Monday, January 6, 2014

Hike amid world’s largest sequoias in Calif.

General Grant Tree. Photo courtesy Kings Canyon NPS
Topo map for General Grant Tree Trail.

Half-mile loop
includes fallen
tree you can
hike through

Your family will feel like hobbits walking through scenes from “The Lord of the Rings” movies on the General Grant Tree Trail at Kings Canyon National Park.

The 0.5-mile trail heads through the General Grant Grove of giant sequoias. More than 120 sequoias in the grove exceed 10 feet in diameter and most tower several stories over your head.

June to August offers the best weather for visiting the national park that’s south of Yosemite National Park, but summers will be crowded; early September often is less busy with fairly comfortable temperatures.

To reach the trail, From Fresno, Calif., take Calif. Hwy. 180 to the park’s far western side. About a mile northwest of the Grant Grove Visitor Center, turn left onto an access road signed for the grove. A pair of parking lots for the trail is just off the road’s north side.

From the eastern parking lot, go right/counterclockwise on the loop so that you can save its most dramatic features for the hike’s last portion. A paved loop, the trail is mostly level.

The first highlight is the top end of the Fallen Monarch. The giant sequoia actually links two ends of the trail, so pause to take a look through it then continue onward. The trail comes back to it on the other side.

World's third most voluminous tree
After crossing a small stream, you’ll reach to a photo point for the California Tree, which actually rises on the loop’s other side. From there, you’ll pass the Tennessee Tree, which is about a third of the way through the hike.

The trail next curves to the General Grant Tree. Take the spur loop around the tree. By volume, the General Grant is the world’s third largest tree at 46,600-plus cubic feet. Its base measures more than 40 feet in diameter, which small for a sequoia of its age in part because a burn on its eastern side has flattened its lower trunk.

At about 1500 years old, the General Grant is the only “living” national shrine. Ranger talks usually are held at the tree.

On the General Grant Tree’s north side, a small spur trail heads past the Kentucky Tree to the Vermont log, another downed sequoia.

Rejoining the main trail, a hairpin passes the 1872 Gamlin Pioneer Cabin, which gives a good sense of the lives led by the region's earliest Euro-American settlers. When Kings Canyon opened, the cabin served as the national park’s first ranger station. Be careful to not head onto another park trail, which reaches the cabin from the west.

The General Grant Tree Trail next passes the Centennial Stump, the Oregon Tree on the right, and the California Tree on the left. The California Tree was once taller, but a 1967 fire cut its height by 25 feet.

Fallen Monarch
In short order, the trail returns to the expansive base of the Fallen Monarch. You can walk through the tree, which during the 1800s held a saloon and hotel for cavalry soldiers and later served as a stable. Be aware that another toppled sequoia in Yosemite National Park bears the same name.

From the Fallen Monarch, either go right on the trail back to the parking lot or make a second walk through the fallen sequoia and go left to continue on the main trail.

If doing the latter, you’ll next pass the Lincoln Tree, which despite its girth isn’t all that tall due to a tapering base. Sometimes visitors confuse this one with the Lincoln Tree is neighboring Sequoia National Park, as the latter is well-known as the world’s fourth largest tree.

From there, the trail briefly parallels the parking lot and road. Looking to the right, you’ll spot the Twin Sisters. The loop ends at the trailhead in the eastern parking lot.

Head on back to the visitor center where there are exhibits as well as a picnic area.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.