Giant sequoias in Kings Canyon

Surrounded by Giants in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

During our latest road trip through California, besides Yosemite, we also visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Home to some of the oldest and largest trees on the planet, they were my favorite sites on our trip.

Walking in a forest of giant sequoias leaves you in awe, makes you feel you landed in a magical place, a place of wonder. The unmistakable color of the red-orange bark of a sequoia stands out from the surrounding pines. The oldest ones are so thick, you’ll take a while to walk around them. When you look up into their canopy it seems to go on forever. And when you touch their thick bark you’re surprised by their unexpected soft, spongy texture your fingers can sink into.

The bark of a giant Sequoia has an unexpectedly soft, spongy texture.

The largest tree on the planet, the giant sequoia grows in the middle elevations of the Sierra Nevada region, with most groves within the boundaries of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Mild winter and summer temperatures, plenty of water due to deep snow in the winter are the main reasons these trees can grow so large here. Unless you stand by them, it’s hard to understand the size of these giant trees, since most other trees surrounding them are also large.

It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when walking in a giant sequoia grove. For me, it somehow gives me hope for our world, offers peace and tranquility, and a sense of belonging to a magical place. I feel tiny, but somehow protected in the shadow of these giants.

a giant Sequoia among other trees

In A Land of Giants. Visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks you are in a land of giants, surrounded by trees you can barely see the tops of and trunks wider than you’ve ever imagined. Though the highlight of the parks are the giant trees, the landscape is just as spectacular, filled with high mountains and deep canyons.

Since we drove from Yosemite, we entered the park closer to Kings Canyon, so that’s where we started our visit. The drive through Kings Canyon is a spectacular one, worth exploring. But as gorgeous as the landscape is, the giant sequoias are still the highlight of the area.

Giant Sequoias

Kings Canyon and the General Grant Tree

The highlight of Kings Canyon is the trail through the giant sequoia grove where the General Grant Tree is. To be honest, I wish they didn’t name a tree after a general, if they felt the need to name it at all. I don’t really understand this need to name natural landscapes and things after humans to begin with. But it makes them recognizable. Though, to be honest, all the giant sequoias in the same grove are just as spectacular.

A short, paved trail leads to General Grant tree, also known as the nation’s Christmas tree, believed to be around 1,650 years old. As old as it is, its age makes it about 1,500 years younger than the oldest known sequoia. However, its trunk’s diameter of 40 feet makes it the widest known sequoia in the world, though only the third largest by volume.

the General Grant tree
The General Grant Tree

But this tree is not the only highlight of this trail. You also get to walk through a fallen giant sequoia, hollowed in the middle. I didn’t just walk though, I stopped inside the hollow log, where I felt like being in a cozy home, surrounded by wood and protected inside this cavity. The trunk fell about a hundred years ago, and has a name, the Fallen Monarch.

The Longer Trail

If the paved trail is too short for your exploration, you can continue with the North Grove Loop trail, like I did. Still only 1.5 miles, the full trail is quieter, since most people just walk the main trail. This was my personal favorite part of the trail, giving me a chance to really enjoy being among these giants. Unpaved, this part os the trail system in the General Grant grove made me feel closer to nature, closer to the sequoias and the forest in general.

a pair of giant sequoia trees in the General Grant tree grove

Driving into Sequoia National Park

Since we only had a day to spend in the parks, we drove on, entering Sequoia National Park. This is the place you can find the world’s largest tree, measured by volume, named the General Sherman Tree.

This is also where you’ll find the world’s largest grove of the world’s largest trees, Redwood Mountain Grove. Covering about five square miles, the grove is home to over 2,100 giant sequoias larger than 10 feet in diameter.

Visiting the General Sherman Tree

While I wish it had a name if indeed it needed one, I obviously need to refer to it the way everyone else does. Regardless of its name, this impressive giant sequoia stands 275 feet tall, and it is over 36 feet in diameter at its base. (Yes, the General Grant tree is wider, but not as large overall).

