Distance: 7.1 Miles
Elevation Gained: 1,200′
Critters: An armada of butterflies, two deer, one bear
– Sequoia Trees
– Less traveled than Giant Forest
– Flowers and butterflies
– Cold, clear creeks
– Mountain views
– We can pretty much leave out cons when we’re talking about the Sierra Nevadas, okay?
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park are two of my favorite places on the planet for hiking, camping, and pretty much anything. I have been coming here for years, and when I’m here, I visit old favorites, check out new places, and fall into the gentle, deep rhythm of the place.
Redwood Canyon was one of the more recent discoveries for me. For years, hiking in Sequoia groves meant strolling through Giant Forest or the occasional (and often regretted) stop in Grant Grove. Both of those places, while beautiful, are well-developed and crowded, although the crowds vanish when you walk a mile into Giant Forest. I didn’t learn until last year that there was a huge (perhaps the largest) Sequoia grove removed from all the crowds, undeveloped, and relatively unspoiled.
I had a great experience the first time I hiked here, in which I took the Hart Tree Loop, which takes a rough circle around the south end of the canyon. This time, I elected to do the Sugar Bowl Loop, which follows the ridge on the opposite side, until it connects with the creek at the canyons bottom. I had intended to do both loops, but since I was hoping to meet up with friends at Stony Creek Campground, I elected to take the loop I’ve never seen.
To get to Redwood Canyon, you take a fairly obscure dirt road that turns off discretely from the main highway. The rutted dirt road winds downward into the canyon, inflicting a bit of punishment on low riding Hondas. When you get to the trailhead, you have effectively left all of civilization behind. It’s common to see just a handful of cars at the trailhead, and it’s even more common to go miles without bumping into another soul. Solitude in a Sequoia forest? I’ll take it.
This was my first hike on this particular trip. I left Los Angeles at 3:00 am, got out of the San Joaquin Valley in time to see the sun rising over Lake Kaweah in the foothills, got to Stony Creek at 9:30, set up by 10:00, and got on the trail by 10:30. Raring to go, I set off up the Sugar Bowl Loop trail, and quickly began climbing a gentle ridge. The ridge is covered with Sequoia trees of all stages of development. Younger trees, which closely resemble the distantly related incense cedar, lurked in the shade of towering, gnarled mature trees.
The trail continues to ascend, and, at various points, the vegetation opens up and offers views of Big Baldy Mountain, Buena Vista Peak, the canyon below, and the high country to the south. Compared with what was to come on this trip, these views are modest, even underwhelming. And yet, for walking out of the car and two miles into a forest, this is phenomenal stuff, which just goes to show how ridiculously amazing Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks are. However, the embarrassment of riches only begins here.
After 4 miles, the trail begins ascending through varying terrain and flora into the bottom of the canyon. Here, Redwood Creek trickles pristinely through dense thickets of Pacific Dogwood, in full bloom, and Sequoia groves. At an open, sunny junction that essentially represents the heart of the grove, backpacking sites are available. I haven’t done it, but I would love to spend a night camped out under the Sequoias in this canyon.
This hike was a great way to open up the weekend. I immediately plunged into the towering, green world of Sequoia trees. I saw tremendous views that set the stage for what was to come. I got a pretty healthy hike in, which also allowed me to start acclimating to the altitude. But more than anything, I was in the Sierras, which, at this point, is beginning to feel like a second home to me.
But I’ll have more to say about this in subsequent blogs. This was only the first of six hikes, all of which had tremendous views, beautiful environments, good company, and memorable experiences. Crazy as it sounds, this hike may have been the least of the hikes I took, since I was still charged from a long drive and a camp set-up, as well as exhausted from a long drive with an early start.
But you know that when a 7 mile loop through a Sequoia grove is the least of your hikes, you are in for a good trip.
June: 55 Miles
Year-to-Date: 676.6 Miles