Where to go for spectacular scenery, hiking, and giant trees
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Photo by Carr Clifton
Sequoia: Mineral King
Think of this as Sequoia’s secret: a hidden valley up at 7,500 feet reached by a winding 28-mile road. It’s a trek, but you won’t be sorry when you get there—Mineral King is gorgeous.
For moderate hiking, take the 4.5-mile one-way trail to Upper and Lower Monarch Lakes.
You can backpack to camp here (wilderness permit required--cost is $10 plus $5 per person; purchase at Mineral King Ranger Station or online at https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/wilderness_permits.htm), camp at nearby Cold Springs or Atwell Mill campgrounds, or stay at the rustic cabins of Silver City Mountain Resort on Mineral King Road.
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Sequoia: General Sherman Tree
Size matters: This 2,100-year-old giant sequoia, in Giant Forest, is the largest (by volume) tree on Earth, weighing in at an estimated 1,385 tons.
Like many of the parks’ trees, it was named in the 1870s for a leader in the recently fought Civil War—in this case Union Army general William Tecumseh Sherman.
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Sequoia: The Tunnel Log
On Crescent Meadow Road near Giant Forest, a tunnel was burrowed through this fallen sequoia, making it the only tree you can drive through in Sequoia or Kings Canyon. If you’re piloting a giant SUV, consider taking the bypass.
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Sequoia: Moro Rock
This giant dome of granite rises above the Giant Forest sequoia grove. Climb the 400 stone steps to Moro’s summit, and you’ll get some of the best views in California.
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Sequoia: Giant Forest
Get up close and personal to many giant sequoias in this aptly-named section of the park. The 2-mile Congress Trail takes you on an easy loop through.
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Sequoia: Mount Whitney
At 14,494 feet, it’s the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. And it doesn’t take any mountain climbing expertise or technical climbing equipment (at least not from mid-July to early October) to tackle the 22-mile round-trip trail to the summit—just lots of stamina. Thousands of people do it each year.
The U.S. Forest Service has more information on the hike and the necessary permit. It's a good idea to check the website before visiting in any case to ensure the trail is open--a rock slide in January 2017 closed the approach road for several months, for example.
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Sequoia: Needles Lookout
This 2.5-mile, out-and-back trail starts at the end of a 3-mile dirt road just beyond Quaking Aspen Campground. The narrow path winds hikers through a series of vistas before reaching a summit reminiscent of (a miniature) Half Dome. Hardly for the faint of heart, the last leg climbs three sets of stairs along the backside of the mountain to its jutting peak. This brief, knee-quivering experience rewards hikers with 360-degree views of Sequoia National Forest. Needless to say, it’s worth the climb.
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Sequoia: Mule Peak
After wandering through the Trail of 100 Giants, hiking enthusiasts can get their heart pumping via Mule Peak. This 1.5-mile round-trip hike starts with a steep incline and doesn’t let up until reaching two humbling, panoramic vistas. The top features stretching views of the forested valley with rolling mountaintops as far as the eye can see. Boulder climbers will enjoy hopping around the peak’s granite outcrops. Those with a slight fear of heights can still enjoy the sweeping sight from the safety of the flat center. Given its brevity, the trail itself is moderate, yet the 5.5-mile rocky, dirt road to get there requires serious patience for sedan drivers.
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Sequoia: Dome Rock
Some landmarks capture California’s undeniable beauty–and this one does just that. Perched far above the valley floor, this popular spot comes with 180-degree views of untouched nature. Perfect for golden hour, visitors can unwind on the warm, granite dome and watch the sun set against majestic peaks, including Needles Overlook. Due to its short, 200-foot walk from the nearby parking lot, Dome Rock welcomes stargazers and photographers looking for safe grounds to enjoy the sparkling night sky.
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Photo by David Fenton
Kings Canyon: Zumwalt Meadow
Against a backdrop of Sierra Nevada domes, Zumwalt Meadow glows green and gold in the sunlight. With its flat, gentle trails, the meadow is great for kids—and makes an ideal introduction to the park.
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Kings Canyon: Grant Grove
Time to sing “Deck the Halls.” In the park, the spectacular grove of giant sequoias includes the General Grant Tree, officially “The Nation’s Christmas Tree.” You’d need lots of tinsel to decorate its boughs: This particular giant is 268 feet tall and 107 feet around.
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Photo by David Fenton
Sequoia: Grizzly Falls
Head off Kings Canyon Scenic Byway and hike the short, easy trail up to the impressive Grizzly Falls. The 75-foot waterfall is at its best in spring, when the thunderous force is so strong you can feel the reverberations in your chest.