Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks
47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271-9700
What if national parks had themes? The theme of these two adjacent California parks, located a little more than an hour's drive from Fresno, would probably involve the three superlatives to which they lay claim: immense mountains, deep canyons, and huge trees. How you take in these incredible sights is up to you, but in the words of Col. John R. White, who was superintendent of the parks in the 1920s: "Don't leave until you have seen it, and this you cannot do from an automobile."
Entrance fees: $10/vehicle for 7 days or $5/individual for 7 days
Visitor centers: Giant Forest Museum (in Sequoia) and Grant Grove Visitor Center (in Kings Canyon) are open year-round. Lodgepole Visitor Center (in Sequoia) is open daily from spring through fall, Friday through Monday during winter.
Other services: Nature center, four lodges, and 14 campgrounds
- Lodgepole Campground is open year-round.
- Azalea Campground is open year-round.
- Potwisha Campgrounds is open year-round.
- Grant Grove Lodge is open year-round. 866-KCANYON.
- Wuksachi Village is open year-round. 888-252-5757.
- Cedar Grove Lodge is open from late April to mid-October. 866-KCANYON.
- Eleven other campgrounds are open variously from late April to mid-November.
Visiting Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks contain the planet's largest living things -- giant sequoia trees that are so huge they far surpass the size of any other species. It's also the site of Mount Whitney, at 14,495 feet the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.
Here, too, is Kings Canyon, the deepest in North America, plunging down steep granite walls more than 8,000 feet from its rim to the Kings River below; making it more than half again as deep as the Grand Canyon.
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park encompass most of California's High Sierra country. The two parks contain thousands of acres of sequoias and some of the nation's wildest and loveliest alpine scenery. Visitors will find miles of sweeping mountain vistas, range after range of snow-capped peaks, high meadows, rocky ridges, and green forests of pine and ponderosa.
Learn about these and the many other sights to take in at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks in the next section.
Sightseeing at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks
Visitors to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park can still see the Centennial Stump, the remains of a gigantic sequoia cut down for exhibition at the 1875 Centennial in Philadelphia. Nearby is the Big Stump Trail, a one-mile path that leads through an incredible wasteland of downed logs, stumps, and fallen trees, sad reminders of an earlier era when these giants were only valued for their wood.
The bigness of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks that is evident in these great trees is also reflected in its spectacular alpine backcountry. Made up almost completely of wilderness, its boundaries encompass most of the Sierra Nevada. These mountains are the longest and highest unbroken range in North America, stretching more than 400 miles from north to south.
A jagged, sawtooth chain of rocky ridges punctuated by sheer granite peaks, the section of the Sierra Nevada within Sequoia-Kings Canyon is not a range of individual mountains but a great upheaval of solid granite. Its western side rises somewhat gradually from foothills to more than 13,000 feet, then plummets dramatically down its eastern flank to Owens Valley.
Several major rivers rise within the drainage basins of these mountains, which contain areas extremely remote from civilization. This high-mountain walking route, John Muir Trail, runs through this area and took 23 years to construct. From Yosemite National Park it leads south for 218 miles across the snow-swept top of the High Sierra all the way to the flank of Mount Whitney.
Dozens of supplementary trails connect with the Muir trail, giving hikers good access to the stunning alpine world of knife-edge ridges, glaciers, high mountain tarns, and meadows filled with wildflowers.
Parts of these parks are so remote that a backcountry hiker may not see another person for days at a time. There is one spot in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon that is said to be more distant from a road than any other location in the lower 48 states.
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks Photo Opportunities
From the Sierra Nevada peaks to the incredible sequoias, the natural beauty of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks must be captured on film. Here are some ideal shots:
- General Sherman Tree: This giant sequoia is the largest (by volume) tree in the world. You have to see it to believe it.
- Mount Whitney: The summit of Mount Whitney reaches 14,491 feet, making it the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states.
- : Located in the Grant Grove area, Big Stump Basin allows you to compare the remnants of destroyed sequoias with the live giants.
- Crystal Cave: Crystal Cave has been one of the parks' primary visitor attractions since 1941. This and other caves in the park contain Pleistocene-era fossils, rare minerals, and unique animals.
