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Jane sitting by a giant sequoia

I can’t even remember the first time I learned about the existence of giant sequoia trees. I must have been quite young, because my fascination with them held an almost mythical quality, as if these trees were more a product of imagination than reality, like the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot. I distinctly remember seeing a picture of a car driving through a tunnel carved through one of these trees, but still, it was hard to believe that a forest of these trees could exist. Which was why I promised myself that someday I would venture to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks in California if for no other reason than to see these trees for myself.

Half a century later, that someday happened and I orchestrated just such a road trip in California specifically to fulfill that promise. And even after spending only one day walking amongst these giants, I couldn’t have been more awestruck than if I had encountered Nessie herself. In the land where make believe comes true at theme parks and on the big screen, even Disney and Hollywood couldn’t compare to what Mother Nature had created here.

Where to Find Giant Sequoia Trees

California’s western Sierra Nevada mountains was our destination, being home to a couple of species of giant trees that are closely related: the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), and the giant redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). But while the redwoods are more slender and known as the world’s tallest trees, growing up to 378 feet in height, sequoias are known for their girth, and the amount of wood in their trunks, making them the largest trees in the world by volume.

Kings Canyon Sequoia Regional Map
Our focus was the area in the blue rectangle

These sequoias were what had captured my imagination decades ago, and since they thrive at higher altitudes than redwoods (between 5,000 to 7,000 feet), Henk and I were heading up to the High Sierras in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks in search of the most spectacular sequoias of all. Although we only had one day to visit both Parks, I was hoping that even that short a time would satisfy my tree-hugging craving.

FUN FACT: While sequoia trees are native to California, there are some specimens scattered around the world, having been imported and planted there by admirers like myself. I had actually seen the largest group of giant sequoias in Tuscany on a visit decades ago to the Sammezzano Castle just outside of Florence, but those trees were nowhere near as old or as large as the California ones.


It’s of course impossible to ‘see’ any national park in a day, never mind Kings Canyon AND Sequoia National Parks, but I was on a laser-focused mission to worship at the feet of a few famous trees, so Henk and I decided to start with the two biggest names in the big tree directory, and just wing it after that. That first tree was the General Grant Tree, in King’s Canyon National Park.

We entered King’s Canyon by following Highway 63 north from Visalia, California across flat plains filled with citrus groves, before turning east onto Hwy 180 and starting our ascent to the Big Stump Park entrance. Less than a half an hour or so later, we had climbed to more than 6,000 feet above sea level and the geography had changed dramatically (as had the temperature). The heat of the flats and the scent of fragrant orange blossoms had been replaced with cool, forested slopes and the aroma of pine needles.

Views along Generals Hwy Kings Canyon National Park

With some helpful advice from the ranger at the entrance about Park routes and trails that were impacted by construction or closures, we collected our maps and continued 4 miles farther on to the location of the General Grant Tree, keen to see the second largest sequoia tree in the world!

TIP: Always check with the Park Rangers since roads and trails may be closed for various reasons based on the time of year you visit. They can also help with information about the Visitor Centres, restaurants, restroom facilities and more. And be sure to grab a map as cell service can be spotty inside the Parks.

Arriving at the parking lot near Grant’s Grove, the first sight of a stand of sequoias beside a group of parked cars had me excitedly scrambling for my camera. Normally, Henk and I disagree about our landscape photography preferences, mine being to not have any people or cars in them if at all possible. But what I soon learned is that people and objects are absolutely necessary for scale when it comes to capturing giant sequoias – without them, there’s nothing to give away the fact that these are ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE TREES! I’m talking ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ massive, ‘put your camera on the widest wide angle lens’, massive. Even ‘vertical panorama mode won’t get it all in’ massive.

Trees and cars in Grants Grove Kings Canyon
The parking area in Grant’s Grove gave us our first sequoia sighting

From the parking lot, it’s just a short walk (.5 km) along a paved looped trail that leads to the General Grant Tree, which like many of the named giants in these National Parks, is protected by a perimeter fence to keep well-meaning visitors from even unintentionally harming the tree. In fact, so many visitors want to touch these giant trees, that the bark on their trunks has been worn away to the point that the trunk actually ‘narrows’ slightly at human height, a characteristic that is called a ‘love ring’ on the tree (a lesson to me that any tree hugging on my part would best serve the tree if the hug was metaphoric, not literal).

General Grant Tree: “the Nation’s Christmas Tree”

It’s difficult to comprehend the actual size of trees of this scale. Soaring 267 feet above the forest floor, and with a circumference of more than 107 feet, the General Grant certainly dwarfs any Christmas tree placed at Rockefeller Centre. It’s been documented as the second largest sequoia tree in the world, and with an age estimated to be between two and four thousand years old, it’s been on the planet millennia before New York even existed in the imagination of future explorers.

