The Complete Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Spend a lot of time looking up—way up—at some of the largest living organisms on the planet

Start training your neck muscles now: When you visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks you’ll spend a lot of time looking up—way up—at some of the largest living organisms in the history of the planet.

If the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, the main attractions in these twin parks in Central California are approximately 40 different sequoia groves. These behemoth trees only grow on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada from 4,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation and the parks are home to seven of the 10 largest trees in the world.

Amazingly these trees which stretch up to nearly 300 feet high aren’t even the tallest things in the parks. In fact, they’re positively dwarfed by geological formations like the namesake Kings Canyon, a glacial valley hemmed in by 4,000-foot-high granite walls and Sequoia’s Mount Whitney the highest point in the Lower 48 at 14,494 feet.

Located in the Southern Sierra Nevada about equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Kings Canyon and Sequoia are actually two national parks for the price of one. They share a border and a long history dating back to the early days of the conservation movement in America.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On September 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison established the country’s second national park, Sequoia, to protect the area’s namesake giants from the encroaching logging industry. Just a week later he added General Grant National Park to the roster.

In those early days, America’s first Black national park superintendent (and the only African American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army), Col. Charles Young, led efforts to build a road into Sequoia’s Giant Forest and by 1903 the landscape had opened to tourists coming in by wagon. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress established Kings Canyon National Park which absorbed the former General Grant Park. 

Today Sequoia comprises 631 square miles which include the famed Generals Highway which cuts through dense sequoia groves; Moro Rock, a climbable granite dome; the pristine Mineral King glacial valley; and Crystal Cave, a marble cavern.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bifurcated 722-square-mile Kings Canyon meanwhile sits atop Sequoia like two lopsided bunny ears: To the west, a squiggly sliver of parkland surrounds the General Grant Tree and the neighboring village and visitor center; to the east, a much larger swath of wilderness is centered around Kings Canyon proper, dotted with iconic vistas like Zumwalt Meadow, Roaring River Falls and Muir Rock. The meandering ribbon of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway connects the two sections as it cuts through the adjacent Sequoia National Forest. 

Despite their world-famous supertall attractions, Kings Canyon and Sequoia remain blissfully crowd-free much of the year.

Tuning in to the soundscape is one of the best ways to enjoy the wilderness. Find a secluded spot, take a few steps off the trail, maybe sit down, maybe close your eyes, and just be silent and listen to the sounds of the park for a couple of minutes.

Forest Center, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip 

The parks are relatively centrally located within the state and a bit of a trek to reach from major cities: You can expect about a five-hour drive from San Francisco or a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles.

When planning your trip, note that it’s hard to generalize about the weather in these parts. There’s an enormous elevation shift from the foothills in Sequoia (as low as 1,370 feet) to the big tree groves in both parks to Sequoia’s towering Mount Whitney. As a result, temperatures can regularly drop to 30 degrees as you ascend higher through the parks. Fortunately, the NPS maintains a helpful website with forecasts for specific areas.

The foothills tend to have milder winters and hot, dry summers with average highs in July and August reaching into the upper 90s and average winter lows dropping to the mid-30s. In Sequoia’s Giant Forest and Kings Canyon’s Grant Grove summer temperatures are significantly milder usually in the mid-70s in the daytime and the 50s at night. Even if it’s scorchingly hot when you enter the parks (it has been known to hit 114 degrees) you may still need a light sweater by the time you’re surrounded by sequoias. Plan and pack accordingly—layers are your friend. 

Castle Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the winter can be peaceful and the parks look gorgeous under a blanket of fresh snow, things slow down during those months. Several roads, including 180 from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove, Mineral King Road, and Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road close due to treacherous, icy driving conditions and many of the parks’ lodging options shutter. Currently, Highway 180 to Cedar Grove is closed at the Hume gate until spring 2023.

In general, you’ll want a car in these parks. From late May through mid-September there’s also a shuttle bus system with free routes covering such areas as the Giant Forest, Moro Rock, the General Sherman Tree Trails, and Wuksachi Lodge. Meanwhile, the $20 Sequoia Shuttle (reservation required) transports guests in from the gateway town of Visalia.

Overcrowding isn’t much of a concern even during the summer high season in July and August. Avoiding crowds has a lot to do with timing. Weekdays are always more forgiving than weekends. If you can get to the entrance station before 9 a.m. you’re likely to be rewarded with ample parking at your destination

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay

The jewel in the crown of lodging options in these parts is Sequoia’s 102-room Wuksachi Lodge which features an architectural style that screams national parks lodge thanks to its native granite and oak, hickory, and cedar touches. Located 2 miles from Lodgepole Village the hotel is a perfect jumping-off point for hiking trails that lead out into Cahoon Meadow and Twin Lakes. It’s now open year-round but things can get a little dicey in the winter if you’re not used to driving in snow because it sits at an elevation of 7,200 feet; remember to pack those snow chains! Amenities in mobility- and hearing-accessible rooms include widened doorways, visual fire alarms, and phones with flashing lights.

