Sequoia National Park is home to a spectacular amount of – you guessed it – sequoias. These massive trees are truly awe inspiring and no photo can really do them justice. They really are something you just have to see in person to appreciate. Aside from its namesake massive trees, the National Park is home to plenty of gorgeous views and opportunities for hiking. Whether you want to hit the trails or just take a scenic drive, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Sequoia National Park.
What are sequoias?
They’re the largest trees in the world by volume as well as the largest living things on the planet. California’s other massive trees – the redwoods – may get taller, but sequoias combine great height with a thick trunk and centuries of growth to take the top spot by volume. In fact, the largest sequoia of them all is located inside the park and is one of the top spots to visit. These trees will make you feel tiny and really
Unlike the coastal redwoods, sequoias are native to the mountains in the Sierra Nevada. They have a very narrow range of elevations where they can grow, and you’ll only find them in the sweet spot between 5000 and 7000 feet above sea level.
Things to do in Sequoia National Park
If you’re wondering what to do in Sequoia National Park, look no further than its name. The sequoia trees that its named after are an attraction in and of themselves. We entered through the south entrance and as we drove up the winding road, I remember gasping when we spotted our first one. We pulled over at another small group of sequoias not long after that and hopped out to look at them closer. We couldn’t believe how huge they were. Then we got to the really big ones and realized that these had been babies relatively speaking.
Marvel at the General Sherman Tree
This is it – the largest living thing on earth. This monster of a tree stands 275 feet tall and has a diameter of 36 feet at its base. Massive doesn’t even begin to describe it.
You can reach the General Sherman tree two different ways. The main route is via the main trail (very well marked) from a parking area off of Wolverton Road. From there, you’ll walk about half a mile downhill to the tree. You’ll get a nice view of it from the trail as you walk and that overlook is well worth a stop to soak it in. Visitors with handicap placards on their vehicles can park at a smaller, closer lot off of the Generals Highway that leads to a wheelchair-accessible trail. There are also shuttles running to this drop off spot during busier seasons.
After you’re done gaping at the General Sherman tree, don’t forget to spend some time exploring the rest of the area. This was my favorite area of the park, not just because of the record-setting tree. As you walk around the trails here, you’ll come across several exhibits that teach you about the sequoia trees. I also enjoyed one of the trees that had fallen years ago. A tunnel is carved through it and the path passes right through the gap. I cleared it easily, but my 6’4″ fiancee had to duck a little.
Explore the Giant Forest Museum area
This was the first area where we really got to see and learn about the giant sequoias. You can head into the Foothills Visitor Center here where you can learn about them and some of the history of the area – and get one of those National Park passport stamps I’m way too into. Right outside the building, you’ll find the Sentinel Tree, which is only the 43rd largest sequoia, but still jaw-dropping. When we came across it, it was by far the largest we’d seen.
There is an easy trail called the Big Trees Loop around a nearby meadow with several sequoias ringing it. We enjoyed Ed and Ned the “twin” sequoias. The best part of that area by far though was this random, unnamed sequoia that looked like it was blowing a bubble with a boulder. It even has spots on the trunk that look like eyes. We enjoyed it way too much.
Drive Crescent Meadow Road
This seasonal road forks off from the Generals Highway at the Giant Forest Museum. It closes during the winter months due to snow and ice and typically doesn’t reopen until late May. This was very sad for us because three of the top things to do in Sequoia National Park are along it. Note that when it closes to vehicles in the winter, hikers, cross country skiers, and snowshoers still have access to it. The Auto Log is a fallen sequoia that stagecoaches and other vehicles used to be able to drive across. Nowadays, it doesn’t support the weight of cars, but you can hop out an take a walk across the top. Later on down the road, you’ll also find the famous Tunnel Log, which is another fallen sequoia that had a tunnel carved through it. If your vehicle is under 8 ft tall, you can drive right through it.
Note that during the summer months on weekends and holidays, the road may be closed to private vehicles and you could be required to take a free shuttle in this area.
Hike Moro Rock
At the very end of Crescent Meadow Road, you’ll find a parking lot for the Moro Rock hike. This trail is short at approximately half a mile, but requires a lot of stairs to get to the top of Moro Rock. This spot is known for having one of the best views in Sequoia National Park with the mountains unfolding in front of you.
Tour Crystal Cave
This cave is open seasonally from late May-late September and can be visited as part of a guided tour. The route through the cave is approximately half a mile, and there is an additional (and steep) half mile walk from the parking lot to the entrance. Tickets can be purchased online, and the park strongly recommends buying them ahead of time, especially for weekends and peak times. If you’ve never explored a cave before, I’d recommend trying to get tickets. Crystal Cave wasn’t open for the season yet when we visited, but I’ve been in several others and it’s a very cool experience.
Take a day hike
There are several short trails scattered around the park. Depending on the area that you’re in and what you want to see along your hike, you can choose whatever suits your mood. Whether you’re looking for more sequoias or want to see some of the scenery in the foothills area, you can find a trail that fits your skill level here.
Do some backcountry hiking in Sequoia National Park
The tourist-accessible portion of Sequoia National Park – by which I mean paved roads, easy trails, and visitor amenities – is only a tiny bit of the protected area. Most of the park is backcountry wilderness that can only be explored via serious hikes. If you have the proper equipment and skills to hack it, you’ll be treated to some incredible views of the High Sierra.
Mt. Whitney, which is the highest peak in the continental United States, is one of the most popular hiking destinations. Because of the number of hikers seeking to summit it, you have to secure a permit to access it. The route through Sequoia National Park is via the High Sierra Trail, which starts near Crescent Meadow and continues up into the mountains past lakes and over passes until it brings you to Mt. Whitney 60 miles later. If you just want to reach the peak without the long hike, you can begin on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range at Whitney Portal. This can be done as a long day hike.