Nestled at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada range lies the Land of the Giants. In 1890, then-president Benjamin Harrison created our country’s second national park in order to protect its inhabitants, sequoiadendron giganteum, from logging. Thus Sequoia National Park was established, forging a path to protected lands for these ancient conifers.
There are countless reasons to visit Sequoia and its neighbor, Kings Canyon National Park; below, we’ve outlined what to do in Sequoia National Park.
Visit General Sherman and General Grant
General Sherman is the largest tree in the world, standing 275 feet tall with a 102.6-foot circumference (It can be hard to appreciate just how massive this tree is with so many large neighboring sequoias, so to put that into perspective, the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet tall). Two trails provide an easy stroll through the Giant Forest to view the 2,300-year-old General Sherman.
Situated just north of Sequoia National Park is Kings Canyon National Park, established in 1940 (which absorbed the previously established General Grant National Park and expanded to include Kings Canyon). Inside Grant Grove sits General Grant, the world’s second largest tree with a height of 267 feet and circumference of 107.6 feet.
Tour the Giant Forest Museum
Come for the trees, but leave with a much deeper understanding of the crucial role that giant sequoias play in their ecosystem. In the Giant Forest Museum, learn the difference between sequoias and coastal redwoods (they’re often mistakenly interchanged), learn how to identify different area trees, explore interactive exhibits (great for kids), and much more.
Peer into Tharp’s Log
California settler Hale Tharp is credited for sharing news of the Giant Forest to other pioneers in 1858 after the Potwisha tribe guided him to the area mountains. Several years later, Tharp returned to the forest and built a summer cabin inside a fire-hollowed fallen sequoia; inside, he carved a window, enclosed one end of the tree with shingles, and hauled granite stones over to make a fireplace and chimney. The National Park Service has since restored the cabin to its original condition. A short hike through Crescent Meadow brings you to the structure, which still contains an old bed, bench, and table.
Cool Off at Hume Lake During the Summer
Who hasn’t dreamt of swimming in a sparkling alpine lake, surrounded by sandy beaches, lush forests, and towering peaks?! Hume Lake offers just that and much, much more. Kayak, canoe, and SUP rentals are available, and the trails are accessible to mountain bikes and off-road tours. There’s also a paintball field and ropes course, and the lake is stocked with trout for the fishing enthusiast.
Snowshoe or Ski Through the Giant Forest in the Winter
We appreciate national parks so much for their ranger-guided activities. They’re fun, family-friendly, free, and can provide a new perspective on parks’ beautiful scenery. In winter months, bundle up in warm layers, strap on a pair of snowshoes (provided by the Park Service), and tramp beneath the soaring trees. For the more experienced adventurer, there are cross country ski trails through Giant Forest and Grant Grove!
Take a Horseback Ride
Observe your surroundings from a different perspective! Several stables offer guided rides through both Sequoia and Kings Canyon for people of all abilities. Hop on a horse for a mosey through Grant Grove, or pack your bags for a multi-day ride along the Monarch Divide or Rae Lakes. The latter typically involve strenuous, long hikes, so a trail ride provides an accessible way to observe long-range vistas and secluded alpine lakes.
This dome-shaped granite monolith began forming about 100 million years ago, and is one of the area’s most popular hikes for good reason. A stairway carved into the granite and built in 1931 by the Civilian Conservation Corps leads to its 6,725-foot summit, and views are plentiful. Gaze at Middle Fork and the Great Western Divide to the east, the tops of the trees in the Giant Forest to the north, and snowy, jagged peaks to the west (just blocking the famous Mt. Whitney from view). The hike up can be a little strenuous, but there are plenty of places to pause and catch your breath along the way.
Hike to Tokopah Falls
Twelve hundred feet tall, Tokopah is more of a series of tumbling cascades than roaring falls. A pleasant hike at 4.2 miles, the Tokopah Valley Trail meanders along the Middle and Marble forks of the Kaweah River. Hop off the trail at several points along the way to dip your feet into the creek, or splash around in clear pools at the base of the falls. It’s not unusual to spot wildlife like bears, marmots, and pikas in this area! Be sure to pack sunscreen and a picnic lunch to enjoy the views in the park.
If you’re running short on time but still want to see some beautiful waterfalls, take the short, paved 0.3-mile walk to Roaring River Falls, or the 0.1-mile jaunt to Grizzly Falls—both accessible off Generals Highway.
Tour Crystal Cave or Boyden Cavern
Though Sequoia and Kings Canyon are known mostly for their magnificent trees, these parks also protect a staggering 275 caves, including the longest cave in the state and some of the most unique underground geology around. Open to the public from May to November, Crystal Cave offers several different tours to suit all types of families. On the “standard” tour, wander through the caverns with a naturalist and marvel at the polished marble stalagmites and stalactites. The “wild cave tour” will entice the intrepid visitor, as you’ll be able to go off-trail and climb through passageways, crawl through tunnels, and scramble over boulders (In the summer or on weekends, purchase tickets online a few days in advance).
Boyden Cavern lies north in Kings Canyon, beneath 2,000-foot-tall marble walls. Carefully preserved features like the flowstone (sheetlike deposits of calcite), pendant and shield formations, and even a cave bear (don’t worry—it’s not a live carnivore!). Bring a lunch, as there’s a beautiful picnic spot just across the street!
Try Your Hand at Fly Fishing
Take a lesson with Sierra Fly Fisher to snag a rainbow, wild brown, brook, or golden trout! All gear is provided, and half-day or full-day excursions on the water are available. You may get to visit Clover Creek, Wolverton Creek, and parts of the Kaweah and Kings rivers.
If you’re content to relax and drop a line in the water, fishing is permitted in most areas with a license (always available at Hume Lake). Head to Lewis Creek, Bubbs Creek, or Cedar Grove for a great fishing spot.