In Kings Canyon, Grant Grove Village is home to two seasonal lodging options in the park’s western section: The 36-room John Muir Lodge (open late March to late October) includes a stone fireplace in the lobby that’s an inviting spot to cozy up next to as you plan tomorrow’s adventures.

Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grant Grove Cabins, a collection of timber and tent-style cabins are open from April through October. Book early and request Cabin No. 9, one of the few with an en suite bathroom instead of a shared bathhouse, a particular luxury on those cold Sierra nights. The lodge does not have an elevator so anyone with mobility issues will want to request a room on the first floor. 

For a slightly more off-the-beaten-path option, the 21-room Cedar Grove Lodge is remotely located in Kings Canyon’s eastern wilderness. It’s only open late May through late October after the snow has melted but it rewards the intrepid with access to scenic Zumwalt Meadow, Roaring Falls, and Muir Rock.

The parks also play host to more than a dozen campsites, four open year-round: Azalea Campground, under a stand of evergreen trees near King Canyon’s Grant Grove; Potwisha Campground, set among a hot and dry oak woodland in Sequoia; Lodgepole and South Fork Campgrounds, in a remote area of the Sequoia foothills.

Park campgrounds differ wildly in terms of amenities, locations, and crowds so study the options before you go. Reservations are made available one month in advance though you can often snag a spot on the day of your visit. Most offer a few accessible campsites with amenities like paved paths to restrooms and raised fire pits for people with impaired mobility. 

Forest Center, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to eat 

At the Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge tuck into hearty fare like pan-seared ruby-red trout and braised short ribs while taking in the Sierra views. The restaurant also serves a daily breakfast buffet. Nearby, head to the seasonal Lodgepole Café for grab-and-go picnic goodies like breakfast burritos and hot dogs.

In Kings Canyon, the seasonal Grant Grove Restaurant serves dishes like beef chili and a trout sandwich. In the park’s other section, Cedar Grove Grill is open May through mid-October and serves hearty burgers and sandwiches on the drive out to Zumwalt Meadow and Roaring River Falls.

Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

Visit the parks’ enormous trees

We know what you’re here for—very big trees! And, yes, you’ll see giant sequoias everywhere but there are a few not-to-miss standouts. In Sequoia, the General Sherman Tree ranks as the world’s largest by volume and stands 275 feet tall with a base width of 36 feet. You can access it by two trails. One runs a half-mile downhill from a parking area; it’s paved and includes a few stairs but the climb back uphill can be tiring. If you have a disability parking placard you’ll have access to a small lot on Generals Highway with a wheelchair-accessible trail.

About a five-minute drive down the road in the Giant Forest Grove you’ll reach the free Giant Forest Museum with informative exhibits about this unique landscape and the 1.2-mile Big Trees Trail which is a great option for people with limited mobility. It’s flat, paved, and easy to navigate with benches for rest stops. 

In the Grant Grove area in Kings Canyon just 1.5 miles from the visitor center you’ll meet the General Grant Tree—aka the nation’s Christmas tree—the world’s second-largest tree with a height of 268.1 feet and a base circumference of 107.5 feet. The one-third-mile paved loop trail passes through a dense collection of sequoias with other highlights including the Fallen Monarch, a hollow sequoia log wide enough to walk through, and the historic Gamlin Cabin, which dates to 1872. The trail has tactile informational signs with Braille and raised illustrations. 

Although these generals are popular especially in the summer don’t stop there: They’re a great jumping-off point for exploration. People visiting the parks will find a lot of opportunities for solitude if they’re willing to hike for even 15 minutes. The Giant Forest and Grant Grove both have miles and miles of wonderful trails that see surprisingly few hikers. On these trails, you’ll have time and space to linger, take in the evergreens’ woodsy scent, and listen for the chirps of squirrels and the calls of acorn woodpeckers, Steller’s jays, and other birds.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climb Moro Rock

Yosemite has Half Dome, Sequoia has Moro Rock—and much like its more famous cousin to the north this granite dome beckons visitors to summit its dramatic topography. While the climb up Half Dome isn’t for the faint of heart, Moro Rock can be doable for relatively in-shape visitors who can handle steep stairs. A concrete and stone path leads up more than 350 steps to postcard-perfect views out over the foothills and the San Joaquin Valley.

