A Land of Giants: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Located in southern Sierra Nevada, east of the San Joaquin Valley, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park lie side by side to form “The Land of the Giants”.

The largest trees on earth are found in the Giant Forest including General Sherman, which is the world-record holder for the most massive living thing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest trees on earth are found in the Giant Forest including General Sherman, which is the world-record holder for the most massive living thing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These two majestic national parks received this very-appropriate nickname due to the significant giant sequoias found there. They include a spectacular range in elevation from warm foothills to cold alpine peaks.

Big trees are the prime attraction of Sequoia National Park—many groves of the remarkable giant sequoia are found scattered along the moist, west-facing slopes of the Sierra Nevada between elevations of 5,000 and 7,000 feet. The scale and grandeur of these reddish giants is stunning; the park has many easy trails that wind through the woody groves leading to quiet undisturbed places, ideal to contemplate the ambience of the forest.

Although the national park contains the largest trees and the best groves, many smaller and less accessible groups of sequoias can be found in the adjacent Giant Sequoia National Monument.

Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 and includes 404,063 acres of forests, mountains, caves, lakes, and canyons.

Most visitors come only to see the sequoias, but these trees are found in a relatively small area; the majority of the national park protects a large part of the Sierra Nevada range with canyons, lakes, waterfalls, and high mountains, including Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,494 feet.

The centerpiece of this national treasure is the Giant Forest. The largest trees on earth are found here, including General Sherman, which is the world-record holder for the most massive living thing. Dozens of magnificent groves of sequoias can be seen in just 3 square miles.

Other unforgettable attractions of Sequoia National Park include Tunnel Log, Moro Rock, and Crystal Cave.

The 16 steep, narrow road miles from Ash Mountain to Giant Forest include 130 curves and 12 switchbacks. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 16 steep, narrow road miles from Ash Mountain to Giant Forest include 130 curves and 12 switchbacks. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1937, due to natural causes, a 275-foot tall and 21-foot in diameter tree fell across a road. A year later, an 8-foot tall, 7-foot wide tunnel was cut through the trunk to make the road passable again.

Moro Rock is a granite dome located in the center of the park. In the 1930s, a 400-step stairway was cut into and poured onto the rock so visitors could climb to the top.

The only commercial cave in Sequoia National Park, Crystal Cave measures just over 3.4 miles. The cave’s temperature remains a constant 48° F and can only be seen by guided tour.

Sequoia is half of a combined unit of two National Parks, administered together, the other being Kings Canyon to the north. Sequoia National Park has one spectacular valley, Kern Canyon, that runs north-south near the eastern border, and there are some groves of giant sequoia in Kings Canyon Park, but the name of each park accurately reflects their most important features.

Moro Rock is a granite dome that affords one of the best views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In the 1930s, a 400-step stairway was cut into and poured onto the rock so visitors could climb to the top. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moro Rock is a granite dome that affords one of the best views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In the 1930s, a 400-step stairway was cut into and poured onto the rock so visitors could climb to the top. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kings Canyon National Park was established in 1940 and covers 461,901 acres and consists of two sections. The smaller, General Grant section includes the famous General Grant Tree, and the Redwood Mountain Grove. This Mountain Grove is the largest remaining natural grove of giant sequoias in the world with 15,800 sequoia trees. This section is accessible by way of paved roads.

The larger section comprises over 90 percent of the total area of the park and includes the high peaks of the Sierra Crest, deep canyons, and several cave systems.

The deepest gorge in the U.S., Kings Canyon is the namesake of this national park. This canyon is less spoilt by development and therefore very visually rewarding. Accessibility is limited but facilities are concentrated at Cedar Grove which include a visitor center, picnic areas, trailheads, and campgrounds.

This gorgeous meadow is the most scenic part of Kings Valley floor and includes views of high granite walls, lavish meadows, and the free-flowing Kings River. The meadow is the steepest and most dramatic part of the canyon and includes a 1.5 mile loop that circles the meadow and is one of the most popular trails in the park.

Giant Forest Museum offers exhibits about the natural history of giant sequoias. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Giant Forest Museum offers exhibits about the natural history of giant sequoias. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The BIG TREE is Nature’s forest masterpiece, and, as far as I know, the greatest of living things.

—John Muir, 1901

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