Those close to me know that I’m not fan of going back to previous travel destinations but Sequoia National Park is one of the exceptions. I’ve been there twice and I would definitely go back for a third if the opportunity arose. In my youth, I had always heard stories of the giant Sequoias and always wanted to stand beside them. I made my first trip to Sequoia National Park during a 3 week long solo trip through California back in my late twenties and I then revisited it three and a half years later with my wife and the experience was just as amazing.
Sequoia National Park is located roughly 3.5 hours north of Los Angeles in the Sierra Nevada area. Make sure you go when the roads are open because despite the nice weather in the spring/fall, there can be a lot of snow up in the mountains. Now in case you have never heard of a Sequoia tree, I’ll give you a quick overview. These trees are considered to among the largest organisms in the world. The one I am referring to specifically are the Giant Sequoias which are larger than their Redwood brethren which can be found up near San Francisco and have reached heights of 311ft tall and have had diameters measured at 56ft.
My trip up to Sequoia National Park was a bit dicey as I was suffering from a bit of sunstroke at the time. I had spent the morning and afternoon in Death Valley under a very warm sun and then drove 5 hours to get to Wuksachi Lodge where I stayed while I was in Sequoia National Park. On the way up I chugged a lot of water, took some Tylenol to stave off the heat induced headache and slept in the car for an hour to recover partway through my journey.
Yes, the wisdom of youth was on proud display that day.
After climbing 8000 feet through dark deer lined switchback roads, I finally came to the lodge and checked in without issue. It was a pretty nice place as it had been recently built (1999) but it was a ghost town due to the fact that the tourist season was over. With no one to engage me in scintillating conversation in the lounge area, I quickly hit the sack and got some much needed rest.
The next day, I was up and ready to go fairly early. As I stepped out the door of the lodge, I stood in awe of the forest and mountains around me. I had not seen anything the previous evening as I was exhausted and it was quite dark when I got in. After taking in the view for a few moments, I hopped in the Ford Explorer that I had rented and made my way to the Giant Forest Museum which was the trail head for many paths. As I pulled up into the parking lot, I noticed an immense Sequoia and could not take my eyes off of it. I had never seen a tree that big and could not believe it.
I finally made my way into the museum and I ended up talking to a ranger for about 20 minutes and discussed various trails that I could hike on throughout the Giant Forest area. I had noticed a LOT of bear warning signs during my night drive and I found it a little odd that there would be so many signs around. I asked the Ranger about it and he explained that back in the 1950’s when the park was pretty touristy, they used to dump all their garbage in an area where the bears would then come and snack. People started watching the bears and it became such an attraction that the park setup bleachers so people could sit and watch the bears eat. I’m pretty sure that qualified as preparatory work for a Darwin award. Anyways, common sense finally prevailed and they removed the bleachers and started handling the garbage properly but it was too late. The bears were used to being fed and the ranger told me that it had been a struggle ever since. So with that information in hand, I went off to
- Hike a few trails
- Visit Moro Rock
- Visit Giant Forest Grove to visit the largest Sequoias
I planned a route so I could hike through the woods, climb Moro Rock and then double back on another trail to visit the biggest of all the Sequoias. I had been hiking for about about 25 minutes and I come upon this one Sequoia tree that just blows my mind in terms of it’s size. I took a picture of it but realized that I had nothing to compare it to so I there way no way of conveying the size of this mammoth tree.
I decided to use the timer shot on my camera but it was not easy to setup as I had no tripod. So I found this log and I ended up fiddling with the camera so I could line up a shot. It took me about 2 minutes to get it all ready and I got what I thought was a decent shot of myself and the tree. I then walked over to the camera and kneeled down so I could put the camera in my backpack. As I stood back up, I looked ahead of me and that’s when I noticed a large black animal quietly sitting and watching me. I guessed the distance to be roughly 100 feet and the first though that goes through my mind is “hmmm… that’s a big dog.” About 2 seconds later, my heart starts to race a bit more as I realize it’s a black bear.
While some people would be thinking “Awesome, I can get a selfie with the bear!”, my instincts kicked in and I turned slowly and walked away from the bear at about a 150 degree angle. I kept my shoulder slightly turned so as not to show him my full back and kept my eyes locked on him the whole time. As soon as I started moving, the bear got up and walked off in the opposite direction. After that little encounter, I kept my eyes open for the rest of the day as I was not used to meeting bears by myself in the forest.
After hiking for another 15 minutes, I came across a small herd of deer and they simply walked away from me. 10 minutes after that, I found myself at Moro Rock and in the company of humans.
The 300 foot high boulder called Moro Rock, which hangs out over a valley, has 400 stairs built into it so travelers can hike up to the top. The drop from the rock to the valley floor, which is straight down I might add, is about 2000 feet.
As I climbed up, I noticed that the usual amount of “You will die if you jump over this ledge” signs were few in number and the railings themselves were not very high. I guess the park wardens felt that most people realized the inherent danger of being on a boulder that hangs out over a cliff. The lack of railings in some areas made the walk up more exciting because I have a
mild fear healthy respect of heights. Not enough to cause me to freeze up but enough to make me move with a bit more caution.
