Many a wish list includes the aspiration to walk among the world’s largest trees. That’s a relatively easy wish to fulfill in California’s Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, about a seven-hour drive from Boulder City.
The two adjacent parks, managed jointly since 1943, cover more than 1,300 square miles. They are home to giants — sequoia trees (sequoiadendron giganteum), by volume Earth’s largest living things, some towering 26 stories and living thousands of years. They grow naturally only on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and are found most often at elevations from 5,000 feet to 7,000 feet.
While the parks are best known for the sequoia, they make a wonderful destination in themselves, with more than 850 miles of hiking and backpacking trails that access meadows, rivers, canyons, waterfalls and far-reaching views.
First-time visitors might start by heading to Sequoia’s Giant Forest area. Of the 75 sequoia groves in the world, this is the granddaddy, featuring about 8,400 trees. Four of the five largest existing sequoia trees are here. A short hike takes visitors to the General Sherman tree, which is neither the tallest nor the widest but, by volume of its trunk, is the largest single-trunk tree on Earth. It measures 109 feet in circumference and is estimated to weigh 2.7 million pounds. It is more than 2,000 years old.
Nearby, one of the best views in the park can be found atop Moro Rock, a giant exfoliated granite monolith. The quarter-mile hike to get there is popular, so getting to the trailhead early is a good idea. With an elevation gain of 300 feet, it’s a strenuous walk up narrow human-made stairs of rock, and you’ll return downhill the same way. Once on top, you’ll experience breathtaking vistas of the Great Western Divide mountain range, including some of the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada.
From Moro Rock, walk or drive to Crescent Meadow, which John Muir nicknamed “The Gem of the Sierra,” appropriately, for the meadow is often carpeted with wildflowers in summer. It’s a pleasant 1.6-mile loop around its entirety, or kids might take a walk down the center of the meadow on the trunk of the fallen sequoia tree.
Adjacent Kings Canyon also has giant sequoias, such as those at General Grant Grove, and this park offers some different scenery along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. The road winds into a steep, wide canyon and along the South Fork of the Kings River. Several stopping points offer scenic views and access to the banks of the river. These pullouts and parking areas are close to quick and easy hikes, such as those to Roaring River Falls and Grizzly Falls.
There are no grizzly bears here nowadays, but there is a healthy population of American black bears. Their species name can be misleading because they can also be brown, blond or cinnamon hued. But they live up to their tough reputation if given the chance. While camping, keep all food and odorous items in the metal “bear box” containers provided, and if you’re staying in area lodging, bring everything into your room. Keep a safe distance if you spot a bear, and especially in summertime, remember that seeing a cute little bear cub means a protective mama is probably nearby.
You will probably see mule deer, but bring a pocket guide to identify scat or wildlife tracks, and you might find evidence of pine martens, bobcats, foxes, ringtails or even the elusive wolverine.
Cellphone service can be unreliable in the parks, but there are seven coinless pay phones, which can be used to dial 911, throughout the parks. Wi-Fi is available at Foothills Visitor Center and Kings Canyon Visitor Center.
Lodging available in the parks includes Wuksachi in Sequoia and John Muir Lodge, Grant Grove Cabins and Cedar Grove Lodge in Kings Canyon. For reservations, contact concessioner Delaware North at 866-807-3598 or go to visitsequoia.com.
For more specific park questions, weather updates and travel information, go to nps.gov/seki or call 559-565-3341. Camping is by reservation at recreation.gov or 877-444-6777.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.
Take Interstate 11 north to the 215 Beltway and head west for 10.5 miles to Interstate 15 south. Go south about 150 miles to California State Route 58 in Bakersfield. Go west 125 miles, then merge onto California State Route 58 west/California State Route 99 north, heading toward Sacramento. Continue for 6.5 miles then exit onto California State Route 65 north. Follow that for 104 miles to California Route 198 east in Tulare County and to the park.