Although Yosemite's giant sequoias are impressive, nothing compares to the Giant Forest, where the world's largest known living tree still grow, found deep inside Sequoia National Park. There you can wander for hours among verdant ferns and past wildflower meadows where black bears hunt for berries, as the songs of myriad bird life fill the air.
Neighboring Kings Canyon National Park also protects giant sequoias in Grant Grove. Sprawling in between and also wrapping around these national parks is the Giant Sequoia Monument of the Sequoia National Forest, where more hiking trails to hidden groves of giant sequoias await.
Sequoia National Park
The focus of the park, the Giant Forest harbors the world's largest collection of giant sequoia trees. The biggest of them all is the General Sherman Tree, which measures over 100 feet around the base of its massive trunk. Scientists have speculated that it may be over 2,000 years old.
The forest is filled with other venerable trees, many of them named for political and historical figures, for example Chief Sequoyah. You can find many along the two-mile Congress Trail, an easy paved nature walk for all ages. Drop by the Giant Forest Museum to learn all about the life cycle of giant sequoias, then take the side road out to Moro Rock past the drive-through Tunnel Log, a giant sequoia that fell across the road here and was carved out by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers in the 1930s.
Kings Canyon National Park
Conveniently located just beyond the park's Big Stump entrance station, Grant Grove is where you'll find the most spectacular stands of giant sequoia trees. Easily accessible by families and seniors, here gentle nature trails wind through the grove, which is at its most peaceful in the dewy early morning. The mighty General Grant Tree is both a national shrine to military veterans and the USA's official Christmas Tree.
Nearby, the Fallen Monarch is a hollowed-out giant sequoia partly destroyed by wildfire; historically, it was used as a hotel, saloon, and horse stables for the U.S. Cavalry.
South of Grant Grove, off the Generals Highway, you can hike down into Redwood Mountain Grove, an atmospheric grove of giant sequoias that remain relatively untrammeled today. With a wilderness permit from the Grant Grove visitor center, you can camp under the tall trees overnight.
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the Generals Highway runs through the Giant Sequoia National Monument inside the Sequoia National Forest. The national monument also rambles beside the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, which leads into the depths of the canyon.
A short drive along the byway north of Grant Grove, a turn-off leads onto dirt forest roads into Converse Basin. Here a peaceful meadow is jarringly littered with the stumps of giant sequoias cut down by 19th-century loggers. These logging efforts eventually proved futile and unprofitable, due to the brittle nature of the giant sequoias' hardwood.
A two-mile hiking trail leads deeper into the forest to the living Boole Tree, a shaggy giant old-growth giant sequoia that was spared by loggers.