Exploring Giant Sequoia Groves
John Muir reflected that giant sequoia groves are “not like places, they are like haunts.” He captured well the challenge of defining a sequoia grove. They are places in the sense they can be put on a map and characterized by area, number of trees, and sizes of trees. Describing the feeling and experience of being in a grove is harder. Consider exploring a giant sequoia grove for yourself. A few possibilities are highlighted below.
What is a Sequoia Grove?
Giant sequoia groves are portions of Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest that contain giant sequoias. In most groves, giant sequoias are fewer in number than other tree species, but are the most visually striking and dominant in size. Giant sequoias grow only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California, between 4,000 and 8,000 feet (1219 and 2438 m) in elevation. Within park boundaries, park staff distinguish approximately 40 different giant sequoia groves, ranging from one to tens of thousands of sequoia trees per grove. Numerous groves can be reached by road, while others are remote and involve an arduous hike to visit. In all the groves – from heavily visited to remote – these immense, majestic trees and sunlight filtered through lofty branches bring a sense of peace and wonder.
Giant Forest is a large sequoia grove, set on a rolling plateau between the Marble and Middle Forks of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park. It is the largest of the unlogged giant sequoia groves, and it contains more exceptionally large sequoias than any other grove. It hosts the largest living sequoia, the General Sherman Tree. In this grove, visitors can see the effects of decades of prescribed burning: open forest conditions and clumps of giant sequoia seedlings that establish after fire. Giant Forest has an extensive network of hiking trails that range from 1-2 hour hikes to half-day or longer explorations of this grove. From spectacular giant sequoia trees to historic structures leftover from the time cattle grazed in this area, one can learn about both natural and cultural history. Enjoy views from Moro Rock, or wildlife-viewing opportunities amongst the trees and scattered meadows. Visit the Giant Forest Museum for a good introduction, and explore from there by foot, shuttle bus, or car.
Grant Grove is located in Kings Canyon National Park, accessible by a short spur road from Highway 180 and located just 1.5 miles from the Kings Canyon Visitor Center. This grove has numerous exceptionally large sequoias grouped in a 90-acre area. A higher percentage of this grove's mature sequoias reach sizes of ten, fifteen, and twenty feet (3, 4.5, or 6 m) in diameter than in any other grove. For those who are interested in photographing an entire giant sequoia, a visit to Grant Grove provides a great vantage point of the immense and stunning General Grant Tree, celebrated each year as the nation's Christmas tree. The 1/3-mile (.05 km) paved loop trail leads to the General Grant Tree and includes other named trees and features, including the Gamlin Cabin, the Fallen Monarch, and the Centennial Stump. Explore this and other trails to see sequoias, meadows, and wilderness views. Nearby campgrounds and a summer shuttle bus facilitate visits to the Grant Grove area.
Redwood Mountain Grove
Redwood Mountain Grove is a very large grove with spectacular old growth sequoias and a diversity of plants on the forest floor. In the spring, the colorful mix of wildflowers along the ridge trail and near Redwood Creek will delight hikers as much as the giant sequoias. In the fall, the dogwood shrubs turn a deep red color, and the fall light provides good photo opportunities.
Redwood Mountain Grove is the largest grove in total area, has the largest area of old growth giant sequoias, and contains more mature sequoias than any other grove. This grove was one of the first areas where Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks started prescribed burning to reduce fuels and stimulate giant sequoia reproduction. The large fire scars on some of the monarch giant sequoias are a testament to the presence of fire over many centuries in sequoia groves. Today, the open stands of trees and the growth of young giant sequoias at Redwood Mountain Grove illustrate successful outcomes of the parks' fire program.
At Redwood Mountain, you will find a grove within a grove if you hike out the ridge 2.5 miles to the Sugar Bowl Grove. The Sugar Bowl Grove is one of few examples of a nearly pure giant sequoia forest, rather than the typical mix of giant sequoias with other types of trees. From one spot along trail, one sees more than 50 giant sequoias.
In addition to the hike out to the Sugar Bowl Grove, additional trails provide access to giant sequoias along both sides of Redwood Creek and to vistas with views of the grove. The several loop hikes here range from 6.5 to 10 miles in length and involve some climbing. See Trails in Redwood Canyon for more detailed information about hikes in this area.
To access this grove, you will need to drive down a short (about 1 mile) stretch of somewhat bumpy dirt road to the parking area and trailheads.
For those who are seeking more solitude in a giant sequoia grove, the mid-sized Muir Grove in Sequoia National Park is a two-mile hike from the parks' Generals Highway and is much less-visited than Grant Grove or Giant Forest. The Muir Grove features a high density of mature sequoias as well as a dramatic approach and entrance to the grove, with views across a creek gorge of the impressive giant sequoias on the grove's east side. The trail to this grove continues further into the grove for those who want a longer hike. This is a perfect day hike for visitors traveling between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and for those camping at the nearby Dorst Creek Campground.
Atwell and East Fork Groves
Giant sequoias of the Atwell and East Fork Groves grace the north and south slopes along the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Drive approximately 19 miles (31 km) up the Mineral King Road off of Highway 198 to access these groves. Both groves occur on steep slopes which are characteristic of the East Fork Kaweah landscape. While most of the area of these groves is not accessible by trail, the Mineral King Road goes through the lower Atwell Grove, and the Atwell Mill campground offers tent-camping sites within a formerly logged portion of the grove. Tall stumps remain in the campground area from late 1870s to early 1920s logging operations. Elevations in these groves range from 5,300 feet (1615 m) along the river's edge in the East Fork Grove to the highest elevation of any grove at 8,800 feet (2,682 m) in Atwell.
A trail from the Atwell Mill Campground crosses the East Fork of the Kaweah River on a high bridge and takes hikers through portions of the East Fork Grove enroute to its destination of Hockett Meadow. The East Fork Grove was not logged, and it has an abundance of younger sequoias that have grown in the past 150 years following fire and avalanches. Some of these are visible from the trail. More hiking trails are available in Mineral King Valley, about 5 miles (8 km) further up the road beyond Atwell Mill Campground.