filled with giants created by Mother Nature. The sequoias are the largest living organisms on the planet and those who stand at the base of one of these otherworldly trees get a glimpse of what it must feel like to be an ant under an oak tree. Beyond the big trees, Sequoia and Kings Canyon offer the same great hiking opportunities and Sierra Nevada vistas as Yosemite, but with far fewer crowds. Here is just a small sampling of what these two parks have to offer.
With a height of 275 ft, weight of 4,189,000 lbs, an estimated volume of 52,513 cu ft, and an approximate age of 2,500 years, General Sherman is the largest living single organism on earth. Pictures of this tree can never fully capture just how massive it is so the only true way to fully understand what “big tree” means is to stand at its base and see it for yourself. A ½ mile trail leads visitors through a large grove of mighty sequoias to General Sherman. Handicapped parking and an accessible trail can be found along the Generals Highway two miles north of the Giant Forest Museum.
Take a walk up the side of this massive granite dome by using the steep 1/4-mile staircase which leads folks 300 feet up to Moro Rock’s 6,725’ summit. The views at the top encompass much of the western half of the park, including an incredible view of the Great Western Divide. When the weather is clear, visitors can see the patchwork of farms in California’s Central Valley below. Don’t climb if there is any ice or snow on the stairs or if thunderstorms are in the area.
Below the towering forests of sequoias is an underground world created by the subterranean streams of Sequoia National Park. Stalactites, stalagmites, and dozens of other formations can be found inside this marble cave, one of 240 known caves in the park. 45-minute guided tours are offered daily from June to October but tickets are not sold at the entrance, they must be purchased in advance from the Foothills or Lodgepole Visitors Canters. Special Candlelight Tours and the belly-crawling “Wild Cave” Tour are offered in addition to the standard tour. The cave is a constant 48 degrees so be sure to bring your jackets.
Grant Grove is the largest grove of sequoia trees in the world and the 1/3 mile paved trail which winds through the trees is the best way to see them. The General Grant tree is the second only to General Sherman in size and was officially proclaimed the nation’s Christmas tree in 1926. Other highlights of the grove include the historic Gamlin Cabin and the Fallen Monarch tree which visitors can walk through and gain a new perspective on just how enormous these trees are.
Deep in the heart of Kings Canyon is Cedar Grove. The road to this part of the park is only open seasonally, from May through October, and is far removed from the hustle and bustle of the urban world us Angelenos are familiar with. Roaring River Falls is accessed via a short 1/8 mile walk from the main road and is definitely a site worth seeing. Sheep Creek Cascade can be found via a 2 mile roundtrip hike on the Don Cecil trail hikers up the south face of the canyon wall. Another highlight of this area is Zumwalt Meadow, where a 1 mile trail meanders through the tranquil meadow and over the Kings River. This part of the park is popular with swimmers cooling off in the river’s chilly waters.
Wuksachi Lodge offers the most upscale lodging within the two parks with 102 guest rooms inside the stone and cedar lodge, built in 1999. The lodge is centrally located within the park and has all the modern features hotel guests are used to including a full service restaurant and wifi, quite a feat in such a remote location. The lodge is open year-round, giving guests the opportunity to experience a wintery Sequoia National Park without having to freeze at a campground.
If you are looking for a rustic experience but appreciate the security of four walls and a bed up off the ground, the Grant Grove Cabins might be for you. The cabins are bare bones, with a small space heater, a little electric light, and communal bathrooms and showers, offering an experience very similar to camping. A small village featuring a general store and restaurant are within walking distance.
Sharlene Earnshaw is the editor for Trekaroo, a website dedicated to helping families travel better.