Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 11, 2016

Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs: The Big Trees

One of a series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains of eastern California are home to several National Parks, including two I’ve described previously, Yosemite and Death Valley.

On the western side of the Sierras are two more parks with stunning natural features: Sequoia National Park and, adjacent, to the north, Kings Canyon.

Both parks encompass vast tracts of rugged wilderness with spectacular scenery.


There’s a 13,000 foot range in elevation from about 2,000 feet to the highest point in the lower 48 United States, Mt. Whitney, 14,494 ft (in Sequoia). Because of the large percentage of the parks that are wilderness, seeing significant portions of them requires planning and back country hiking.


The 2 views of Kings Canyon NP above are reachable by automobile, along with much more of these remarkable sites. I do try to avoid hyperbole, but the pictures demonstrate that these are places worth a visit, preferably with time to stop, look, enjoy, and walk at least some distance on a trail or two.

In addition, one of their most distinctive attractions is present in large numbers and accessible by vehicle, even for a day trip from San Francisco or Los Angeles: big trees.


That is the General Sherman, a giant sequoia, the world’s largest known living tree by volume, located in Sequoia National Park. At 274.9 feet, it’s not the world’s tallest, but its size is hard to grasp, even as one looks at it.

The trunk is 102 feet around at the base, and, typical of sequoias, which don’t taper rapidly, is still 17.5 feet in diameter 60 feet above the ground. Nor is it the oldest tree on earth, but at an estimated 2,300–2,700 years, it presents a humbling and mighty presence.

In the same forest with the General Sherman are 5 of the 10 largest trees on earth.

Not too many miles away in Kings Canyon, also accessible by car and a reasonable walk, the General Grant sequoia is the world’s second largest tree:267 feet tall, 16.3 feet at 60 feet above its base. A youngster, it’s estimated to be 1,650 years old.


It’s a challenge to fit these enormous trees into a single photo.


In both locations, looping trails suitable for day hikers lead you into the forest far enough that you can experience the awesome hush that prevails in the groves. Stand still, breathe the scented air and find yourself in a world that is nothing like the world of people. Try to appreciate the presence of living things that have stood there since the days of the Roman Empire or before.


Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are the sole surviving example of one of the 3 species of redwood trees. They grow only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You can also see some if you visit Yosemite National Park, in Mariposa Grove in the southern portion of Yosemite (about 2-1/2 hours away, so you might consider planning a trip to see all 3 parks).

Due to their shallow root systems, sequoias do fall, and they persist a long time on the ground if left alone.




The parks (in red squares) are a bit over 4 hours of driving southeast of San Francisco, 3-12 hours north of Los Angeles. Death Valley and Yosemite are circled in blue for reference. Caution: you can’t simply drive east straight to Death Valley. There’s one of North America’s most extreme mountain systems in your way. Check your map first.

There are no accommodations other than camping in the parks, although the NPS website lists local lodgings HERE.

For detailed information about the parks, they’re both included in one URL on the National Park Service website HERE.

Our National Parks (and those in other countries, too) preserve the irreplaceable, and make certain they’re available to us, to others in the future, and guard at least some of this amazing planet from incursion.

Have you been there? If you have suggestions for first-time visitors, leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2016. Some photos © Willard Nixon 2016, used by kind permission.

For readers from the United States, if you’re interested in adding your voice to the effort to make a positive impact on the environment prior to the advent of the new federal administration (likely not as environmentally friendly as the present one), you can write to President Obama, urging him to action on a variety of issues, including the creation of 3 new National Monuments. CLICK HERE to go to the Sierra Club website and click the TAKE ACTION button on the right. Thank you.

For more articles about U.S. National Parks, click on the item under Travel in the Categories widget in the upper right-hand column.


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