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Sequoia National Park: The height of beauty in the Sierra Nevadas

Giant sequoias, towering waterfalls and steep rock faces mark this classic destination.
United States - California - Sequoia National Park
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July 27, 2018 03:13 PM
Sequoia National Park

Without a doubt, the giant Sequoia trees—some of the most massive organisms on earth—are the main attraction at this iconic California park. But this land of giants is also home to steep cliffs, deep caverns and rugged foothills begging to be explored.

Facts and Figures

  • Sequoia was designated a national park in 1890. In 1940, the neighboring Kings Canyon National Park was established. Since World War II, Kings Canyon and Sequoia—and their combined acreage of 865,964—have been administered jointly.
  • Five of the 10 largest trees in the world grow in the Giant Forest, including the General Sherman tree. Measuring 275 feet in height and more than 36 feet in diameter at the base, it’s the largest tree on earth. Not only does the park house the most massive tree in the world, it also has the tallest mountain within the contiguous United States: Mount Whitney, which stands at 14,505 feet.
  • The park welcomes approximately 1.5 million visitors each year.
Sequoia National Park Tunnel Rock front

History

Monachee Indians called this land home for years, but by the time European settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, their population had been decimated by smallpox.

Homesteader Hale Tharp, the first European to reside here, led the efforts to preserve the giant sequoias. After more than a decade of lobbying, Tharp’s efforts were rewarded when President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation authorizing the creation of Sequoia National Park. This marked the first time a national park was established specifically to protect an organism, the giant sequoia tree.

Since the National Park Service was not created until 1916, the U.S. Army Cavalry was charged with maintaining and protecting the park from 1891 to 1913. Initially, the path leading to view the giant trees was a feeble trail. But under the leadership of the Army’s then only African-American officer, Captain Charles Young, a wagon road was constructed in 1903.

In 1978, Congress passed legislation that made the Mineral King area part of the park—blocking Disney from building a ski resort in the region.

The Kaweah River runs through the foothills of Sequoia National Park
The Kaweah River runs through the foothills of Sequoia National Park

Things to see and do

With its hundreds of miles of trails, the park is a favorite among hikers. The most popular day-hiking areas include the Foothills, Giant Forest & Lodgepole, Grant Grove, Cedar Grove and Mineral King. With the exception of Mount Whitney, permits are not required for day hiking.

For a spectacular view of the foothills and San Joaquin Valley, scale the large granite dome of Moro Rock. The 350-step climb can be strenuous, but handrails along the way make it a generally safe trek.

Adventurers will enjoy exploring Crystal Cave’s marble cavern. You’ll walk a half-mile within the cave and another half-mile to and from the parking lot, so reserve several hours for your visit. The cave is cooler than the above ground, so jackets are recommended.

While the Giant Sequoias are the main attraction, hikers can also spot other forms of wildlife. More than 1,300 native plants and flowers thrive within Sequoia and Kings Canyon, along with almost 300 native animals. Park Rangers are currently working to revitalize mountain yellow-legged frogs from their endangered state. Be aware that black bears have been spotted in the area, so be sure you know how to avoid unwanted encounters.

Sequoia trees

Visitors looking to set up camp have options in five areas: Giant Forest & Lodgepole, Foothills, Mineral King, Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. The campgrounds range from primitive sites to full-hookup RV sites.

Those seeking more modern amenities while still engulfed in the wilderness can reserve cabins in the Bearpaw High Sierra Club or the winter-exclusive rustic huts of Pear Lake.

Best time to go

Although skiing and snowshoe trails are open during the winter, you’ll enjoy a wider range of overnight accommodations and daytime activities—from rock climbing to horseback riding—during spring and summer.

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January 18, 2018 09:48 AM