After road tripping all through Redwood National Park, the Redwood State Parks: Patrick’s Point State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek State Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Henry Cowell State Park, visiting Trees Of Mystery, and driving through Avenue Of The Giants, it’s safe to say we have seen A LOT of big trees. After that road trip, my kids specifically asked for our next trip to NOT be a tree focused trip.
Since then, we’ve done a few desert-focused national park trips, exploring:
Now that we’ve had a good break from the desert, we were ready for more big trees. But instead of seeing coastal redwoods, we were excited to check out giant sequoias. The thing is, our first few stops in Sequoia National Park had no big trees! It’s quite a long drive from the park entrance to the Giant Forest area of the park with the giant sequoias, so we ended up stopping at the Foothills Visitor Center, Tunnel Rock, and Hospital Rock first. Finally, when we entered the lush forests and giant sequoias grove, our first hike was to the General Sherman Tree, the king of Giant Forest.
The main attraction in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest is the General Sherman Tree. It is not only the largest living, single stem tree in the world, but the largest living organism, by volume, on the planet.
Yes, other trees in the world are taller or have a larger circumference, but the General Sherman Tree wins by volume of wood at 52,508 cubic feet. The behemoth sequoia tree is 2,100 years old, weighs 2.7 million pounds, stands 275 feet tall, and measures 36 feet in diameter at the base.
The General Grant Tree in the park’s Grant Grove is the second largest tree at 46,608 cubic feet.
Hiking To The General Sherman Tree
The main parking area and trailhead for the General Sherman Tree Trail in Giant Forest are just off Wolverton Road, which leaves the Generals Highway north of the Sherman Tree area. This area can get pretty impacted, so it’s a good idea to visit early in the morning.
The General Sherman Tree Trail is a fairly easy, 0.8 mile, scenic, out and back trail with benches and a rest area available for those who need a break or just want to take pictures!
The trail to the General Sherman Tree is paved and all downhill — the incline is only 5% and there are some stairs in spots where the descent is steeper. There are several benches alongside the trail that you don’t really think too much about on the way down but appreciate on the climb back up. Again, the trail isn’t difficult, but at 7,000 feet elevation, you’ll feel it more than you think!
The General Sherman Tree was named after the American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, in 1879 by naturalist James Wolverton, who had served as a lieutenant in the 9th Indiana Cavalry under Sherman.
Other than the General Sherman Tree itself, one of the coolest parts of this trail is the rest area on the trail about halfway down. The large semi-circular observation point, with views of the iconic tree, was designed to accommodate an outline of the tree’s base in the center. Concrete pavers outline the shape of the tree and a circular pattern fills it in. It’s pretty neat to stand in the middle and see how big the tree’s footprint is compared to you.
Once we reached the General Sherman Tree at the bottom of the trail, we snapped some photos (not as good up close), checked out a massive cross-cut section of a giant sequoia tree tipped on its side for pictures, and wandered through other giant sequoias before beginning our hike back up.
We also realized there was a much faster way to get the the enormous General Sherman Tree. A very short wheelchair-accessible trail leads to the tree from a small accessible parking area alongside the Generals Highway two miles north of the Giant Forest Museum.
Largest Living Tree
While General Sherman is the largest living tree, it is not the largest tree to have been documented. The Crannell Creek Giant, a coast redwood near Trinidad, California that was cut down in the 1940s, is estimated to have been 15-25% larger in volume; the Lindsey Creek tree, was reported to have a volume of 90,000 cubic feet in a 1905 Humboldt Times Standard.
Know Before You Go
- The General Sherman Tree, the largest tree by volume in the world, is located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California 93262 in Tulare County.
- Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are basically treated as the same park — even the National Park Service combined both parks into one website.
- The combined area of these two parks is 865,952 acres. Most of it is wilderness back country.
- The parks are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Occasionally, winter storms will close roads leading into the parks until they can be plowed.
- Admission fees are good for seven days and both parks. They are $35.00/vehicle, $30.00/motorcycle, $20.00/individual entry on foot or bicycle, $15.00/person for a non-commercial group.
- There are five free admission days: the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the first day of National Park Week, the National Park Service Birthday, National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.
- Visitor centers, ranger stations, and a museum offer opportunities to explore the nature and history of these parks, watch park films, and get trip-planning information. Park stores within visitor centers offer books and other products related to the park.
- Weather varies a lot by season and elevation, which ranges from 1,370 feet to 14,494 feet. Bring layers and be prepared!
- Cell service is not available in most areas. You may get service in Grant Grove and at the Foothills Visitor Center. WiFi is available at the Foothills Visitor Center, the Grant Grove Visitor Center, and in the lobby of Wuksachi Lodge.
- Pets are not permitted on any trails at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. In campgrounds and picnic areas, pets must be kept on a leash of no more than six feet at all times.