One can easily find a hiking trail to fit any time frame and suit any hiking ability in Sequoia National Park; there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails from which to choose. When Aaron and I recently visited, we wanted to squeeze in as much hiking as possible but also take time to see the popular giant sequoia trees for which the park is named.
Where To Start
We started our journey at the Visitor Center in Kings Canyon National Park, the Northern neighbor of the Sequoia National Park. Although they are often lumped together as one giant park, they each have a unique beauty to offer.
After picking up souvenirs and finalizing our hiking itinerary with the park ranger, we decided to focus our attention on exploring just one park. To give a perspective on the ground we needed to cover, it is a two-hour, nonstop drive from the Kings Canyon National Park Visitor Center to the Foothills Visitor Center located at the southern entrance of Sequoia.
The General Grant Tree is located one mile from the visitor center. After sitting in the car for hours, we were eager to warm up our legs on this ⅓-mile paved loop leading us to the second largest tree in the world, and the Nation’s Christmas Tree (different from the National Christmas Tree in D.C.). As we walked from the parking lot, the massive trees towered over us like silent giants, watching us as we meandered the paths between them. I thought to myself, “if I ran and clung to the side of one of these sequoias, I would look about the same size as a squirrel in comparison to the enormity of these trees.” We stretched our legs along the trail but weren’t fully prepared to crane our necks towards the treetops for the entirety of the walk.
Three Hikes In One Day
Little Baldy Trail (3.3-miles)
Although this hike is considered moderate on All Trails, the thin air makes it feel much more challenging. The elevation is above seven thousand feet at the trailhead, and it was less than ten minutes before we had to stop to catch our breath. My heart was visibly beating out of my chest. Just two days prior, I ran my fast four-mile run. And now I’m clinging to a sequoia tree, hoping Aaron doesn’t leave me for dead. Once I caught my breath, we slowed down the pace and marched upward towards the top of this granite dome, reaching above the treetops, with spectacular views of the Sierra Nevadas.
The trail to the top was picturesque. At one point, the trail was lined with small saplings (I like to think they were baby sequoia trees), no taller than me. It was hard for me to imagine one of these little guys becoming a towering giant in a few hundred years.
We passed a few other hikers on their descent down from the top of the trail. Once we reached the top, we were completely secluded. I felt as tall as a sequoia tree looking down into the valley below. In contrast to the thick fog we drove through earlier in the morning, the sky was completely clear, making the deep green of the trees shimmer under the bright sunlight. The breeze rolled over us as we took in the surrounding mountain view.
Tokopah Falls (4-miles)
The trailhead to Tokopah Falls is located within the campsite at the Lodgepole Visitor Center and Village. It wasn’t immediately clear where the trailhead started, so we wandered towards a direction other campers seemed to be gravitating and followed along. This hike may be longer than the last, but it was way less difficult. The trail follows along the small Kaweah River that cuts through the campsites and eventually leads you to Tokopah Falls.
The landscape was very different from the Little Baldy Trail. The incline to the Falls was primarily a flat well-manicured path with a greater diversity of plants and trees, and a few sequoias huddled in a group along the way. There are several cutouts to access the river. I stopped a few times to put my feet in the cool water, not because I was hot but because I rubbed a pretty significant blister into my foot halfway through the hike. This wouldn’t be a proper hiking adventure for me without some type of shoe/foot issue. The cool water did soften the straps of my hiking sandals and provide enough relief to continue up to the top.
The Park Ranger at the Visitors Center did warn us the water flow from the fall wasn’t very strong this time of year. It wasn’t the roaring waterfall I had hoped for, but there was a small area at the base of the Fall to swim. We watched kids slide down the slippery rocks leading into the water below. Other much braver people were jumping from the surrounding boulders. Aaron and I sat like lizards in the sun, watching from above. Carefully parched on our granite rock, we ate our snacks to regain our energy for the hike back.
The access to this hike is central to the bus pick-up locations and trailheads to the famous General Sherman Sequoia. Once we returned to the Lodgepole Visitor Center Campsite, we took the bus to the General Sherman Tree Trail.
General Sherman Tree Trail (.5 Mile) & Congress Trail (3-miles)
All of the famous Sequoias (except for the General Grant Tree) can be found here. Visitors can either hike from the Lodgepole Visitor Center or take the bus. To save on time, we opted for the bus to allow for maximum time to stare up to the treetops of each tree. As you would imagine, the half-mile loop around the General Sherman tree is packed with people trying to squeeze the entirety of this tree into the tiny screen on their phones. The enormity of General Sherman is difficult to comprehend. The circumference of the truck is wider than my entire condo at 36 feet in diameter and taller than the Statue of Liberty. We also opted to skip the long line in front of the official General Sherman sign. There are plenty of other stops around the path to get your photo with the most famous tree in the park.
The General Sherman Tree Trail and Congress Trail are paved well-maintained paths, suitable for wheelchairs, and those who would rather stroll among the trees without fear of tripping over roots and rocks. Congress Trail lead us past all other notable trees; the President, the Congress Group, Chief Sequoia, General Lee, and the Senate. I loved the easiness of this trail after a long day of hiking up mountains and over rocky terrain.
As we strolled further along Congress Trail, the hordes of clamoring tourists phased out. We were like tiny explores jumping from one tree to another. Walking around the forest reminded us of our visit to the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. It may not sound like the most exciting place to visit among the numerous museums in D.C. but the wide-open spaces of land paired with learning about nature will always rank high on our must-do list. Waking through the sequoias, I felt so in awe of the resilience of nature. These trees can live for thousands of years. They have seen America become a country, met countless people from all over the world, and continue to stand strong even after natural disasters like wildfires and earthquakes.
Exhausted from a full day of hiking, we loaded back on the bus to take us back to the Lodgepole Visitor Center. The drive back home was a sharply winding road leading us out of the park. My feet were sore from the action-packed day and I was happy to sit in the car for the long ride home. We were able to see so much of this beautiful park but there are still a few things to discover for next time.
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