Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
|Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park (courtesy, NPS)|
With its mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers, the area around the Foothills Visitor Center at Ash Mountain supports life forms that are very different from those found higher in the Sierras. Ash Mountain is the headquarters for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and also for the Sequoia Natural History Association, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to supporting educational and scientific activities in these parks. Crystal Cave, a beautifully decorated marble cavern, is located on a spur road off the Generals Highway between Ash Mountain and the Giant Forest.
Less than a quarter of a mile inside the entrance to Sequoia National Park stands a massive, hand-carved wooden sign, modeled after the face on the old Indian head nickel. This sign was created by a Civilian Conservation Corps enrollee from Arkansas in the 1930s. The giant trees that make this park famous may have been named after a Cherokee Indian, Se-quo-yah, who devised an alphabet for his people.
Activities at Foothills:
Middle Fork Trail to Panther Creek
Lady Bug Camp
Colony Mill Road
Giant Forest is one of the main visitor destinations in Sequoia. Four of the world's five largest sequoias grow here, and scenic meadows dot the area. High ridges to the east of the area culminate in Mount Silliman and Alta Peak, both over 11,000 feet. Popular foot trails lead to glacial lakes, and a side road winds down to Crystal Cave, a beautifully decorated marble cavern.
General Sherman Tree: The General Sherman Tree is 274.9 feet (83.8 meters) tall, and 102.6 feet (31.3 meters) in circumference at its base. Other trees in the world are taller: The tallest tree in the world is the Coast Redwood, which averages 300,350 feet (91.4106.7 meters) in height. A cypress near Oaxaca, Mexico, has a greater circumference, 162 feet (49.4 meters). But in volume of wood, the Sherman has no equal. With 52,500 cubic feet (1,486.6 cubic meters) of wood, the General Sherman Tree earns the title of the World's Largest Living Thing.
Grant Grove houses the General Grant Tree, which is the nation's Christmas tree and our only living national shrine, commemorating those Americans who lost their lives in war. This giant sequoia and its neighbors were initially protected in the four-square-mile General Grant National Park; General Grant and Yosemite were created by the same legislation on October 1, 1890, one week after Sequoia was established. In 1940, General Grant was absorbed into the newly designated Kings Canyon National Park. Big Stump Basin was added in 1958 and allows visitors in the Grant Grove area to compare the remnants of destroyed sequoias with nearby giants.
Other special features of the Grant Grove area include:
Big Stump Basin: Imagine yourself in a noisy, bustling logging camp as you ponder huge sequoia stumps and other remains of Smith Comstock's lumbering operation. As you walk this one-mile loop through regenerating sequoia forest, shrubland, and meadow, watch for birds and wildflowers. An alternate trail leads across the highway and past the Sawed Tree, a sequoia that survived being cut most of the way through over a century ago. Big Stump Basin is located two and a half miles southwest of the visitor center on Highway 180.
Panoramic Point: Treat yourself to a spectacular vista of the high Sierra. Identify peaks from Mount Goddard in northern Kings Canyon Park to Eagle Scout Peak in Sequoia Park. Mount Whitney cannot be viewed from the roads on the west side of the Sierras due to the height of the Great Western Divide. The 2.3-mile road to Panoramic Point is not recommended for trailers and RVs. The viewpoint is a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot. This road is closed to vehicle traffic in the winter, when it is used as a cross-country ski route.
Hume Lake: Hume Lake was built as a mill pond, and to supply water for a flume that floated rough-cut sequoia lumber from Converse Basin to the planing mill at Sanger, 54 miles away. The lake is in Sequoia National Forest . During the summer, it offers fishing, swimming, boat rental (available through Hume Lake Christian Camps), and a Forest Service campground, as well as gas, groceries, and a small laundry. Hume Lake is 12 miles north of Grant Grove.
North Grove Loop
Sequoia Lake Overlook/Dead Giant Loop
Buena Vista Peak
Mineral King Valley, an open glacial canyon hemmed in by the peaks of the Great Western Divide, has a special place in the hearts of many park visitors. Accessible only by a long, slow-going road, the valley is a place where nature, not humans, dominates.
Mineral King first gained recognition in the early 1870s when silver was discovered in the valley. Miners rushed to the area in 1873. The mines never produced, but the Mineral King Road, built by a mining company in 1879, did open the area to logging, hydroelectric development, tourism, and the building of summer cabins.
The valley and surrounding peaks, 12,600 acres, were added to Sequoia National Park in September 1978 through legislation, ending close to 20 years of controversy over a proposed ski resort development. Prior to 1978, the area was part of Sequoia National Forest and was designated as a game refuge.
Special features of the Mineral King area include:
Atwell (Skinner) Grove: This sequoia grove was partially logged in the 1890s. It continues onto Paradise Ridge, giving it the highest elevation of any sequoia grove. The Paradise Peak Trail explores the upper part of the grove.
Atwell Mill: In a clearing across from the Atwell Mill Ranger Residence stands a large steam engine, one of the last signs of the mill that was used for cutting timber from the surrounding forests. Kaweah colonists leased the site after their Giant Forest claims were disallowed. Many young sequoias have grown up around the mill site in the 75,100 years since logging ceased.
Mineral King Valley: This unique, glacially sculpted valley exhibits a variety of rock types, including marble, shale, schist, and granite. Vegetation includes sagebrush, pinemat manzanita, and a great variety of wildflowers that prosper in the open sun.
Cold Springs Nature Trail: The exhibits along this easy one-mile trail illustrate the natural history of the Mineral King Valley. The trail begins in Cold Springs Campground across from the ranger station.
Sawtooth Peak (12,343 feet) is the most prominent peak in the Mineral King area. Upper portions of the peak are granite and shaped by glaciers. As with other peaks surrounding the valley, Sawtooth resembles the Rocky Mountains more than the Sierras, due to the predominance of metamorphic rocks in the Mineral King area.
Activities at Mineral King:
White Chief Trail
Eagle and Mosquito Lakes
"A rival to Yosemite," wrote John Muir, describing the canyon of the Kings River. This glaciated valley in which Cedar Grove lies presents towering granite cliffs, tumbling waterfalls, and a powerful river to travelers along the highway. These are just a few of its wonderful features...
Canyon Viewpoint: The "U" shape of Kings Canyon, apparent from this point, provides evidence of its glacial history. The turnout is located on the main road, one mile east of the Cedar Grove Village. Knapp's Cabin: During the Roaring Twenties, wealthy Santa Barbara businessman George Knapp commissioned lavish fishing expeditions into Kings Canyon. This small cabin was used to store quantities of his extravagant gear. A short walk to the cabin begins at a turnout two miles east of Cedar Grove Village.
Roaring River Falls: A refreshing and shady five-minute walk leads you to a forceful waterfall rushing through a narrow granite chute. The easy, paved trail begins at a parking area three miles east of the village turnoff.
Grand Sentinel Viewpoint: Rising 3,500 feet above the canyon floor, Grand Sentinel is one of the most striking rock formations in the Kings Canyon area. The turnout, five miles from the village turnoff and just east of Zumwalt Meadow, provides a clear view of the monolith.
Motor Nature Trail: Giving visitors a feel for the first "highway" along the canyon, this three-mile, rough dirt road provides a leisurely drive along the river. Please note that the Motor Nature "Trail" is a one-way, westbound road with a maximum vertical clearance of nine feet. It is suitable for cars and mountain bikes but not campers, RVs, or trailers.
Activities at Cedar Grove:
Zumwalt Meadow (National Recreation Trail)
Don Cecil Trail to Lookout Peak
Cedar Grove Overlook
Hotel Creek—Lewis Creek Loop
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication