Changes to Some Opening/Closing Dates for Services and Facilities – Check Back for Updates
Some of the opening/closing dates for facilities and visitor services in the parks have changed due to weather and/or other circumstances. See link for details and match to locations on the park map (under "Park Tools," bottom left, this page).
Road Conditions (Entire Park) and Road Construction Delays (if Entering/Exiting Hwy. 198)
Expect 20-minute to 1-hour construction delays on main road through parks (Generals Hwy) until Memorial Day weekend (7 a.m.-6 p.m.). See link for schedule. Call for 24-hour road conditions info: 559-565-3341 (press 1, 1, 1).
Vehicle Length Limits Have Changed in Sequoia NP (if Entering/Exiting Hwy 198)
Planning to see the "Big Trees" in Sequoia National Park? If you enter/exit via Hwy. 198, please pay close attention to new vehicle length advisories for your safety and the safety of others.
You May Have Trouble Calling Us. Use the "Contact Us" Link (Bottom Left) to Send an E-mail.
We are experiencing technical problems receiving some incoming phone calls at the parks. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please keep trying to reach us or check this website for frequently-asked questions. The search box (top, right) may be helpful.
Hi! My name is Anna Cordes. I am a ranger naturalist here at Kings Canyon National Park.
We’re standing over Redwood Canyon, [map of Redwood Canyon] which contains one of the largest groves of giant sequoias in the world – Redwood Mountain Grove. Now, don’t let the name fool you - these are not redwoods, these are giant sequoias. In the old days, they used to call them “Sierra Redwoods,” and the name stuck.
Now fossil evidence shows that [Ancient map] giant sequoias used to live in many other areas. But they’ve been pushed back to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
[Park Ranger, Anna, standing at the base of a large giant sequoia tree]
Biologically, giant sequoias are not hugely different than other conifers in these mountains. There are three other trees that get as old. Many other trees reach their largest sizes in the Sierras, and many other plants and animals are as rare. Yet, no other tree inspires such a strong emotional response in us - maybe it’s because we mistakenly view them as changeless and ageless, an almost sacred object.
[Anna, standing in front of several giant sequoia trees]
In fact, giant sequoias are a successful member of a community of plants and animals that together make up the mixed conifer forest in the Sierra Nevada. But, to understand giant sequoias, you first have to understand the community that makes up their home.
Before we begin our hike, just look at this beautiful forest, and you’ll notice that there are lots of different kinds of trees here. On any place on this trail, you will probably see three different other kinds of trees that together make up a sequoia grove.
[Anna, stopped along the trail]
When you are walking through a sequoia grove, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. And, that’s literally what the parks did for many years.
[Anna, in front of a large giant sequoia tree]
In 1890, these parks were formed specifically to protect giant sequoias. Now, at first caretakers thought that protecting these trees meant just protecting individual trees as museum specimens.
But, it took them many years to figure out that to protect these trees you have to protect the entire forest. And, surprisingly, to protect the forest you have to preserve the role that fire plays in this ecosystem.
Giant sequoias go through definite stages during their growth - they go from seedlings [close-up of seedlings] to saplings [close-up of saplings] to spire tops [close-up of spire tops] to mature trees [close-up of mature trees] and, finally, to the giant monarchs. [close-up of giant monarchs]
Now, in a healthy sequoia grove [scene stop] you should see all of these life stages. However, in this grove we see just a scattering of mature trees. Why do you think that is?
The first caretakers focused on what they thought were the main threats to giant sequoias - which were logging and fire. But, after putting out all the fires and chasing away all the loggers, they noticed that there were no young sequoias. Why are there no babies?
Well, one of the clues is the richness of the understory around us. The other clue is the unblemished bark of the giant sequoia.
[Anna, at the junction of the Hart Tree Trail] We come to a junction, and we take the left trail called the Hart Tree Trail. And, we’re going to look for clues about the missing baby sequoias.
Giant sequoias are perhaps the most misunderstood tree. It’s only after many years of field work that researchers started to unfold the complex and fascinating story of giant sequoia regeneration and growth.
