California is a state with natural beauty that stretches the entirety of the state to each of its borders. It is also a state where the beauty above ground in some areas pales with the beauty below ground. Like a sunset on an unknown beach, each of these areas offer solitude, otherworldly beauty, and in some cases, some of the most unique terrain on the planet. Even if you've never explored a cave before, each of these spots will interest and intrigue you, and provide you a great introduction to the world below your feet.
Sequoia National Park is one of my favorite National Parks. From its tall, majestic trees, to its secret underground caves, and its high lofty mountains, it is a National Park that has almost everything an outdoors aficionado could want. Unfortunately, it is located next to a number of other fantastic National Parks - Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Devil's Postpile; and a number of other great wilderness areas. As such, many people who visit Sequoia have a limited amount of time to see the park before they head onward to their next destination. If you're one of the people who is on the Sierra Nevada park circuit, this list and itinerary is for you; but let me say that if you do have the time, Sequoia is a great spot to spent an extra day or two at. But, without further ado, here's my list of the top five things to do at a day in Sequoia National Park!
In this life, some things just have to be seen to be believed. One of these things is the General Sherman, the largest tree by volume in the world. I realize that statements like the “largest tree by volume in the world” provide no context, so let’s talk hard facts about the General Sherman. First, the General Sherman is a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that was named for General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the famous generals of the American Civil War. In terms of essential information, it is 275 feet tall from its base to its top; the circumference of its base is 102.6 feet, its maximum diameter at its base is 36.5 feet, and its estimated total volume is a whopping 52,500 cubic feet!
While these trails are amazing, and very popular with summer backpackers, these large expanses of open wilderness and long distances also dissuade many casual visitors to the park. In this respect, many people incorrectly assume that as most of the park is wilderness, they must be a wilderness expert as well to brave Kings Canyon. While it is true that one should be properly prepared before heading out into the backcountry, it’s also true that Kings Canyon has a number of trails for all skill levels that visitors can attempt. Case in point is the park’s most accessible – and popular trail, Zumwalt Meadows, which, with a little effort, can be combined with another trail to view a spectacular waterfall.
Long time readers of this blog know that I was raised on a diet of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and adventure as a child. It should therefore come as no surprise that I wanted to live in a cave during part of my childhood. But once I read The Time Machine, I developed an irrational fear of morlocks and the I-want-to-live-in-a-cave-phase was over. Even though I never lived in a cave, I know a spot where people have lived – and died in a cave: Boyden Cavern, in Sequoia /Kings Canyon National Park.
If I was to ask you what the signature attraction of Sequoia National Park is, chances are that you’d give me a funny look and say, “Giant Sequoias??!?!”. In some respects, you’d be justified in giving me that treatment, since the park is indeed named, Sequoia National Park. But, even though the park is named Sequoia National Park, and the Giant Sequoias are stunning, spectacular, and stupendous, the signature attraction to some people is not the trees, it is something secret that lies deep beneath the shallow roots of those gentle giants. That’s right: I am talking about caves. One of the little known facts about Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is that beneath the trees, and under all of the hiking trails, there is an extensive network of caves. According to the National Park Service, even if the Giant Sequoias didn’t exist, chances are that Sequoia and Kings Canyon would still be National Parks because of the caves. Think about that for a second: this is an area with amazing biodiversity both above ground and below ground, which is something that exists in few places around the world.
One of the most iconic things to see in Sequoia National Park is a relic of a bygone past. It is not a hiking trail. It is not a perfectly natural feature. And, it is not alive. Yes, I am speaking of something that requires no effort to see - the infamous Tunnel Log . It's not to be confused with the Tunnel Tree that existed in Yosemite National Park, but both involve Giant Sequoias. In 1937, a Giant Sequoia fell across the Crescent Road in Sequoia National Park, and rather than remove it, the Park Service elected to cut a tunnel through it which people have been happily driving through ever since. On the plus side, since the the tree fell from natural causes, the tunnel log does not represent any wanton destruction of nature, or Giant Sequoias. The tree also represents a different wilderness philosophy of the National Park Service; one that preserved nature while also making it a bit of a spectacle with things like this and the infamous Yosemite firefall. This different wilderness ethos, along with the sheer spectacle of the Tunnel Log make it worth visiting while you can, as it is a curiosity of a time long gone.