A Land of Giants
Huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees exemplify the diversity of landscapes, life, and beauty here. Explore these pages to learn about the plants and animals here and the threats they face. Our ancient giant sequoias may seem invincible, but they, too are vulnerable.
Sequoia National Park, America’s second-oldest national park was established on September 25, 1890. General Grant National Park was established on October 1, 1890. On March 4, 1940 General Grant National Park was abolished and its lands were added to newly established Kings Canyon National Park. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks has been jointly administered since 1943.
On October 26, 1976, the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) designated Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as an International Biosphere Reserve as the best example of “South Sierran oak woodlands, chaparral, mixed conifer forests, sub-alpine and alpine environments.”
Today, giant sequoias and the alpine zone are recognized as the two primary features of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Roughly one-third of all naturally occurring sequoias grow in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. In addition, the high peaks of the southern Sierra constitute one of the major alpine regions of North America and include excellent examples of glacial geology and alpine flora.
About 93% of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is designated wilderness, including the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness (designated on September 28, 1984, and expanded on March 30, 2009) and the John Krebs Wilderness (designated on March 30, 2009).
These parks are rich in cultural features, including prehistoric and historic archeological sites and resources. Twenty-three sites and historic districts representing the history of the Sierra Nevada from pre-Colombian times to the Mission 66-era are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The parks are rich in cave resources (275 known caves) with a cumulative length of 35 miles. Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park is popular for cave tours, while the remaining caves are wild and require specific training and permission for access. The Redwood Canyon area of Kings Canyon contains Lilburn Cave, one of the most extensive caverns in California.
Wildlife in the parks includes 12 species of amphibians, 201 species of birds, 11 species of fish, 72 species of mammals, and 21 species of reptiles. These numbers include all species that are either present in the park, of unknown status, or extirpated (such as the foothill yellow-legged frog, wolverine, grizzly bear, and tundra swan). Six federally endangered species are known to live in the parks: the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the mountain yellow-legged frog, the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, the fisher, the Sierra Nevada red fox, and the California condor. Two federally threatened species, the Little Kern golden trout and the Yosemite toad, live within the parks.
The parks contain approximately 1,552 species and subspecies of vascular plants, including 26 deciduous tree species and 24 evergreen tree species.
The headwaters of four of California’s major rivers (Kern, Kings, Kaweah, San Joaquin) lie within the parks. This life-giving water sustains Central Valley agriculture and a growing population in the “breadbasket of the nation.” Two of the rivers in the parks (Kern, Kings) have “Wild and Scenic River” designations.
Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,494 feet (4,417.8 meters), is located within the parks.
In addition, Sequoia and Kings Canyon provides amazing opportunities for recreation. The cool, green sequoia forests along the western fringe of the parks offer a friendly and aesthetically pleasing environment for summer camping and winter snow activities. The wilderness of the parks is one of the most heavily used primitive recreation areas in California. Two of the Sierra’s most iconic trails have segments located in the parks’ boundaries. 108 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and 87 miles of the John Muir Trail traverse these parks. The parks include 866 miles (1,394 km) of trails.