[Anna, next to young sugar pines] Some plants are generalists - like this sugar pine. Some plants are specialists - like those giant sequoias. Specialists can only grow in specific places. But, when the conditions are right they thrive in those places.
Sequoias are such picky specialists that you could call them the “Goldilocks” of trees. Most trees either like full sun and they’re drought-tolerant, or they like a lot of water and they’re shade-tolerant. But, giant sequoias are the oddballs. They like both sun and water.
[Anna, at the base of a large, hollowed-out giant sequoia tree] Like all newborns, giant sequoia babies face many threats, from fire to insects to shading to competition to other plants just to name a few. But sequoias have developed unique adaptations to dominate areas that have perfect conditions just like this.
[Anna, at the base of large, fire-scarred giant sequoia] Giant sequoias are well adapted to the low-intensity fires that used to come naturally through this forest.
[Video footage of a low-intensity fire] Most conifers will release their annual production of seeds once-a-year regardless of whether or not the conditions for germination are correct. Giant sequoias, on the other hand, will hang onto their cones for years until a fire far below causes heat to rise, dries out the cones, the seeds fall out onto the perfect ground below.
Fire naturally moves through these groves. And, when fire comes through, it burns off the duff, reduces competition, opens the canopy allowing the young seedlings to race for the sun. And, as they get older, they’ll drop their lower branches and grow thick fire-resistant bark.
[Anna, kneeling with sequoia seeds in her out-stretched hand] It’s estimated that one in a million seeds will germinate. And, one in a billion of those seedlings will become mature trees. But, when they become mature trees they are kings of the forest.
[Anna, facing away from the camera, looking a tall sequoia tree in the distance] Their huge size, massive girth, and towering crowns give giant sequoias a key advantage over the competition in these forests. They’re also resistant to insects and decay. In fact, the number one way giant sequoias die is by falling over.
[Anna, standing in front of a fallen giant sequoia] Today, we come to these special places to reconnect with nature. But, early settlers just saw this as another place to make a living. This hollowed-out log was once home to some loggers. Can you imagine what these settlers must have thought when they saw all the wood in a single giant sequoia tree?
[Anna, sitting on a fallen sequoia] Giant sequoia wood is actually not good lumber at all. The wood is very brittle and when the tree falls down it shatters into little pieces. So, most giant sequoias ended up as grape stakes, fence posts, even matchsticks!
[Anna, standing at the base of another large sequoia tree] By the time Redwood Canyon became part of the park in 1940, the forest was already under distress. The lack of low-intensity burns led to a huge build-up of dead plant material and live plant material on the forest floor. Heat and smoke were no longer rising to dry out the cones allowing the seeds to fall down. When the seeds did fall, if they fell, they couldn’t take root because there was so much debris on the ground. Those that did manage to take root were unable to get through the canopy. So, for sun-loving giant sequoia, that meant stunted death.
[Anna, standing in front of a downed, dead white fir tree] The result was a gradual change in the composition of the forest. Shade-loving trees like the white fir began to crowd out giant sequoias. Only the mature sequoias that already had their canopies above the white fir canopy were able to thrive in this altered state.
[Anna, standing among a grove of giant sequoias] Here we are entering one of the most stunning areas of this massive grove. We can walk in the stillness of the forest for more than a mile under hundreds of giants all around us.
[Anna, walking through a fallen giant sequoia] The trail even goes through the trunk of a fallen monarch.
[Beautiful mountain scenery] [Ranger, Anna, standing next to a creek] The abundant year-round water that makes these places wonderful for giant sequoias also makes it a good place for other plants and animals. Giant sequoia groves are home to a startling variety of life.
[Anna touching lichen on a tree] For example, you will see this green hair-like structure growing on the trees. This is actually a lichen - a close partnership between an algae and fungus.
[Anna, ducking down to avoid being hit by a falling cone] Some animals are actually helpful to sequoias in their reproduction. The chickaree, for instance, is the little acrobatic squirrel that runs up and down sequoia trees. Maybe you saw one. They eat the green cone scales, and they can turn a nice green cone into something like this in no time. But, if you’re under a sequoia tree with a chickaree you should get a hard hat.
