While Giant Forest itself is not a particularly large place, the 40 miles of hiking trails available in and around this superlative sequoia grove offer almost infinite hiking experience. The Trail of the Sequoias is one of the many trails that honeycomb Giant Forest, and it travels through some of the less visited portions of what can be an immensely popular and hectic attraction.
Note: There is a $20 park entrance fee to visit Sequoia National Park. (P.S. It’s worth it.)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to Sequoia National Park. Even in the last twelve months, I have been there a whopping 5 times, although one of those times was on the east side of the park going into Mt. Whitney. My love for the park goes beyond the fondness I have for places like Palomar Mountain, Santa Anita Canyon, or the Laguna Mountains. This place is special in so many ways: the trees, the meadows, the climate, the scenery, and the history all combine to make this place unique. Factor in that this place is an ice age holdover in a world going increasingly warm, and you have a treasure that I visit as often as I can.
There was a time when I thought I had actually seen all there was to see here. Afterall, I had been coming here almost yearly since I was 22. That fallacious notion was thoroughly discredited about half a mile into this hike when I stepped onto the Trail of the Sequoias. This lightly-traveled footpath leads through the easternmost end of Giant Forest, which, due to its distance from the roads, makes it one of the quietest parts of the forest. Through the field of waist-high ferns, ravines filled with trickling streams, and open, sunny forest, the only creatures I saw other than myself were several black bears.
Here was a part of the forest I had never before seen. Furthermore, I experienced a solitude on this hike that I have seldom experienced in the national parks. I was literally one mile from the road, and there was not a soul to be found anywhere nearby. Sure, I started at 6 in the morning, which almost always guarantees solitude, but this was a peace I seldom expect on a hike in a place this popular.
I started out at the Crescent Meadow parking lot, where I followed the trail around the south side of Crescent Meadow, where I saw a family of bears that quickly climbed trees upon my approach. At the junction toward Log Meadow, where you can see a cabin built INTO a giant sequoia log, I headed toward the south end of this meadow and followed up its east flank. Just past this meadow lies the spur for the Trail of the Sequoias, which begins climbing gently onto the eastern slope of the plateau which the sequoias occupy.
This 2.5 miles trail crosses through virtually every micro-habitat in Giant Forest. There are dense stands of mixed-conifer forest dominated by massive, cinnamon-colored trees. There are ravines blanketed by ferns and dogwood trees through which trickling streams run. There are open, rocky areas dominated by manzanita and ceanothus (in flower), over which a few lone sequoias stand. And there are forested slopes with widely-spaced sequoias, blanketed in fern and lupine, in which grey granite boulders punctuate the gentle landscape. Giant Forest is one of the finest mountain environments in the world, and the Trail of the Sequoias covers some of the quietest corners.
|The Sun Giant|
The trail terminates at a junction with the Alta Trail and the Congress Trail. This is the heart of Giant Forest, and here you can find some of the largest and most spectacular trees in the world. The President, Chief Sequoyah, Lincoln, Washington, General Lee, Congress Group, Senate Group, and the McKinley Trees all reside here, and from this hub, numerous options are possible. I elected to travel along the Alta Trail toward Circle Meadow, at which point I turned left again to travel along the edge of the meadow, through Bear’s Bathtub, and down toward the north end of Crescent Meadow. I could have ended here on the half-mile trail back to the lot, but I instead turned west to take in the Squatter’s Cabin and Huckleberry Meadow. I absolutely love the names here; so evocative and familiar.
The trail ended back at Crescent Meadow, although there are numerous ways that I could have gone. I enjoyed only the eastern portion of the roughly circular forest, and I practically ignored the north, west, and south sides entirely. However, as this loop included meadows, the biggest trees (Sherman excluded), and some of the quietest stretches, this is debatably the best way to see Giant Forest. It’s a moderate hike made even more moderate by how frequently I stopped to enjoy the scenery. And for forest scenery, there is no topping this loop.
One final word on the bears: I’ve told a number of people that I saw bears on this trip. The common reaction is, “Did you run.” People fear bears largely due to a lack of experience with them, as well as horror stories. The vast majority of those horror stories stem from grizzly bear encounters. Make no mistake: a grizzly is a creature to be feared, and there is no way I would treat an encounter with a grizzly in a nonchalant fashion. Black bears are an entirely different story. They are rarely aggressive, and even then usually only become aggressive when they see humans as a food source. If you get near a bear, even if it has cubs, it will either climb a tree, run away, or ignore you. If you keep a respectable distance and announce yourself to the bear, you will not have any problems, and you will walk away with a great memory. If you approach the bear or provoke it in any way, then you probably have no business being in the wilderness. Bears, like most animals, are more afraid of us than we can ever be of them. They will not mess with us unless under extreme circumstances. GrizzlyBay.org, an educational website about bears, puts it this way: “For each person killed by a black bear attack, there are 13 people killed by snakes, 17 by spiders, 45 by dogs, 120 by bees, 150 by tornadoes, 374 by lightning, and 60,000 by humans.” Respect bears, by all means. But there’s no rationale for so much fear of bears.