Sitting 6,000 feet above sea level in California’s western Sierra Nevada, Giant Forest is a large sequoia grove, set on a rolling plateau between the Marble and Middle Forks of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park.
Giant Forest, named by famed naturalist John Muir in 1875, covers an area of 1,880 acres and offers visitors more than 40 miles of incredible hiking trails. Because it is the most easily accessible of all the giant sequoia groves, it is also the most crowded.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, we knew Giant Forest was going to be busy. We just didn’t quite realize how busy! We took our time entering the park, stopping at the Foothills Visitor Center, Tunnel Rock and Hospital Rock, and the Lodgepole Visitor Center, and hiking the General Sherman Tree Trail before visiting Giant Forest and hiking the Big Trees Trail. That was a mistake.
By the time we reached Giant Forest, all of the parking lots, even the overflow lots, were full and far too many cars were already looping the lots. So we decided to save it for the next day and head over to Crystal Cave early. Luckily we did have the opportunity to check out some of the giant sequoias along the road and grab some pictures with the four guardsmen!
The Four Guardsmen, also known as the Four Guardians and the Gateway Group, are a grouping of giant sequoias that mark the entrance into Giant Forest on the southern end of Generals Highway (CA Highway 198).
Named by George Welsh in 1919, while surveying the route for Generals Highway, they are the first sequoias visible to park visitors like us who enter the park from the Ash Mountain entrance near Three Rivers. The road into Giant Forest was originally a two-way, single-lane road that passed between the westernmost trees, but visitors marveling at the trees caused a traffic bottle neck and in 1939, the road was split into two one-way lanes.
A Collection Of Giant Sequoias In Giant Forest
Giant Forest is the largest unlogged giant sequoia grove and home to half of the Earth’s largest and longest-living trees. Among its 8,000 giant sequoia trees is the General Sherman Tree, the largest living thing on earth by volume, and a host of less famous, but equally impressive trees such as:
- President Tree: Recent measurements by arborists who climbed up into the crown of the tree and rappelled down through the limbs have discovered that the President Tree is actually bigger than the General Grant tree and is even beginning to rival the General Sherman Tree as the world’s largest.
- Chief Sequoyah Tree: Just uphill from the President tree is the massive and very impressive Chief Sequoyah. This tree is one of the most startlingly rugged trees in the forest.
- Lincoln Tree: This is the fourth-largest tree at 44,471 cubic feet (1,259.3 cubic meters).
- Franklin Tree: Although it is the eighth-largest tree in the world, this tree has been largely ignored, perhaps because it is in such a massive grove with many other large specimens. This tree has a huge fire scar on one side and a very large diameter.
- Monroe Tree: The tenth-largest tree in the world.
- General Pershing Tree: The lower trunk is massive and the top is a tapering dead snag.
- Column Tree: About 100 yards from the General Pershing is another large sequoia. Its lack of taper makes it the fourteenth-largest giant sequoia.
- Adams Tree: From about 90 feet up, the trunk is very irregular with many limb buttresses and lots of foliage. The top is a maze of limbs.
- Cleveland Tree: One of the 40 largest giant sequoias.
- Washington Tree: Once the second largest tree in the world, a fire in 2003 and snowstorm in 2005 cost it most of its trunk and size, and it is no longer exceptional.
- Hamilton Tree: A large tree with a volume of 32,783 cubic feet.
- Near Ed by Ned Tree: Another tree with an impressive lower trunk, it was measured in 1997 at a volume of 30,333 cubic feet.
- Hazelwood Tree: A large tree that, although reduced by half due to lightning damage, is still alive.
Sequoia trees are one of only five tree species that grow 300 feet tall! The other species are the Coast Redwood, Eucalyptus Regnans, Douglas Fir, and Sitka Spruce). Sequoias are also among the longest-living trees on the planet.
Know Before You Go
- 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.
- Weather varies a lot by season and elevation, which ranges from 1,370 feet to 14,494 feet. Bring layers and be prepared!
- The Giant Forest Lodge Historic District was designated in 1978. It encompasses the main area of development in the Giant Forest grove, which was demolished between 1995 and 2000. The area within the grove was restored to nearly natural conditions, allowing the use of fire for forest management and the germination of new sequoia seedlings.
- Bring bug spray! Conditions in Giant Forest are ideal for mosquitoes.
- 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.