In honor of the last day of America’s National Park Week, another feature on one of our family’s favorite parks.
Sequoia National Park, otherwise known as the Land of Giants, is America’s second oldest national park. Located in central California, it is a popular place for weekend and holiday visits among residents and tourists. It is filled with some of the biggest living trees in the planet and looking up at them will leave one in awe.
We’ve visited during Spring and during late Fall. One of the reasons we like coming here is that even during holiday weekends, the crowds are not as large as nearby Yosemite National Park. It’s very pleasant having the trails to ourselves and marveling at the enormity of these giant trees without all the noise.
Those from Southern California approach Sequoia through Highway 198 past the town of Three Rivers. The drive up to the park is a very winding road with multiple twists and 12 switchbacks with a speed limit of 15 mph. This is not for those prone to motion sickness or those in a hurry.
During our recent visit, we approached Sequoia through its back door from King’s Canyon National Park going through the General’s Highway. It was a very scenic drive among the pine trees and with some lovely lookout points. This was one of the views that greeted us during our drive.
Of course, people come to the park for the giant sequoias. But, there really is more to the park than these trees. It is a popular place for hikers and campers with miles of trails, meadows and even a cave.
The large granite dome known as Moro Rock was visible as we made our way up to Sequoia. Its sheer size and seemingly out of place position amidst the forest of the giant trees is a sight to behold.
Much to our delight, visitors can actually climb the rock without using ropes. We climbed the almost 400 steps to the top with various stops along the way. Its highest elevation here is at 6,725 feet. It got very narrow in some areas where we had to let the people coming down go first and vice versa.
The top portion has a narrow cement area with rails on both sides to walk through. It was a bit scary but the panoramic views of the mountain range were magnificent. Mt. Whitney (highest mountain in the continental US) is visible from here.
General Sherman Tree
The General Sherman is definitely the main attraction of this park. This is considered the largest living tree in the world due to its sheer volume. It is believed to be 2100 years old. This massive tree stands at 275 feet(84 m) and still growing with its circumference around the trunk at the ground level at 83 feet (25.2 m).
The best view of the General Sherman tree is across the meadow since you are able to see its full height. The actual sign is at the base of the tree where visitors take the obligatory tourist pictures. It may be a long wait at times to get your turn unless you’re coming during the off season.
The trail near the General Sherman leads to a scenic grove of Sequoias. There was one where you can pose inside the tree which our kids happily ran to. Just be careful with the black sap. I know it comes off easily on jackets but I’m not too sure about body parts or hair so watch what the kids touch.
We like that the parks had various exhibits of parts of the trees so everyone can get an idea of how the inside looks. There was a fallen tree where you can go walk through which was a big hit for everyone.
The parking lot to the General Sherman tree is about a half mile hike downhill on a trail. There were plenty of seats along the way to rest for the return trip. At an altitude of 7000 feet, the air can get pretty thin. The hike back uphill to the parking lot may not suit seniors and kids especially during the summer. An alternative is to get picked up at the handicapped parking near the General Sherman trail and the walk through sequoia.
One of the unique things about visiting this park is driving through a fallen sequoia called the Tunnel Log. Yes, it’s very touristy but a guaranteed highlight for the kids. This log has been here since 1937 and the pathway measureas at 8 ft (2.4 m) high and 17 ft (5.1 m) wide.
During our recent visit in early November, we got lucky and saw quite a few animals. There were the healthy looking cows on the road, a deer in the woods and the highlight – a black bear on the hill. You’ll know that wildlife is around when cars are stopped on the main road and everyone with their cameras is out.
A trip to this cave has eluded us during past visits and we hope to finally make it there this summer. Caves and its underground formations have always fascinated me so I would love to spend some time here. Although they surely don’t make it easy to visit. It is only open from mid-May to October. It takes a strenuous half mile hike to get to the cave entrance and is not wheelchair or stroller accessible. Tours cannot be purchased more than a day in advance.
Giant Forest Museum
This facility was created in 2001 to enhance the visitor experience to the parks and to educate them about the the resident giant sequoias. It includes self-guiding interpretive trails and exhibits. This is a great place to introduce kids to the history and nature of these trees.
We stayed at John Muir Lodge at King’s Canyon NP. But, there were other lodges in the park along with plenty of campgrounds. There are also lodging outside the towns of Three Rivers, Visalia and Tulare if you don’t mind the drive with much cheaper options with hotel chains and near a variety of restaurants. Wuksachi was the main park lodging with 102 rooms and Montecito Lodge in between the two parks. We passed by the Montecito lodge with this stunning view of their lake at the entrance.
Sequoia National Park with kids tips and thoughts:
- Visit this park along with King’s Canyon National Park nearby. They complement each other and are connected by a scenic highway. Annual passes for the two parks are available for $30.
- Oh Ranger! Park Finder Mobile app – Use this free app available for the iPhone or iPod Touch which is an invaluable source of information for activities at many national and state parks.
- Go to the Visitor Center for maps and trail information, weather updates and to see which animals have been spotted in the park recently.
- Get the Junior Ranger packet for fun and educational activities for the kids and to keep them entertained during the drive down to the canyon floor. The kids get rewarded too after completing the activities.
- Pack lots of Food. Bring plenty of water, drinks, snacks, sandwiches, etc. We only saw the store inside Wuksachi Lodge during our visit in November.
- Motion Sickness Alert. For those coming up to the park from Highway 198, be aware of all the road’s twists and turns. Take any necessary precaution (disposable bags) and medicine for anyone prone to motion sickness.
- More general tips to visiting the National Parks with kids.
*Have you visited and enjoyed Sequoia National Park?