General Grant Tree Grants Grove KIngs Canyon national park
The General Grant sequoia, the 2nd largest tree in the world!

Perhaps the wonder that this tree inspires was best described by a young girl who saw it in 1924 and mused “what a wonderful Christmas tree it would be!” The comment stuck with R.J. Senior, then President of the Chamber of Commerce of Sanger, California who had overheard the little girl’s comment while admiring the tree himself. Inspired by it, Senior worked with Charles E. Lee, another member of the Chamber, to petition President Calvin Coolidge to recognize the tree formally. Four months after the President received their letter, the General Grant tree was officially designated as the Nation’s Christmas Tree on April 28, 1926. Since then, every December, instead of the tree coming to the celebration, a Christmas celebration comes to the tree, and includes members of the National Park Service who place a huge wreath at the base of the General as their way of saying Merry Christmas to all.

FUN FACT: The General Grant tree was also named a National Shrine in 1956, “dedicated to the men and women in the Armed Forces who have served to keep the Nation free”. It’s the only example of a living shrine in America.

The Gamlin Cabin

Having accomplished ‘mission critical’ (to see the General Grant), Henk and I decided to just wander the Grants Grove trails nearby, since there are many other impressive giant sequoias here, not just the General Grant tree. While we were wandering the trails we also discovered the Gamlin Cabin, the first structure that was built in the Park by Israel Gamlin, a ‘squatter’ in 1872 who claimed logging rights to the forest here.

Gamlin Cabin in Grant's Grove
Gamlin Cabin in Grant’s Grove, King’s Canyon National Park

After Gamlin was persuaded to leave, his cabin was moved to its present location where it was used for store feed for the horses of the U.S. Cavalry, who were charged with guarding the General Grant tree and protecting it and other giant sequoias after the area was named a National Park in 1890. They handed over this responsibility to the first Park Administrator in 1914.

last-year-of-cavalry-at-base-of-general sherman
The U.S. Cavalry was called in to protect the giant sequoias of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks from loggers

The Centennial Stump

Unfortunately, not all the giant sequoias in King’s Canyon had this kind of military protection. One tree, the remainder of which is known as the Centennial Stump, was actually cut down for the express purpose of proving that these giant trees did exist: the tree was cut down and a hollow section of its outer bark was sent to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 as a public exhibit to showcase this California species. It turned out to be a disastrous idea on several fronts: the outer ring of the tree had to be sectioned for transport, and its crude re-assembly in Philadelphia was so bad that the skeptical public refused to believe it was authentic. The whole incident became known as the ‘California Hoax’. The only (sad) reminder of this beautiful tree that was sacrificed for nothing is the stump and a historic sign identifying it as the Centennial Stump.

Centennial Stump sign

Walk Through The Fallen Monarch

If you’ve ever wanted to step back in time, the next best thing might be the chance to walk through the millennia-old Fallen Monarch, a massive sequoia tree that lies where it fell on the forest floor, probably centuries before it was discovered in the late 1800s.

Horizontal view of Fallen Monarch with Robert E. Lee tree behind
Looks can be deceiving: the Fallen Monarch log is 125 feet long!

This huge log was actually gutted by fire before it fell, leaving its interior hollow, and today, visitors can walk through the length of its trunk from one end to the other. It may be the most unusual ‘covered walkway’ I’ve ever entered, but this natural shelter also served as temporary living quarters for Gamlin while he was building his cabin, and then was used as a stable for the horses of the Cavalry that guarded the park.

Entrance to Fallen Monarch beside Robert E. Lee tree
Entrance to the Fallen Monarch is beside the Robert E. Lee tree

There’s even some evidence that it was used as a saloon. (Let’s just hope the patrons raised at least one glass in honour of the Fallen Monarch they were standing in!)

View from inside the Fallen Monarch Grants Grove
A ‘skylight’ inside the Fallen Monarch


Having seen the second largest tree in the world – and then some – Henk and I were off to see the largest one, the General Sherman sequoia 30 miles south in Sequoia National Park.

TIP: Both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are managed jointly, so there is no need to ‘enter’ the second Park via any gate, but there is a sign that tells you when you are crossing the border. Your park pass is also good for both places and can be purchased online or at the gate.