The General Sherman Tree
The statistics of the General Sherman sequoia, the biggest living thing on earth, are staggering. Its bulk, estimated at anywhere from 2-1/2 to 12 million pounds, far exceeds any other tree on earth. Its 275-foot height, although not as tall as some redwood trees, is certainly respectable. Its lowest branch is 130 feet above the ground, which is high enough that a 12-story building would not reach it. This branch, incidentally, is itself larger than any tree in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
The General may be as old as 2,500 years, and it is still growing. Botanists believe that the tree adds enough wood each year to build another 60-foot-tall tree one foot in diameter. The total lumber contained within the General's huge bulk would build more than 50 three-bedroom houses.
Among the last of their species, thousands of giant sequoias still remain in the park. Fortunately, they are reproducing themselves in logged-out areas at a rate that ensures their survival for centuries if we continue to protect them.
Some of the stumps cut during the 19th century show rings dating back 3,000 or more years. Experts believe it is likely that some of the trees now standing were alive during the Bronze Age, 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.
The longevity of the sequoia is due to several factors. For one thing, its bark, which can be two feet thick, is unusually resistant to fire, insects, lightning, and disease. The trees also are exceedingly vigorous, outgrowing and dominating other species in the forest. Their only known weakness is a shallow root system that occasionally allows them to topple over without warning in a mild breeze.
On the following page, we'll tell you about the history behind the parks' forest giants and beautiful valleys.
The History of Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks
Sequoia became America's second national park. It was established in 1890 as a wilderness sanctuary to protect groves of giant sequoia trees that were being destroyed by logging. Kings Canyon, a steep-walled valley, was mandated as a national park in 1940, absorbing General Grant National Park, which had been created by Congress almost as an afterthought just one week after it approved neighboring Sequoia.
The largest trees by weight and volume in the world, the sequoias in these parks are the last relics of a species that covered much of the world before the most recent ice age. The glaciers swept over all but a few thousand acres too high in the Sierra Nevada for the ice to reach, destroying all the trees in their path.
Sequoias used to be considered a subspecies of the coastal redwoods that are found in Redwood National Park and elsewhere. The scientific term for the redwood tree is
Sequoia sempervirens -- a name that came from Sequoyah, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet, who was much admired by the Austrian botanist who named the redwoods. The same name was at first also given to the giant trees of the Sierra Nevada. Today, botanists realize the Sierra Nevada sequoia is a separate species. They now call it Sequoia gigantea.
The groves of these huge trees seem to go on forever, but these sequoia forests cannot compare with what existed here just a little over a century ago. Logging of what was then one of the world's finest and most extensive old-growth forests began in about 1862 and continued relentlessly until the turn of the century.
Vast stands of these giant trees were wiped out, including at least two trees, and possibly as many as four, that were bigger than the biggest tree in the world today, the park's famed General Sherman sequoia. Two of these trees were cut for a reason that today seems frivolous. Their trunks were put on display at world's fairs.
The King of Canyons
The Kings Canyon area was first proposed as a national park by John Muir as early as 1891, the year after the creation of Sequoia National Park, but the park was not fully established until 1940. It bears the name of the river that in 1805 a Spanish explorer dubbed Rio de los Santos Reyes, or "river of the holy kings."
Formation of this stunning steep-walled cleft in the granite of the Sierra Nevada began about 25 million years ago as powerful geologic forces lifted up the land in what is now eastern California. About three million years ago, the highest peaks towered three miles above sea level. Then a series of earthquakes along fault lines in the earth deep below the Sierra Nevada cracked off the mountains' eastern face, which began sliding downward. This accounts for the stunning appearance of the eastern side of the mountains, which rises dramatically from Owens Valley.
Swiftly moving rivers made faster by gravity began carving narrow V-shaped canyons through the mountains. Over eons, the canyons plunged deeper into the earth. During the Pleistocene ice ages, glaciers advanced into the Sierra Nevada and began scooping out basins that eventually became lakes, at the same time gouging out the walls of these canyons, making them sheer and steep.
More than one-and-a-half-miles deep, Kings Canyon is the most dramatic of these glacier-carved defiles. Several other canyons in the park exceed 3,000 feet in depth, and Kern Canyon is nearly 6,000 feet deep.
From the highest highs of the giant sequoias to the lowest lows of the steep-walled Kings Canyon, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks abound with natural beauty. This parkland provides visitors with memories that last a lifetime.
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