Sequoia National Park is a must-see for all travelers alike. Whether you’re coming from somewhere in the States or overseas, the scenery displayed throughout the park will have you wishing you could live in a tent on the lands for the rest of time.
In 1890, after local residents urged Congress to protect this area, Sequoia National Park was created and within three weeks it tripled in size. Known for the iconic giant Sequoia trees that rise above in a cathedral-like grove, the landscape of Sequoia will blow you away around every turn. The Park is essentially split up into three sections: the Foothills, Mineral King, and the Giant Forest and each area has many things to offer that tourists from all over can enjoy.
Here’s the Top Things to See & Do in Sequoia National Park:
If you’re starting out from the entrance of Sequoia near Three Rivers following CA 198, you’ll begin winding up the road through the foothills of the park. The dry, hot summers in this area allow for an abundance of chaparral, a drought-resistant shrub that has adapted to the fires that ravage through here periodically. The low elevation in this park hosts more different plants and animals than the rest of the park combined.
What to See & Do in the Foothills:
The Foothills Visitor Center
Open daily from 8 am – 4 pm, the park store has multiple exhibits to learn about the type of vegetation and wildlife in the foothills. Local wilderness permits (to camp overnight) can be issued here as well.
Marble Falls Trail
As you climb 3.7 miles uphill through the chaparral, you’ll be greeted with a beautiful waterfall. To access the trail, park at the turnout near the Potwisha campground (not inside the campground) and walk to site 14. There’s a dirt road that’s across from the concrete ditch with the trail starting to the right.
Check out this area for exhibits about the Native California Indians, the Western Mono, who used to live in the area. There is a short trail that leads to a cascade but watch out for the water; all too often people get swept away here by the currents.
If you’re at the Hospital Rock Picnic Area then you’re already in the right place. Walk 0.6 miles to the Buckeye Flat Campground and take the path across from site #28 to cross the bridge over the Middle Fork. The trail runs along Paradise Creek.
Just a mile and a half north of the Foothills Visitor Center is this flat granite boulder that sits on the edge of Generals Highway. Before the highway was widened in 1997, this was the only route to get through to the Giant Forest. Even though it’s closed to vehicles today, you can walk underneath it or on top of it like I did (even though there are signs that say you shouldn’t but hey, YOLO).
Located off of the main road of CA 198, this highland glacial valley will take you up to 7800 feet, the highest road in Sequoia National Park. The road to Mineral King closes from October 31 to late May and RVs and campers are not advised due to the steepness and sharp curves. After the first 10-15 miles after turning off of CA 198, you’ll reach the Lookout Point Entrance where you’ll pay a small fee to continue on the road.
What to See & Do in Mineral King:
The Atwell-Hockett trail is located near the Atwell Mill campgrounds with parking just beyond the campground on the south side of the road. The 4.8 mile trail in the Atwell Grove winds through a partially-logged area in the beginning with the climb becoming instantly steep, winding around giant Sequoias. Expect to trek up 1270 feet from the time you start until you end at the highest elevation of any Sequoia grove within the park.
Paradise Ridge Trail
Just opposite of the Atwell-Hockett Trail on the north side of the road is this trail with many different hiking directions splitting off of it. The first 0.5 miles of the trail ascends steeply through a forest with magnificent views of the Kaweah River and various mountain peaks. It takes about 3 miles to reach the top of the ridge at 8500 feet where many different fork directions can be taken. The best option? Head westward on the left fork for 2 miles to reach the summit of Paradise Peak at 9,362 feet.
Silver City Resort
If you’re looking for a place to stay without camping out in a tent for the night, check out the Silver City Resort located towards the end of Mineral King road. The Silver City Resort has been a family-operated establishment since 1934 and now, several historic cabins and chalets are available to rent.
Mineral King Ranger Station
Open from late May to early September, this small station houses some exhibits on Mineral King’s human and natural history. Books, maps and educational items are sold here as well as bear canisters. When the station isn’t open, wilderness permits to camp overnight are available on the porch.