With a volume of about 52,500 cubic feet, it is the largest living tree on earth at this moment, and one of the oldest, at approximately 2,300 years old.

the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park

The tree itself sits behind a fence, with a giant sign displaying its name. Though you can’t get close enough to touch it, the giant tree is a beautiful sight. One might argue that similar trees are all around it, and it’s not worth the effort to hike to this particular tree, among crowds of other visitors.

However, there is something to say about seeing the world’s largest tree. So, while I normally don’t care much about bucket-list-worthy sites, jus to say “I’ve seen it, too,” I was curious. How much larger is it than other giant sequoias in the park. The honest answer is, if I didn’t see and read the numbers, I wouldn’t know. They are all spectacular. Besides, the General Sherman won’t always be the largest tree on the planet. In fact, it isn’t the largest one ever recorded.

A coast redwood, cut down in the 1940s was estimated to be about 20% larger. And another one, fallen in 1905 during a storm, measured 90,000 cubic feet in volume. However, at this point, let’s turn back to the General Sherman, and admire it in all its giant beauty. As soon as we reach it.

On the Trail to the General Sherman Tree

Given the General Sherman’s impressive record and fame, the National Park set up a wide, paved trail to visit it. Though the trail is meant o highlight the famous tree, it passes through one of the most spectacular sequoia groves in the park. It is steep though, so pace yourself on the way back to the parking lot on Wolverton Road.

The trail is about half mile before it reaches the famous tree. Steep, but paves, it has a few stairs to make the change of elevation easier. It also has a few stops with interpretive signs, and benches set up along the trail.

The path leads through the Giant Forest’s sequoia grove, giving you plenty of opportunities to enjoy the company of these amazing trees. To be perfectly fair though, I would have enjoyed it more if I was sharing the trail with fewer people. I don’t know how much the General Sherman enjoys his celebrity status (or if he even likes the name given to him by humans), but he gets visited and photographed more than I would enjoy.

On the trail through giant Sequoias

On the other hand, during a lifetime of over 2,300 years, he probably had his share of visitors. At least now, protected and behind a fence, no one can touch him. And definitely no one can cut him down.

Other highlights of the trail include twin sequoias and a tunnel through a fallen sequoia trunk.

Driving through the Tunnel Log

While visiting the Sherman Tree is probably the most touristy thing to do in Sequoia National Park, driving through the Tunnel Log is not far behind. I don’t think many people know about it though, since we only encountered a handful of other cars on the small roundtrip road through it. We might have just gotten lucky though.

You’ll find this Tunnel Log along the Crescent Meadow Road in Giant Forest. They Tunnel Log was cut through a fallen giant sequoia trunk after it fell across the road in 1937. When it fell, the tree was about 2,000 years old and it stood at a height of about 275 feet, with its trunk’s diameter of 21 feet at the base.

Tunnel Log in Sequoia National Park

They National Park Service cut the tunnel as a tourist attraction, while also creating bypass route for taller vehicles. Since we drove an SUV, we stopped, thinking we wouldn’t fit, but after watching another car the same model as ours drive through, we followed. Just to say that we did it. A smaller SUV fits, but I don’t think a camper-van or taller SUV would.

Other Things We Enjoyed in the Park

Done with the must-see, must-experience things, we stopped a few times in lesser-visited places, where we had a few opportunities to walk among giant sequoias. We even had opportunities to touch some, that seemed just as large as the more famous ones in the park.

We even found a trail we were alone on, and enjoyed moments alone in the forest. My daughters had an encounter with a deer that came close to them while they stopped to chat while waiting for me.

Though we only spend one day in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, it was my favorite part of our week-long road trip. And we are already talking about returning, this time spending most of our time in the park, among some of the most beautiful and largest trees on the planet.

Being there, spending time in the giant sequoia groves I can’t help but feel positive about our planet’s future. It might be just an illusion, but it helps.

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
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