Sequoia National Park

So, if you’ve read my blog, you know I love trees. I have a fascination with nature and spend a lot of time hiking and visiting National Parks. I am enamored with Redwoods National and State Parks. You can read about those awesome parks here But, Sequoia National Park is very very different from those.

That might be a surprising statement. A lot of people don’t realize that sequoias and redwoods are different or that the parks that protect them are hundreds of miles apart.

In this illustration, the Giant Sequoia is the tree on the left, the Coastal Redwood is the tree in the center. a sugar pine is the tree on the right.

Coastal redwoods are the tallest trees on earth. The National and State Parks that surround the trees offer lots of scenic drives. The hikes to see them are dense and dark. The villages around them are tiny and the way of life here is very “small town.” If you are the type of person who enjoys tent camping, hiking, and solitude, this is your place. The coastal redwoods are located in Northern California near the coastline.

If you drive about 600 miles south, you’ll discover the giant sequoias, the world’s biggest trees by volume. The General Sherman tree is the crown jewel of the park and is 102.6 ft in circumference at ground level. Many of the trails in this park are paved. It is a bustling park with lots of visitors and a busy shuttle system. If you are a city dweller and appreciate nature but feel more comfortable in a group, this is probably a better choice.

When America experienced the pandemic, many people discovered the outdoors again. National parks became popular escapes and many took up new hobbies in nature. While that is ultimately a good thing, the sheer number of people in the parks has put a strain on park infrastructure and services. The park service rolled out a plan, this year, at many popular parks to institute timed entry reservations. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t include Sequoia. If you are looking for a place for quiet contemplation in nature…keep looking. When we visited Sequoia, I told my husband that it felt more like a city park than a national park. It was disappointing to see graffiti and garbage not disposed of properly.

Wildlife sightings here seemed out of place and surprising. We were walking along a busy path when I spotted a deer laying just a few feet from the sidewalk. Dozens of people walked right by it without noticing. Even my son and husband, avid whitetail hunters, didn’t see it. The area was choked with people and it just didn’t seem likely that a beautiful doe would laze in the shade of the trees here. Later, we spotted a mama bear and her cubs foraging in logs. A traffic jam ensued. Nevertheless, it’s always awesome to view bears in the wild, especially cubs.

The highlight of our day was seeing black bear cubs.

Despite the park being stuffed, it does have some redeeming qualities. The park is doing a fantastic job of being wheelchair-accessible. There are more paved trails in this park than most. There is on-going construction on the roadways. While this can be frustrating, it also means they are making improvements to keep the roads in good shape.

My suggestion for this park is; visit some of the less popular but still interesting areas. Hospital Rock picnic area is a fascinating stop. It is located in the foothills area. Hundreds of Native Americans used this place as a community gathering place. There are red pictographs preserved on granite rocks outside a cave.

Women gathered here to grind acorns into flour. These depressions in the rock are a group of grinding mortars. There are exhibits explaining different aspects of Native culture here, as well as picnic tables, and restrooms.

Another site nearby is tunnel rock. It’s a fun photo-op.

There’s also a ranger station in the foothills in case you need to pick up a map, ask questions, or refill your water bottle.

Another option to avoid crowds is to get on a trail away from the General Sherman and the General Grant trees. There are dozens of trails. Some skirt meadows of wildflowers, some pass by lakes or offer an overlook view. If you have backpacking skills and equipment, backcountry permits are available as well.

Arrive early in the day to snag a parking space and if you are going with a group- carpool. Parking is tricky. There are also campgrounds in the park. So, if you camp out, you can leave the car behind and hike from your site.

We experienced wildlife, ancient relics, and the world’s largest trees. Overall, this park has a lot to offer. But, pack your patience when you visit. The shuttles, long lines, and lack of parking can be very frustrating. Kings Canyon and Yosemite are near Sequoia National park. So, if you have an extended stay, add these parks to your itinerary as well. And please remember when visiting any park-leave no trace.

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