Sequoia National park sign

Lost Grove Sequoia Grove

Travelling along the General’s Highway just south of the Sequoia Park sign, Henk and I had only travelled a few miles before a beautiful stand of sequoias appeared right beside the highway: the Lost Grove Sequoia Grove. It’s location right beside the road reminded us of driving through another old growth forest on Vancouver Island, Cathedral Grove, only these California sequoias made their Canadian cousins look like underachievers!

standing with giants Lost Grove
Jane standing with giants in Lost Grove

There’s a trailhead here that used to lead to a lower grove of trees, but it has been closed since 2021 due to a catastrophic fire that swept through this part of the Park, so we had to content ourselves with admiring the trees right in front of us – which were spectacular nonetheless.

Jane with tree in Lost Grove Sequoia Grove
Jane with tree in Lost Grove Sequoia Grove

The General Sherman Tree: the Largest Tree in the World

When any Park is home to a World’s One-and-Only, it’s going to be a popular destination, so Henk and I were expecting there might be a lot of people at the main parking area for The General. But this was still early May, so the area was not that busy, which was amazing. The trail from the parking lot to the tree is about a half mile long, but it is downhill, so be aware that on your return the uphill climb will be more difficult, especially since you are at an altitude of almost 7,000 feet.

General Sherman Tree Trail Sequoia National Park

The trail itself is an easy one on a paved path, and before arriving at the bottom, there’s an observation spot where you can read about the forest with a General Sherman tree ‘footprint’ made of cobblestones to give you an idea of the size of the base of the tree itself.

Once you are at the bottom of the trail, there seem to be giant sequoias everywhere, (hence the name the Giant Forest) but with relatively few people in the Park, it felt like we had some of these beauties all to ourselves. The Congress Trail was a particularly beautiful path that wound its way between several monster trees, over a babbling creek, and onto a looped path that continued to other ‘named’ sequoias, including the President Tree for one.

Jane and Congress Trail Trees Sequoia National Park
Jane beside a ‘normal’ 16 foot tree and the giant sequoias!
Congress Trail Giant Forest Sequoia National park
The Congress Trail in Giant Forest Sequoia National Park

Of course the star of the show here is the General Sherman tree, which presides over the Giant Forest like the aged patriarch that it is. Looking at its massive base which seemed to rest on the ground versus growing out of it, I couldn’t help but think that it resembled the foot of a giant prehistoric dinosaur, only ten times wider.

FUN FACT: ‘Size’ of course is relative: the General Sherman isn’t the tallest or the widest tree in the world, but the volume of wood in its trunk is greater than any other living tree on the planet (53,000 cubic feet of wood!) It stands 275 feet tall, with a diameter of 36 feet at its widest point, and is estimated to be over 2000 years old.

Jane and Henk with General Sherman
General Sherman: the biggest tree in the WORLD!

Henk and I did our best to try to get all of Sherman into frame, but there was no way one image would do it justice. Only doing a vertical panorama with our iPhones even came close.

TIP: For visitors with mobility challenges who want to see the General Sherman tree, there is an Accessible-only parking lot on the Generals Highway 3 miles south of the Lodgepole Visitor Centre. From here, there is a 500 foot long wheel-chair accessible path that is gently sloped and takes you right to the tree.

Tunnel Log

Remembering the ‘tree tunnel’ photo that had imprinted on me as a child, I had done some research before coming to California to see if there was any such tree in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Unfortunately, the tree that I had seen in the photo (likely the Wawona tunnel tree) was located in Yosemite National park 2 hours farther north, but it had fallen decades ago and no longer existed.

Yosemite Wawona Tree Editor ASC_Creative Commons Licence4.0
Yosemite’s Wawona Tree (Editor ASC_Creative Commons Licence 4.0)

The good news, however, was that I discovered there IS a tunnel log in Sequoia National Park so Henk and I knew we had to include that on our itinerary. Unfortunately, the road itself was not yet open to cars for the season, so if we wanted to get to the Log we would have to walk the 3 kilometers or so to get to it. It was late afternoon by this point, and the angled light was beautiful, intensifying the orange/red bark of the sequoias that were everywhere on both sides of the road, and because we were walking we could really enjoy them without feeling rushed.

Road to tunnel log sequoia national park

There was almost no one else on the road, and all we heard was the sound of a woodpecker tapping on a hollow tree, its hammering amplified tenfold in the cathedral-like forest. It was so loud that a woman we met from out of the country asked what kind of animal was making this terrifying sound! (We explained it was just a bird, not a bear or other predator, and there was nothing to worry about.)

Shortly after we arrived at the Tunnel Log, and although it wasn’t the same as the photo I had etched in my memory, seeing a fallen log thick enough for a car to pass through was still a first for us. And since there were no cars allowed on the road, we had the entire Log to ourselves.

Jane under Tunnel Log Sequoia National park
Can you find Jane under the Tunnel Log?

