Last week we ended our journey along the Generals Highway where it enters Sequoia National Park. The highway got its name because it connects the Grant Grove and its namesake Grant Tree to Sequoia National Park's Giant Forest and the General Sherman Tree. The Sherman Tree is the largest living sequoia and the Grant Tree is the third largest.
About 3 miles after crossing into Sequoia National Park, a right turn leads to the Dorst Creek Campground and a 4-mile trail to the Muir Grove. This is one of the lesser-known trails through the sequoias and a great place for a quiet hike when other sites in the park have lots of visitors.
Further down the road you can find lodging and food at Wuksachi Village. Just beyond Wuksachi, Lodgepole Village offers camping, food, supplies, and a visitor center. Through Sept. 9, a free shuttle operates in this area connecting Dorst Creek, Wuksachi, Lodgepole, Wolverton, the Giant Forest, the Giant Forest Museum, Moro Rock, and Crescent Meadow. If you chose to stay in Visalia, you can pay $15 round trip to ride a shuttle all the way to the park.
One of my favorite trails starts at the Lodgepole Campground -- an exciting 3.5 mile walk to Tokopah Falls, one of the most impressive displays of water and granite in the park.
The Giant Forest is a "must see" destination. The shortest trek is to the Sherman Tree -- about 1 mile. There are plenty of options to continue your walk if you want to see more of this huge grove. Parking is located on the Wolverton Road. A parking area for holders of disabled placards is provided on the Generals Highway. This area is closer to the tree with a short paved trail to its base.
On the southern edge of the Giant Forest, you can learn more about sequoias and the park at the Giant Forest Museum. A short side road leads from the museum to the parking for Moro Rock -- a ½ mile hike to the top of a granite promontory with incredible views of the park and the Central Valley. You can think of it as Sequoia's version of Glacier Point. The hike is a series of steps and ramps climbing 300 feet to the top. There are plenty of places to rest along the way.
Further down the Moro Rock Road you can drive under a fallen sequoia and on to Crescent Meadow where an easy and nearly level 1.5 mile trail heads out to Tharp's Log. This is a fun hike to see a hollow, fallen sequoia that provided a home for Hale Tharp, an early settler.
Continuing south along the Generals Highway, a side road drops down to the underground chambers of Crystal Cave. Tickets for daily tours must be purchased at the Lodgepole or Foothill Visitor Centers before driving to the cave.
Ancient pictographs can be seen at Hospital Rock, directly across the road from the parking and picnic area. Road construction is currently in progress on the Generals Highway south of Crystal Cave Road. Check with the park before visiting for current conditions. The Generals Highway becomes Highway 198 when it exits the park at the Ash Mountain Entrance. The Foothills Visitor Center is located at this entrance.
Three Rivers, the closest town to the Ash Mountain Entrance, offers food, lodging, and gas. It's also where one of the wildest paved roads in the state (mostly paved) heads east to access the Mineral King Valley in the southernmost part of the park. This is a great place to camp, hike, get away from crowds, and enjoy a high mountain valley. Silver City Mountain Resort offers lodging, a store, and meals from Thursday through Monday.
Eighty-four percent of the park is wilderness and can only be experienced by hiking. Wilderness permits are required for overnight trips. 11 miles from the trailhead at Lodgepole, the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp offers tents, beds, and meals for hikers who want to carry less gear. Reservations are required.
Reservations for camping and lodging are strongly recommended throughout the park during the summer. The lower elevation campgrounds -- Potwisha, Buckeye Flat, and South Fork -- can be hot in the summer and are much more enjoyable in the spring and fall.
During the winter, Highway 180 is open a few miles beyond the Hume Lake Road junction and the Generals Highway/198 is open except during snowstorms, allowing visitors to enjoy much of the "front country" of the park year-round. If you visit during the snowy months, an easy snowshoe through one of the Sequoia groves can be a great way to enjoy the trees in near or complete solitude. Some lodging, services, and campgrounds are available year round. Wolverton is a popular "snow play" area.
Dogs are allowed on leash in campgrounds and developed areas within the park, but not on trails. They are allowed on trails within the surrounding Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SEQUOIA NAT'L PARK: www.nps.gov/seki
PARK MAP: www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit
GIANT SEQUOIA NATIONAL MONUMENT: www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/gsnm.html
CRYSTAL CAVE: www.visitsequoia.com/crystal-cave.aspx
WILDERNESS PERMITS: www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/wilderness_permits.htm HORSEBACK RIDING: www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/horseride.htm