The call of the wild is strong here. Preserving the earth’s largest living trees, towering granite peaks, and alluring lakes, Sequoia National Park is a colossal adventure land that takes the breath away.
There’s something inherently magical about a park named after 2,000-year-old sequoia trees, a species that John Muir saluted as “the very gods of the forest.” And godly this park is, harboring a 10,000-year-old cave complex deep beneath the earth and the highest peak in the Lower 48 states.
On top of the world
The eastern half of Sequoia is where the park’s famed peak, Mount Whitney, sits at a height of 14,505 ft (4,421 m). Although this is one of the few mountains of its size that you can hike without any mountaineering skills, the trek to the top is no mean feat. Once you get your permit, you’ll want to do some training at high altitudes, as thinner air at the upper elevations will leave you breathless. For those up to the challenge, it’s an experience like no other, covering a distance of 22 miles (35 km) that can take up to 16 hours, so set off before sunrise.
Mount Langley is almost as high at 14,032 ft (4,277 m), but attracts fewer hikers to its intense 21-mile (34-km) ascent, making it a more serene adventure. If you prefer easier hikes, then do what the pioneers did, and head west.
Defining the landscape in the western half of the park are the renowned and striking enormous sequoias. Giant among them is the General Sherman Tree, the largest known tree on the planet when measured by volume, standing 275 ft (84 m) high and thought to be 2,300–2,700 years old.
This gargantuan tree is in the park’s aptly named Giant Forest, which is home to five of the ten biggest trees on earth. Walking through whole groves of sequoias, some as tall as a 26-story building, is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience.
The sequoia trees rise commandingly over the green meadows, humbling visitors with their sheer size
FLORA AND FAUNA
Sequoias are among the longest-living organisms on earth, which is why they get so big: they just keep on growing, and they develop quickly compared to other trees. They have surprisingly shallow roots in order to collect all the water they need to keep them alive, most of which they gather from melting winter snows. Their thick bark also protects them from all but the fiercest fires.
The land through the trees
While the giant sequoias are the undeniable draw here, the park is imbued with natural wonders and dramatically diverse landscapes in abundance. Deep beneath your feet lies a network of subterranean caves and tunnels. The most majestic and rightfully beloved of these is Crystal Cave, which welcomes hardy explorers from May to September. If you can bear the steep hike up through woodland and alongside ravines to the cave entrance, plus another 45 minutes of walking on the guided tour, this underground wonderland reveals its hidden pools, surreal rock formations, and a stream that has been polished like marble.
Water features make up an incredible landscape above ground, too. Here you will meander past rivers that are part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. Though majestic, these rivers become dangerous during spring and early summer, when melting snow from nearby peaks reduces the temperature to a hazardous icy cold. More calming are the lakes and ponds—over 3,200—that are essential to the survival of the park’s wildlife, including coyotes, cougars, wolverines, beavers, black bears, and amphibians like the endangered yellow-legged frog. Precipice Lake, almost in the very center of the park, is arguably the most astonishing, with a backdrop of strange rock formations that make for an otherworldly image.
To truly immerse yourself in the park’s mesmerizing water spectacles nestled within the lush landscape, embark on the Little Five Lakes Trail, a loop trail of around 30 miles (48 km) that starts in the subalpine glacial valley of Mineral King. It’s worth the strenuous trek not only for the lakes, but for the dramatic waterfalls, vivid wildflower meadows, dense forests, and winding rivers along the route. Another exhilarating and challenging hike is the Big Five Lakes Trail. Leading through a glacial valley and woodland, here you’ll pass five gorgeous lakes as alpine peaks rise majestically around you. Even taking on the shortest and easiest hiking paths that are on offer in this park will have you in awe of Mother Nature’s creations.
Precipice Lake is almost an ethereal vision, its calming turquoise waters reflecting the jagged granite cliffs
Ranger for a Day
For just one day every year the park invites children ages six and up to earn a Junior Ranger badge. Become a ranger and enjoy a host of activities for all ages, including learning how to be a mule-packer or working with the park fire service.
Climbing one of the park’s eastern mountains, like Alta Peak, affords superb views