TIP: When the road is open, cars do drive right through the log. The tunnel is 8 feet high and 17 feet wide, so if you have a higher vehicle, you will need to use a bypass that goes around one side of the log.

Tunnel Log horizontal Sequoia National park
This Tunnel is high enough and wide enough that cars can pass under it

TIP: When the road to tunnel log is open to traffic in the summer, leave the asphalt to the cars and instead hike the Moro Rock trail that runs alongside the road. It’s not difficult and you won’t even see the vehicles.

Moro Rock

As if the 7 km round trip to Tunnel Log wasn’t enough of a walk to end our already busy day, Henk suggested we go the extra distance (another kilometre) and at least consider doing one of Sequoia National Park’s iconic activities: a sunset climb to the top of Moro Rock, a granite dome that rises 300 feet up from the trail.

At first sight of the Rock, I wasn’t sure this would be a good idea, especially for Henk who needs some time to acclimatize to high altitude. Plus he also has a fear of heights (although he has conquered that in the past in order to do some pretty crazy stuff with me!)

First view of Moro Rock from Trail
Our first view of Moro Rock, this granite dome on the right!

We were reassured by the fact that the climb up is via a 400-step stone/concrete stairway carved into the rock itself, with a handrail for a good part of the way. This staircase was built in the 1930s to replace the original wooden stairway and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places (who knew?).

Staircase looking down on Moro Rock
Staircase on Moro Rock looking down

Halfway up, however, Henk got a glimpse of the sheer drop below the stairs where the handrail ended, and he decided to stay put, leaving me to continue to the top.

Jane on top of Moro Rock Dome-2
I made it: with only 8% battery charge left on my camera!

Once atop the bald crown of this dome, the 360-degree views were incredible! To the east were the snow-capped peaks of the mountains of the Great Western Divide that run through the centre of Sequoia National Park. To the west, the mountain dropped off below me and I could see the Generals Highway continue via a crazy chain of switchbacks snaking their way to the bottom of the San Joaquin Valley, almost 7,000 feet below my feet.

Sun setting from Moro Rock Sequoia National Park-2

The sun was low, the light was golden, the views went on forever and I was grateful to the people who had recommended the climb: they had promised Moro Rock would be worth it and they were 100% right.

Sunset light on Moro Rock
My vantage point (on the left) at the top of that sunset-lit granite dome.

Generals Highway to Park Exit

Beyond just the monumental trees, tunnel log and granite monolith, the drive along the Generals Highway in many parts of Sequoia National Park is so scenic that I have to include it as a highlight of our visit to the Park as well. In particular, there was a beautiful winding section just south of the General Sherman Tree Accessible parking lot that was flanked with giant sequoias on both sides of the road. It was so beautiful that Henk and I even turned around to repeat a section so we could see it twice.

Generals Highway Sequoia National park
The scenic drive along Generals Highway was a highlight

And I cannot dismiss the final stretch of the Generals Highway that takes you down out of the mountains and back to the valley: this has several lookout pullouts that no doubt offer amazing views. (Since we had begun our descent after sunset, we didn’t catch any of those but focussed instead on navigating the hairpin turns and switchbacks.)

Visiting the Land of the Giants

It’s not often that reality lives up to your expectations, especially when those expectations are coloured by a child’s imagination. But seeing the sequoias in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and walking amongst them did more than just deliver on a personal promise that I made to myself decades earlier: it left me feeling wonder-struck, inspired and humbled to be sharing a planet with these giants.

As reality shows go, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Jane in Fire Scar at Lost Grove Sequoia Grove


A private vehicles pass (including all passengers) costs $35.00/day and is valid for both parks. A complete breakdown of price by vehicle is available on the Park website. U.S. residents may want to consider an annual pass valid at all U.S. national parks for only $70.

There are several lodges where you can stay if you want to be right in the midst of it all inside the boundaries of the Parks.
But I did find these lodges a little pricey, depending on the season, and dining options are limited to the restaurant on-site.

There are more affordable accommodations (and a few more choices in dining) in the small village of Three Rivers, which is the closest town to the Sequoia National Park Entrance.

Visalia is a city of 145,00 residents and considers itself the ‘Gateway to the Parks’. It is about 45 minutes’ drive from the Sequoia Park entrance, or about 75 minutes from Kings Canyon’s Big Stump entrance, but it is well worth considering this city as your base for exploring the two Parks, especially if you are staying for a few days. The city offers options for all types of accommodations and restaurants, and its Main Street is both historic and modern, with an eclectic group of boutiques, cafes and more. Be sure to stop in at the Visitor Centre for really useful information when planning your visit to the Parks (including any road closures or delays within them) as well as attractions in Visalia itself.


Jane with Hat Tanzania

Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.

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