A visit to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park which sits adjacent to it, is an experience you won’t find elsewhere in the United States. Some of these trees are estimated to be more than 3000 years old, and at maturity, they are approx. 250 feet tall, roughly, the height of a twenty-five-story building, or 83 yards on a football field. Their circumference can measure 113 feet. It’s tempting to compare sequoias with redwoods as they grow taller, but it’s the sequoia’s girth that makes them so formidable.
I am comforted to learn they are not threatened by forest fires. They are just too big and tall, and all of the old trees have survived many fires.
Ironically, it was the California fires from last fall that canceled our visit. With a hotel credit, we had to return and early May was the perfect time to go, as it wasn’t crowded and the temps were cool enough to amble through the woods comfortably.
The sequoias are magnificent beasts with paw-like feet entrenched in the earth. Those with burn scars and growth abnormalities often looked like mystical figures to me. Frankly, it was a bit of a spiritual awakening walking under the dappled sun, with the eyes of a tree peeking through the veil of blossoming dogwoods.
The most popular feature in the park is the General Sherman tree, considered the world’s largest tree by mass. 275’, 103’ circumference. But consider yourself warned – it is a very steep half-mile walk down hill to the base of the tree and then, back up!
My favorite stop however was the drive further up the road into Kings Canyon NP to Grant’s Grove and the General Grant tree. In 1956, President Eisenhower declared this tree “a national shrine dedicated in memory of the men and women of the armed forces who have served and fought and died to keep this nation free.”
The highs of a trip to Sequoia are not just the tall, wondrous trees, but the elevation climb of almost 8000 feet which afforded incredible views. We did not venture to the end of the road in Kings Canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon, though due to the geologic formations of the two, the Grand Canyon appears deeper.
Now here’s the catch about going to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. They are not easily accessible. Seventy-five miles from Fresno or Bakersfield gets you to the park. Three Rivers, California, a small village, moseys along the Kaweah River for a few miles before you arrive at the primary park entry. Then it’s another 5000 feet of a twisting, turning narrow road (or almost an hour) until you see your first giant sequoia. Fortunately, there are plenty of scenic turn-offs on the way to view the vistas beneath you.
As we continued to climb, the views of the canyons and valleys looked like layers of water color on a huge canvass. Photos couldn’t capture the beauty. In other words, the lows were worth it. Our last hike (which was really a stroll along a wide, paved trail) was the Big Trees Trail, that circled a lush, green meadow, on the way back down the mountain.
There is lodging in the park, but at the time we visited, it was still closed due to COVID restrictions. Sprinkled along the route that winds through Three Rivers is a Comfort Inn and several local inns that should all have rustically charming (or charmingly rustic?) in their description. We stayed in the one closest to the park entrance, which was clean and convenient, so no complaints here. Meal options are limited. We ate at The Gateway Restaurant which was delicious, but a cheeseburger (1/3 lb) off the lunch menu is $19. On the other hand, a few miles back toward the village proper, the Pizza Factory was delicious and more affordable.
Would I recommend a visit to Sequoia? The steep, skinny roads made me a nervous wreck and unless you’re an avid hiker, a day and a half is all you need. It seems a long way to go for that length of time. On the other hand, the tranquility I felt amongst these enormous trees, engulfed by the fragrance of the surrounding cedar and fir trees made it worthwhile. And we saw a bear, which was a highlight for me. Many people would combine this with a trip to nearby Yosemite, but we did not.
I have a (slight) fear of heights, and by the third trip down the mountain, I was able to keep my eyes open. I knew I wouldn’t be back and I didn’t want to miss a thing.