The Visitor Experience

Recreational vehicles crowd a parking lot in the old Giant Forest market area
Recreational vehicles clog the Sentinel Tree Area in front of the former Giant Forest Market.

NPS Photo

A visitor’s initial experience in the developed portion of the Giant Forest wasn’t always positive. After a long drive from the foothills up a tortuous road, a visitor might have to fight for a parking space amongst the traffic congestion in the Giant Forest Village. Upon emerging from the car, the visitor was presented with a market, gift shops, and cafeteria, but had only a tiny kiosk staffed with a single ranger from which to obtain information about giant sequoias or opportunities for hiking. The most prominent monarch tree, the Sentinel Tree, was surrounded by asphalt. It was often noisy and crowded, and the surrounding scenery was obstructed by a haphazard arrangement of cabins and motel units. A visitor might then return to the car and drive to see the world’s largest tree, the General Sherman Tree. If the visitor were able to find a space in that crowded parking lot, he or she would still have to cross the entrance road before approaching the Sherman Tree.

National parks are often valued for an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, and visitor activities that provide a direct association or interaction with park resources are encouraged. The typical Giant Forest Village experience was far from tranquil, and visitor-use facilities did not encourage interaction with park resources or offer a significant opportunity to learn about sequoias within Giant Forest. There were also limited opportunities for people with disabilities.

More fundamentally, the commercial Giant Forest Village complex communicated to visitors that sequoias were here primarily for human entertainment. National parks are places where people can come to enjoy and learn about geologic formations and life forms much more ancient and massive than our own. That the health and longevity of these trees were subordinated to our entertainment conflicts with the respect we owe to these giant trees that are older than, and may yet outlive, modern civilization.

Visitors explore a stretch of the extensive trails that traverse this breathtaking grove of big trees.
Visitors explore a stretch of the extensive trails that traverse this breathtaking grove of big trees.

NPS photo Steve Collector

New Trail Opportunities

Hiking is the premier activity in Giant Forest. The 40-mile network of trails that traverses the grove on gentle terrain offers seemingly endless combinations to encounter the magnificent giant trees.

Beginning in 2002, construction made several key trails fully accessible, improved signs, simplified access, and rehabilitated the aging trail system.

With park shuttle services, people can now avoid small, congested parking areas at features such as Moro Rock. They can also now have opportunity to hike one-way routes, using the shuttle to return to their vehicle.

Grills, pathways, restrooms, and pads for picnic tables were constructed on former cabin sites in the Pinewood area.
Grills, pathways, restrooms, and pads for picnic tables were constructed on former cabin sites in the Pinewood area.

NPS Photo by Athena Demetry

Pinewood Picnic Area

Picnicking is a popular activity appealing to a diverse array of park visitors, and it is important to accommodate it near Giant Forest. In the past, the Crescent Meadow area provided facilities, but the meadow resources are too fragile for such intense activity and picnicking at this location has been phased out. If no facilities are provided, picnicking will occur at dispersed locations and increase bear problems.

Pinewood, formerly a concessioner employee housing area, was identified as an area on the edge of the grove where picnicking could be provided within previously disturbed sites that could handle intense use. Pinewood provides permanent replacement of the Hazelwood picnic area, which was closed in August 1969 following a fatality from a falling tree.

Construction of the Pinewood picnic area began in Summer 2000. Group sites were included in the design to accommodate the growing number of extended families visiting the park. Accessible sites and a new comfort station were also constructed.

Last updated: May 16, 2016

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47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271


(559) 565-3341

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