Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Stand in awe in a forest of giants
Home to ancient groves of giant sequoia, towering granite peaks and the tallest mountain in the Lower 48 States, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, located in central California on the western flank of the Sierra Nevada range, are truly the land of behemoths. Only one road, the Generals Highway, loops through the parks. But stay in your car and you’ll miss the grandeur of the experience; feeling yourself to be a small and humble creature at the ankles of the giant sequoias, the world’s largest living things.
Legendary naturalist John Muir described these massive trees as “the most beautiful and majestic on earth”. Sequoias achieve their size because they grow quickly over a long lifetime, and they live so long because a thick armour of bark six to eight inches long protects them from both insects and fire. (They do have one weakness—a shallow root system—and the main cause of death is toppling.) Sequoia was declared the second national park in the U.S. in 1890 (Yellowstone was the first, in 1872; adjoining Kings Canyon was added in 1940). Because Sequoia and Kings are more remote than nearby Yosemite, they’re much less crowded, and give visitors the priceless feeling they’ve really escaped from it all.
The mountaintop plateau of Giant Forest, with its thousands of giant sequoias, has always been the heart of Sequoia National Park. The Redwood Mountain Grove is the largest of some 70 majestic groves, each pervaded by a mystic quiet that one has to experience to fully appreciate. The General Sherman, the largest single tree, is 2,500 years old, 270 feet high and has a circumference of 103 feet. Benches invite you to sit and contemplate its mass—an estimated 2.7 million pounds, with its first branch beginning 130 feet above the ground.
Other attractions include Mount Whitney, at 14,491 feet the tallest peak in the continental United States; the hiking trails of Alpine Lakes above Tokopah Valley; the road through Kings Canyon, a beautiful U-shaped glacial ravine with granite pinnacles; and Crystal Cave, one of the most extensive networks of marble caves in the country. The best way to see the caves is on a 50-minute tour led by a natural history guide, who can bring alive the eons of time it took to form these fantastical shapes.
Tucked away in the midst of such natural grandeur is rustic Wuksachi Lodge; at 7,200 feet, it’s one of the highest resorts in the central Sierra. Crafted of cedar and stone and located deep in the Giant Forest area, the lodge has many rooms with spectacular views of the High Sierra. Come in the winter for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the awesome silence of these gentle giants.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.