A Day Hike Experience in the Giant forest of Sequoia including the Largest Trees in the Park
Sequoia National Park: Our first visit to Sequoia National Park was anything but ordinary. In the early summer of 2023, the Park only had one entry point from the Kings Canyon gates north of the Park, and the weather on this beautiful day saw a relatively dense cloud take refuge over the Sierra crest engulfing Sequoia National Park in a misty-moist cloud of white. But with every drawback in the day, it was the advice of a very positive park ranger that told my wife and me to take advantage of the mist and walk the Alta trail from the Giant Forest Museum down to General Sherman tree and back, a loop that would roughly be about 10 miles round trip.
Alta Trail From Giant Forest Museum
Grabbing our gear out of the car and filling up the water bottles and day packs with snacks, we headed across the street to the Big Trees visitors center, then North on a paved section of the Alta trail near the roadway.
The Alta trail quickly escaped the light crowd for today, and within a hundred yards, we saw not another sole for 3 miles.
The Alta trail traveled into Little deer creek meadow, and along the way, we could walk through a Giant Sequoia, see plenty of wildflowers and enjoy the peace of Sequoia National Park.
Along the meadow, the Bear Hill Trail splits East, and at the end of the meadow of the South flank of Deer Creek, the trail begins a very mellow climb through old growth, an old burn scar, and several un-named giant sequoias as the trail shortly after the tunnel log turns dirt. For the next mile or so, we enjoyed the hillsides of an old burn scar and marveled at the stillness of the forest in the mist. Coming around to the Northern Section of Deer Creek, we pulled off the trail to marvel at what seemed like an area filled with old Indian grinding holes in the rocks.
The Washington Tree
Soon after crossing the creek was a sign to the Washington Tree, a short .2-mile side excursion that was well worth the visit. The Washington tree once was considered the second largest tree in the Park, but it was struck by lightning in 2003, and in 2005, because of its weakened top from the lightning fire, the top collapsed. Today the tree still survives and is surrounded by a posse of beautiful sequoia trees in this basin. It now ranks as the 15th largest tree in the Giant Forest.
(Note there is a trail option heading east from the Washington trail that can lead you around another meadow and to the Sherman tree. We did that one on the way back. Your choice if you want a lollipop trail experience with hundreds of sequoia trees to view)
The Lincoln tree and Crowds
Back on the Alta trail, we continued on, passing a trail called Bears Bathtub and soon into an area where we saw our first people since we left the Giant Forest Welcome Center. Looking at the map, we realized we had entered into the Area of the Presidents, and the Lincoln tree was just ahead of us. a Beautifully large tree with a burn scar and a rather picture-friendly base. The Lincoln tree is the second Largest Tree in the Giant Forest and Third Largest in Sequoia National Park. Standing at a whopping 255.8 feet and a circumference of over 26 feet.
Paved path to Sherman and lots of people
From the Lincoln Tree, it is a downhill paved path experience to the Sherman tree, where the crowds thicken mightly even on a dreary misty day in the mountains. You will also find yourself close to the road here. After being in the quiet of the forest for so long, we felt a little uncomfortable with the noise and business of this section of the Park, but Sherman is special.
The Sherman Tree
I couldn’t help but marvel at the awe-inspiring sight of the General Sherman Tree. Standing tall and proud, this magnificent giant is truly a natural wonder. The sheer size of the General Sherman Tree is mind-boggling; its height reaches an astounding 275 feet, making it one of the tallest trees on Earth. But what takes my breath away is its colossal circumference, measuring over 102 feet of 36 feet in diameter.
An entire network of paved and fenced sections near the Giant Herman tree protects shallow roots from human traffic. We waited our turn to get a picture with the giant. After q quick pit stop at the restrooms provided at the bus stop, we climbed back up the trail to catch the Congress trail on a loop back to the McKinnley tree and back to the welcome center.
The Congress trail and The Old Meadow Loop
Climbing out of the Sherman spectacle on the Congress trail, the crowds again started to thin. We enjoyed a small waterfall on the trail and seeing the Mckinnley tree before connecting again to the Alta trail shortly and exiting onto the Old Meadow loop, which leads to an old loggers cabin among the giants. At this time of year, after a hard winter, this trail was in rough shape. We ran into a family following us while taking a break near a family of giant Sequoia just past the canyon. With no recognizable trail, they would have been advised to turn around.
With my map in hand, however, we knew that the meadow we were now sitting next to was C Meadow and if we followed it, we would see Hercules and a crossing over to the loop trail back to the Washington tree.
(A quick shout out to my wife, who saw the trail signs on the trees that led us back to the trail safely after a hundred yards of cross-country along the meadow.)
Several great trees can be seen around C Meadow at where the trail crosses the meadow; there are some stunning surroundings to sit in and just take in this very quiet and peaceful section of the Park. After crossing the meadow, you will once again connect with the Washington Trail and head south to along C meadow, passing a lop for bears bathtub or walking in the backside of the Washington Tree and then back to the Alta trail, which you will follow once again back to the welcome center.
So happy we listened to the ranger on this day. We experienced a peaceful and beautiful trek through the Giant forest with little to no people interactions except near Sherman. We had hoped to see a bear today but only saw prints near C meadow. Maybe next time, we will get lucky. Over all, the Alta trail was the perfect day hike inside the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park.