If you’re looking for a great workout, look no further than the Timber Gap trail. It begins very steep, ascending 1670 feet in only 2 miles. Multiple views of surrounding peaks, the Kaweah River and waterfalls are the highlights of this hike. You’re able to take many different routes in this direction, and at one point, the trails meets up with the Paradise Ridge Trail.
This area was my favorite part of Sequoia National Park because the enormous trees that dominate the groves are so incredibly unique, they can’t be found anywhere else in the world. If you want the best option for navigating around to the top sights in Giant Forest, consider parking at the Giant Forest Museum and utilizing the shuttle services to take you around the top sights.
What to See and Do in the Giant Forest:
Giant Forest Museum
Speaking of shuttles, this is exactly where you’d want to take off from with your first stop at Moro Rock. Before getting on the shuttle, walk around the area to check out the enormous Sequoia trees. You’ll be blown away by how small you feel next to these amazing things! The Giant Forest Museum is open daily from 9 am – 6 pm where exhibits on Sequoias can be viewed or souvenirs can be purchased.
Big Trees Trail
If you want to hike on something a little easier, check out this 2/3 mile paved loop trail complete with exhibits about the giant Sequoias. The trailhead can be accessed at the Giant Forest Museum and should take around an hour to complete.
One of my favorite parts of our trip to Sequoia was Moro Rock. To get there, you are able to drive up the road that leads from the parking lot of the Giant Forest Museum but limited parking spaces are available at each site so I suggest taking the shuttle from the museum.
FYI: This steep stairway with over 400 steps climbs 300 feet in 1/4 of a mile and proves to be pretty difficult. It can also get incredibly narrow at some points. We passed multiple people turning around because they were unable to make it to the top so prepare accordingly!
Once you’ve reached the top, be prepared for some amazing views of the surrounding peaks. The wildfires around the area this day made the sky super hazy while we were up here but it still was an incredible sight.
One of the most fragile wetlands in Sequoia, the Crescent Meadow has multiple trails leading to various parts of the park. Take a 1 mile hike to Tharp’s Log, a cabin that was built into a fallen Sequoia tree; or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, take a few days to hike on the High Sierra Trail, ending 60 miles later at the highest mountain in the lower 48 states: Mount Whitney. If you just want to walk around the meadow itself, be sure to stay on the trails or use fallen logs to climb on top of because the wetlands are so delicate that the traipsing of people can ruin the vegetation here.
One of the most iconic things to see in Sequoia is the Tunnel Log. It’s the only tree you can drive through in this park and, like the Tunnel Rock in the foothills, used to be the only option of a road to get through to Crescent Meadow. With today’s modernized vehicles like massive SUVs and trucks, a bypass was created for those to get around it.
The shuttle you will take from Moro Rock to Crescent Meadow doesn’t stop at the Tunnel Log so we hiked the 0.7 miles from Crescent Meadow to get here. Simply follow the road from the Crescent Meadow parking lot because there are no foot paths that lead directly to the Tunnel Log.
While we didn’t have the opportunity to do this tour, I hear it’s one of a kind. Hike the steep 1/2 mile trail to the cave where you’ll discover the chambers decorated with stunning formations, rare minerals, unique animals and a marbled stream. The highest temperature in the cave is 50 degrees so remember to bring a jacket!
Tours for the Crystal Cave operate from May 25 – August 26. Tickets can be purchased online here 48 hours in advance or first thing in the morning on the day of at the Lodgepole or Foothills Visitor Center.
The General Sherman Tree
Possibly the most famed part of Sequoia National Park is the General Sherman Tree. While it only stands at 274.9 feet tall, the volume of the base is 52,500 cubic feet, making it the largest tree in the world. It’s estimated to be about 2000 years old and, interestingly, the top of the tree is dead but the base continues to grow in size.
The main trail down to the General Sherman Tree is a 1/2 mile hike with many stairs. Parking near the trailhead is limited so your best bet is to park at Wolverton and take the shuttle here.
This trail begins at the Sherman tree and is a 2 mile loop that leads directly through the heart of the Giant Forest Sequoia Grove.
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