[Anna, in front of the root system of a fallen giant sequoia] Mature sequoias can get well over 200 feet tall. But, amazingly, their roots rarely push deeper than 5 feet. So, when you combine that with their heavy crowns, snow loads in the winter, fierce winds, it’s a combination for these giants toppling over.
[Anna, standing inside the fallen giant sequoia] Look how massive this giant sequoia is!
[Anna, walking the length of a fallen log across a creek] And, now we’re going to walk across this log about 12 feet above the creek, so we won’t get our feet wet.
[Anna, at the junction of the Big Springs/Sugar Bowl Trail] So here we are in a junction in the trail. Go left, and you’ll go 3 miles to Big Springs. Take a right, and you go 1/10th of a mile to the Sugar Bowl Trail.
[At the junction of the Sugar Bowl loop] So, we come to our next trail junction, to the second half of our loop, the Sugar Bowl Loop. Come along.
[In front of a giant sequoia tree] This giant sequoia behind me has been measured at 307 feet. That’s only 4 feet shorter than the tallest giant sequoia ever accurately measured - and that’s also in this grove.
This is one of areas where important research took place in the 1960s on how fire affects sequoia regeneration. Researchers carefully marked off little plots and burned them. They compared the how well the baby sequoias did in these burned plots compared with unburned plots.
Scientists wondered how much heat sequoia seeds could take. They pushed together piles of brush and, to their surprise, the hotter burns led to thicker and more vigorous stands of baby sequoias. They learned that sequoia seeds need fires that burn the ground to bare mineral soil and torch occasionally to open the canopy.
[Video footage of low-intensity fire] Burning to bare soil allows the tiny seeds to push roots into the soil before running out of energy. Opening up the canopy allows the seedlings to race for the sun before shade-tolerant competitors crowd them out. Today, park caretakers carefully try to recreate these conditions through prescribed burns.
[Anna, sitting on a fallen log and close-up of baby sequoias] A year ago, we had fire right where I’m sitting. And this year, this whole hillside is covered with young sequoias. So, one fire created the opportunity for billions of these seeds to germinate. Probably one will survive, but it will require more and more fires to keep it healthy.
[Anna, in front of a burned, hollow sequoia tree] A lot of misconceptions about sequoias continue even to this day. Contrary to some accounts, sequoias are not immune to fire. In fact, shattered sequoia wood burns readily. Almost all mature sequoias show signs of repeated burning - like these two sequoias here. Why do you think they both have burns on the uphill side of the trunks?
Logs roll downhill, collect on the uphill side of a tree. And, when fires come through at regular intervals where you have the logs, that’s where they will burn the hottest and longest every single time you have a fire. And, eventually, the fire will eat through the bark and get to the heartwood of the tree. Look at the fire scar in that tree. That’s a great example of how sequoias are resilient when fire comes through. The bark will eventually heal over that wound and, over time, you may not know a scar was even there.
[Anna, standing on a steep hillside with mature, giant sequoias in the background] We’re only about 100 feet from the top of this slope, and just up there are giant sequoias trees again. So why are there sequoias there, but not here? Well, it has to do with the lay of the land, as we are on the east face of this slope. And, as the moisture-laden air blows in from the valley it rises and dumps moist of its moisture on the west side. So, it’s wetter over there, you have more sequoias. It’s dryer over here, you have chaparral.
[Anna, standing with the Sugar Bowl grove surrounding her] Here, at the top of the mountain, we’ve reached the Sugar Bowl Grove, one of the most amazing sights you’ll ever see. Right around me are at least 50 individual trees. This is close as you can get to a pure, dense stand of giant sequoias. Some people have speculated that this area right here has more wood on it than any one acre in the world!
Thanks to the research done in Redwood Canyon we know now a lot more about the insects and tiny animals and how they interact with these trees.
In late summer and autumn - especially on warm days with a breeze - sequoia seeds continually flutter to the ground. The rain of seeds is caused by a tiny beetle that lays its eggs in the cones. As the long-horned wood-boring beetle larvae tunnel their way through the rich carbohydrates in the cone flesh, they cause the cone to dry out gradually and release its seeds. [close-up of cones on the ground]
[Anna, squatting behind wildflowers] Natural fire opens up the canopy and allows for a profusion of wildflowers. Forests regularly disturbed by fire in turn develop a wide variety of healthy habitats.