A mist rolled in just as I started my climb so my view was obscured but at least I didn’t have the drop to distract me as I made my way up. I eventually reached the top, and once the mist dissipated (what is up with the 10 minute mist?) and I was rewarded with some spectacular views of the valley floor and the Great Western Divide. As luck would have it, I met a family from Ontario up there (I saw maybe 12 people in the park all day) and we chuckled over how we travel so far only to meet people who live a few hours from where we live.
After taking in the view for a bit , I descended the rock and headed back into the forest for two more hours of hiking. In that time, I came across about 14 deer (4 different groups) and I even managed to get within 10 feet of one group before they noticed I was there and quickly detoured around me.
More hiking and Giant Forest Grove
As I made my way down different trails, I discovered a few Sequoias that had been burnt decades before by forest fires but lived on. I found out that Sequoias have a natural resin in their bark which make them fire resistant at their bases. If I were a tree, I would definitely sign up for that upgrade. All throughout the forest, I found giant foot long cones which house Sequoia seeds and I was tempted to take one home but I quickly decided not to as they are there for a reason and if everyone took one, there would be nothing left for the next person. I know, I’m lame that way.
As I continued my quiet hike, I found three Sequoia trees that had grown into each other and the result was one huge tree. I had to find someway of showing the scale of this tree so I put my backpack against it and took a picture and to this day, I still can’t believe the size of it. As I made my way through the forest, I felt pretty relaxed and found myself touching all the trees as I walked by them. Sequoias have a thick bark that is soft and spongy. As mentioned earlier, the bark can help fend off fires but it also insulates the trees from the heat and cold . It almost feels like fur and it was so different than the dry and hard pine trees that I grew up with.
After walking for a little more, I found Giant Forest Grove and it was here that I got to see the largest tree in the world (by volume anyways): General Sherman.
Sherman stands 275 feet tall and has a circumference of 102 feet. To give you an idea of how big that is, it would take about 16.5 clones of myself, holding hands, to fully wrap around the tree. I know the thought of 16.5 copies of me is scary to some but you can’t ignore the size of this tree. After sitting and looking at it for a while, I wandered around the grove and visited a few of the other standout trees:
- President (before it’s was
- John Adams
After hanging around the area for a while longer, I made my way back to the Giant Forest museum and noticed that I had been gone for about 3 hours. After scarfing down a Powerbar / Powerade lunch, I got back into the Explorer and drove around the park to take in some of the other areas in the park. The log tunnel was a nice touristy addition shot to take. The Ford Explorer fit under it with no problems and it is not a small truck by any means. I noticed a few fallen Sequoias by the road and figured I could use them with the truck to try and convey the scale of the trees. I parked the Explorer in front of them to snap a few shots and then got back to exploring the park. I ended up hiking a few more trails and made my way over to the General Grant Grove in nearby Kings Canyon National Park but night fell all too quickly (I was there in December) so I made my way back to the lodge. I left the next day but told myself I would be back.
Sequoia National Park – The Return
On a subsequent visit to Sequoia National Park with my future wife, we revisited many of the areas I had been too but we also hiked some new trails and got to explore the Crescent Meadow. During one of these hikes, we took a break and sat on a rock that overlooked a ravine. While we sat there and drank some water, we noticed movement down below us and noticed a large bear wandering through the woods. He was about 300 feet away and despite his large frame and golden brown coloured fur, I was later told that it was probably a black bear as they tend to take on that colour in the summer. Needless to say, we sat there quietly and let him wander away from us. As it is anytime you see a bear in the woods, it leaves you with a boost of adrenaline.
We also had a good hike up along the Marble Fork Kaweah River as we made our way to Tokopah Falls. The trail was fairly easy to follow and it was well used. Though I had not really heard of this spot before, I was glad we found it and the falls were quite spectacular. It’s a great hike to take if you want to head up and find a sweet spot for lunch.
We also drove down the Generals’ Highway in Kings Canyon National Park which is just North of Sequoia National Park. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore but we drove the entire highway (Kings Highway) that travels alongside Kings River. We stopped at General Grant Grove to see the Sequoia that is named after General Grant and we were not disappointed. We wished we could have stayed longer to fully explore the park but just ran out of time. We did end up stopping by Grizzly Falls which is a 80 foot high waterfall that is easily accessible from the road. Just make sure you bring a change of clothes as the mist will soak you pretty quickly.
Would I recommend it?
You bet! If you visit California, I highly urge that you take 3 days and explore Sequoia National Park as well as the adjacent park called Kings Canyon National Park . Even the most hardened Charles Dickens industrialist character would be moved by what they would see in the park. For those who have a “100 things to before you die” list, bump something off that list and replace it with a visit to Sequoia National Park. This gets the “Darcy Recommended” stamp of approval which I just made up.