California boasts the highest and lowest points in the U.S. at Mount Whitney and Badwater Basin. In addition to that, California also has the 2nd oldest national park in America (after Yellowstone), which is home to the largest trees in the world!
This park is the joint Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. During our three and a half days at the park, we traversed canyons and trudged up the slopes of alpine mountains. We strained our necks to catch the slightest glimpse of the tops of the world’s largest trees. We tread softly through the inside of a sequoia, we drove through a sequoia, and we peered out from the inside of a sequoia. Needless to say sequoias, which only grow at 5,000-7,000 feet elevation west of the Sierra Nevada, are humbling to humankind.
Upon entering Kings Canyon National Park, one is immediately rewarded with memorable attractions: the Big Stump trail and General Grant Grove. The Big Stump Trail showcases remnants of sequoia trees from the pre-national park days when loggers were able to chop them down. Of the stumps, most notable is the Mark Twain stump, the stump of the 1,350 year old Mark Twain Tree which was cut down in 1891 in order to have a section of it exhibited in the American Natural History Museum in New York and the British Museum of Natural History.
Inside a fallen sequoia at General Grant Grove:
Another giant at General Grant Grove:
Further along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is Convict Flat, a free campground outside the national park but within the national forest. This campground is conveniently located between the park entrance and Cedar Grove. Nutella s’mores, anyone?
Kings Canyon Scenic Byway ends at a Cedar Grove Trailhead, which is the launching point for hundreds of miles of backcountry hiking. With limited time, we only hiked the 12-mile round trip out-and-back hike to Lower Paradise Valley. We even encountered a pack of four wild black bears!
From Kings Canyon we drove south into Sequoia National Park and spent one night at Lodgepole Campground. This popular campground primarily serves as a base for the Giant Forest Museum, popular hikes from the Wolverton trailhead, and the park’s main attractions: General Sherman Tree and the Congress Trail, Moro Rock, and Tunnel Log.
General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world (in volume):
Other giant sequoias along the gentle, paved Congress Trail:
Peeking out from a sequoia in the Crescent Meadow Loop trail:
Moro Rock (way easier than Half Dome!):
And for some classic alpine hiking, I spent a good half day hiking the popular 12-mile Lakes Trail to Pear Lake. This trail included “The Watchtower,” a granite monolith cliff with a 2,000 foot drop.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks provide memorable experiences for anyone (especially families!) with their iconic trees. I can’t imagine anyone walking up to the giants without feeling the trees’ magic. In addition to this outdoor wonderland museum of sequoias, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts are also rewarded with the abundance of backcountry trails in the mountains, with Mount Whitney as the icing on the cake. Overshadowed by Yosemite, the parks remain somewhat pristine, making it an equally stellar alternative to Yosemite itself. With just as many miles of trails as Glacier National Park, I know I’ll be returning again and again.