[Anna, standing in a meadow, and a deer grazing] Open fields, meadows, young forests and mature forests. A wider variety of animals live in healthy forests.
[Anna, standing on the trail] Well, thank you for coming on this hike with me through Redwood Canyon. We have seen how giant sequoias are beautifully adapted to the sunny, well-watered canyons that they find in the western Sierra Nevada. We’ve also seen how they are adapted to frequent fires, i.e., how they are not only adapted, but that they take advantage of these fires to reproduce.
[Anna, standing in front of a sequoia tree] When caretakers removed fire from this ecosystem, we really thought that we were protecting the trees. But, in fact, we were protecting them so thoroughly that they were unable to reproduce! We simply did not understand how crucial fire is to the health of this ecosystem. But, now after a century of sequoia research, we are able to see both the trees and the forest that gives them life.
[Close-up of Anna in front of a giant sequoia tree] If you want to learn more about the challenge of protecting these big trees, why not go to a visitor center and talk to a ranger? But, better yet, go on a hike for yourself and experience the magic and mystery of one of the largest groves of giant sequoias.
Hi. I’m Cathy Purchis, a ranger naturalist here at Kings Canyon National Park.
The General Grant Tree Trail is a paved, half-mile trail through the heart of the General Grant Grove.
On our hike today you are going to see some of the major highlights on this trail, and learn how people have interacted with the big trees over time.
Large numbers of Euro-Americans first started coming to the sequoia groves soon after the end of the American Civil War.
The General Grant Tree was discovered in 1862 by Joseph Hardin Thomas. He ran a lumber mill in the area.
The tree was named in 1867 by Lucretia Baker, the wife of a local merchant and an admirer of General Grant’s.
Five years later, when Ulysses Grant had become president of the United States, he signed the bill creating Yellowstone, the world's first national park.
The area around the Grant Grove was set aside in 1890 as General Grant National Park. Yosemite National Park was created in the same bill. That makes these two areas the country’s third oldest national parks.
In the early days, protecting the park seemed like a simple thing. Keep people from cutting down the trees. Keep the sheep and cattle herders out. And put out all the forest fires. It turns out things are not that simple.
Park managers planted these young sequoias in 1949. The Park Service had become concerned because no sequoias had sprouted naturally in this grove in over 50 years.
We now know that this was because the park's caretakers had been putting out all the forest fires. Fire is an important ingredient in the creation and survival of sequoia groves.
The hot air from the fires rises up to heat the cones of the sequoia and release their tiny, oatmeal-sized seeds.
These seeds haven’t got a lot of room to store the energy they need to sprout. Fire clears the ground of needles and other debris that would keep the seeds from getting their roots into the soil before they run out of energy. It also gets rid of bushes and trees and other things that would block the sunlight that the young sequoias need to grow.
Today, the Park Service intentionally sets fires in sequoia groves to restore this natural process.
Up ahead, the Tennessee Tree dramatically shows that fire was a part of life in Grant Grove long before this was a national park. Repeated fires eventually burned through the tree’s thick bark and hollowed out the inside. Yet this tree continues to grow!
The name Tennessee Tree comes from the days when Lewis L. Davis was the park's first civilian ranger. Ranger Davis invited people to name a tree after their home state. We know of 38 states that have trees named after them. There was no systematic way to keep track of the names of trees back in those days. So we don’t know if the other states never had trees named after them—or if they did, but the names have been lost. Naming a tree after a favorite person or place was one of the ways the first visitors to these parks made connections to the giant sequoias.
Even though all sequoias are special trees, some sequoias, like the one just ahead, do attract more attention than others.
The General Grant is the world's second-largest sequoia. Sequoias are ranked by volume, not by height or girth. Only the General Sherman Tree in Giant Forest contains more wood than the General Grant.
President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed this "The Nation's Christmas Tree." Ceremonies are still held at the base of the tree on the second Sunday in December. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower designated the Grant Tree as a living National Shrine in memory of all Americans who have died in war.
