Yosemite National Park
Start by taking the whole family on a joyful nature walk through the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. Near the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, this monumental grove shelters over 500 of the world’s largest living trees, which tower over human day trippers. Although giant sequoia are not the oldest trees on Earth (those are ancient bristlecone pines, found in the eastern Sierra Nevada), nor are they the planet’s tallest trees (those are the coast redwoods, as seen in Northern California), they are still mighty impressive due to their record-breaking size.
If you come early in the day or visit the park during the off-season, you may be able to secure a spot in the Mariposa Grove parking lot. Otherwise, it’s easier to hop on the free seasonal shuttle bus, which picks up visitors near the park’s south entrance station and in Wawona at the general store. Bus riders are guaranteed entrance to Mariposa Grove, even when the parking lot is full. Note the Mariposa Grove access road is usually only open to private vehicles from April through November, weather-permitting. In winter, snowshoers and cross-country skiers are welcome to use it.
From the parking lot, paved trails and gentle forest footpaths lead deep into Mariposa Grove. Alternatively, you can take a one-hour guided tram tour (for an additional fee). On foot, it’s a two-mile trek uphill to the Mariposa Grove Museum, inside a historic log cabin. En route, you’ll pass several landmark specimens of giant sequoia, including the Fallen Monarch, the California Tunnel Tree (which you can walk through), and the Grizzly Giant, which scientists estimate to be more than 1800 years old. If you keep hiking beyond the museum for another mile uphill, you’ll reach Wawona Point, offering panoramic views.
Yosemite’s other groves of giant sequoias include the Merced Grove and Tuolumne Grove, both accessible from hiking trailheads near the park’s northwestern entrance station near Big Oak Flat. In these smaller groves of giant sequoias, you can often escape the biggest summer crowds.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
It’s definitely worth your time detour south of Yosemite to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which shelter even larger groves of giant sequoia trees. At the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park, Grant Grove is named for the General Grant Tree, a national shrine and also the nation’s official Christmas Tree. A short, paved interpretive trail leads around Grant Grove, stopping at the Fallen Monarch, a hollowed-out remnant of a giant sequoia partly destroyed by fire, and which historically served as a hotel, saloon, and horse stables for the U.S. Cavalry.
Leading south from Grant Grove, the winding Generals Highway is an incredibly scenic drive that connects Kings Canyon with its sister, Sequoia National Park, by passing through the national forest land of the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Inside the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park, the General Sherman Tree is the largest known tree anywhere in the world. It measures over 100 feet in circumference at its base and is estimated to be over 2,000 years old. Stop by the family-friendly Giant Forest Museum to learn more about the life cycle of giant sequoias, then drive out to Crescent Meadow by the famous Tunnel Tree, a drive-through tree.