These days, national parks—and the features they protect—are considered special places that give us a window into what this country was like in the past. But in the past, they were just another place to make a living.
In 1869, Israel Gamlin file a claim on 160 acres of timberland surrounding the General Grant Grove. Gamlin was a French-Canadian immigrant who was working at one of the local lumber mills.
Israel and his brother Thomas built this cabin from sugar pine logs in 1872. Sugar pine was the most valuable timber tree when logging was going on in the Grant Grove area in the late 1800s.
Much of the sequoia that was logged was used for fence posts, or roof shakes like the ones on this cabin.
The Gamlins were the first white residents of Grant Grove. They grazed cattle here in the summer before the sequoia grove was designated as a national park.
General Grant National Park was created in 1890, but the Park Service did not exist until 1916. The first rangers in this park were members of the U.S. Cavalry.
They used this building to store hay and grain for their horses. It was also the home of Ranger Davis, who lived here from 1902 to 1909.
John Muir visited the Gamlin brothers in 1873, and they told him that there had been 50 visitors to the grove in the past six weeks.
Since getting people to the trees back then was a challenge, promoters came up with the idea of taking the trees to the people.
In 1875, loggers cut down this sequoia tree to take to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. They took a 16-foot section of the tree and hauled it out of the forest by bull team. Unfortunately, they had to cut it into pieces to get it out of here. And when they got it to Philadelphia, the obvious lines where they put it back together made people think this was a hoax.
Several other sequoias were cut down later to send back east. Portions of the Mark Twain Tree, which came from nearby Big Stump Basin, are still on display in the New York and British Museums of Natural History.
Today the idea of cutting down a tree that has lived for over a thousand years just to show it to people seems ridiculous. But now that we have airplanes and a modern highway, visitors from around the world can come and see the trees in the forest.
All these visitors created a dilemma in August 1967, when this giant sequoia was struck by lightning.
The top 25 feet of the tree shattered and caught on fire. Lightning-caused fires are a natural part of the sequoia forest, but the California Tree is right next to the trail. The smoke, burning embers and pieces of wood falling out of the tree posed a safety hazard to the people below. The National Park Service decided that this fire needed to be put out.
Park forester Charlie Castro climbed up a fir tree next to the giant sequoia. Then he pulled himself hand over hand across a rope stretched between the two trees. He climbed up the California Tree until he was about 15 feet below the fire. From there, he could use a hose to spray up into the burning treetop and put it out!
Although lightning can set a sequoia tree on fire, most fires in sequoia groves burn along the ground, not in the tops of the trees.
The bark at the bottom of the giant sequoia is up to three feet thick, and doesn’t burn easily.
This is important because tree ring studies show that fires used to happen in sequoia groves about once every seven to 25 years.
Sometimes fires do burn through the bark and into the wood, as we saw at the Tennessee Tree. The same thing happened to this tree when it was alive and standing. Once a “normal” tree got a hole in it like this, insects and disease would come in and cause the tree to die. But the giant sequoia has a chemical called tannin that keeps out the insects and disease and allows the tree to continue growing.
As the Fallen Monarch shows, sequoias usually die, not from disease, but by falling over.Even after they die, the tannin in the trunks keeps sequoias from decomposing quickly.
The Gamlin brothers lived in it while they were building their cabin, over 125 years ago. After that, they turned it into a hotel and saloon. The loggers who cut down the Centennial Tree lived here, and the Cavalry used it as a temporary stable for their 32 horses.
In the early days, the challenges rangers faced in the past were things like preventing logging, and learning how to manage fire. Today, these have given way to new challenges, as we try to figure out the effects that things like air pollution and climate change will have on these special places.
What will a walk along the Grant Tree Trail be like 100 years from now? We hope that this hike has inspired you to learn more about the giant sequoias and to discover ways you can help preserve and protect Kings Canyon National Park for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.
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Keeping Your Food from Bears
You MUST store your food here. It saves bears. Here's how!
Did You Know?
After spending five days with five men cutting down a single sequoia, Walter Fry counted the growth rings on the fallen giant. The answer shocked him into changing careers. In just a few days they had ended 3266 years of growth. Fry later became a park ranger and, in 1912, the parks' superintendent.