There are handrails much of the way so while you might not fear falling over the rather prodigious cliffs lining the trail this is still a strenuous climb made more challenging by the high elevations which top out above 6,700 feet. The climb can take as little as a half-hour but pace yourself and enjoy the experience to protect those lungs in the thinner air. In summer, keep your eyes and ears peeled for peregrine falcons nesting on the rock.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a guided horseback ride

Two stables operate within Kings Canyon. Grove Stables offers one-hour guided trail rides that loop past the General Grant tree and through a grove of giant sequoias; for an additional fee tack on a second hour through a second sequoia grove to a Sequoia Lake overlook.

The Cedar Grove Pack Station located outside Cedar Grove Village also has one- and two-hour guided trail rides but experienced riders can opt for a half-day or full-day itinerary.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy the stars

The parks are amazing after dark, once you get used to the idea. Find a wide-open space to stargaze or take long-exposure photographs of the Milky Way. During a full moon take a night hike. Just be careful out there. The parks have a 24-hour dispatch center but help is definitely less readily available if you get into trouble late at night.

If you’d rather not go it alone, the parks occasionally schedule ranger-led moonlight walks (check the events calendar). This is also a great time to listen for the distinctive hooting of great horned owls and the squeaks of bats flying overhead.

Fun fact: While 17 species of bats call these parks home only three emit sounds the human ear can hear.

Gateway towns 

If you want to spend time in the communities outside the parks’ boundaries stick to the stretch along State Route 198 that leads into Sequoia’s Ash Mountain Entrance Station. About 35 miles west of the park is Visalia, a small agricultural city in the San Joaquin Valley with handsome architecture (including an art deco post office), a boutique-filled downtown, and plenty of microbreweries. 

Even closer to the entrance station is Three Rivers Village with a surprising array of businesses dotting the foothills including local shops like Reimer’s Candies and Gifts (don’t miss the California walnut turtles), art galleries and artist studios, a nine-hole golf course, and even a jazz club.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

En route

If you’re driving from San Francisco slow down to enjoy the underrated Central Valley. The state’s agricultural heart boasts some surprising hot spots. Merced’s recently revitalized downtown includes the chic new Hotel El Capitan and its tasting-menu restaurant Rainbird where you can sample innovative dishes like green garlic chawanmushi (egg custard) with coal-roasted kombu. The area is also home to excellent farm stands and a rustic-chic vineyard. 

From Los Angeles, Bakersfield is a worthwhile pit stop thanks to the numerous RV parks and the country’s largest collection of Basque restaurants. Established in 1893 as a boardinghouse, the Noriega Hotel was honored with a James Beard Foundation America’s Classic Award and it’s beloved for dishes like pickled tongue.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The city’s also the birthplace of the so-called Bakersfield Sound, made popular by country artists like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Learn more about Nashville West at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a museum and music venue and the Kern County Museum.

By the way, I have a series of posts on Bakersfield and the Bakersfield Sound:

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facts box

  • ​Location: Central California about 260 miles from San Francisco and 220 miles from Los Angeles
  • Size: 865,964 acres or 1,353 square miles 
  • Highest point: Mount Whitney, 14,494 feet 
  • Lowest point: The foothills entrance, 1,370 feet 
  • Miles of trails: 866
  • Main attraction: Sequoia groves with record-breaking trees
  • Entry fee: $35 per private vehicle for up to seven days; $30 for motorcycles; $20 for bicycles or walk-in entry; $70 for annual passes 
  • Best way to see: By car or by the free park shuttle (between May and September)
  • When to go to avoid the crowds: September, after the summer crowds leave and before the snow falls

Worth Pondering…

No other tree in the world, as far as I know, has looked down on so many centuries as the Sequoia, or opens such impressive and suggestive views into history.

—John Muir, The Big Trees, Chapter 7 of The Yosemite (1912) 

The Science behind the Oldest Trees on Earth

How experts have determined that bristlecone pines, sequoias, and baobabs have stood for thousands of years

What and where are the oldest known trees on the planet?

If you include plants that can regenerate, the upper age limit could be ten thousand years or more. Such superorganisms including the famous quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) grove nicknamed Pando are made up of genetically identical trunks connected through a single root system that sends up new shoots over time. These clonal colonies are impossible to date with precision because the oldest decomposed long ago.

Aspen clove in Fishlake National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the Trembling Giant, Pando is located about 40 miles southeast of Richfield, Utah, the nearest town. Widely considered the world’s largest tree with one vast root system, the aspen clone is also one of the largest living organisms on the planet. Spanning roughly 106 acres within Fishlake National Forest, a sprawling patch of greenery situated in the High Plateaus of south-central Utah, Pando weighs more than 6,600 tons and contains approximately 47,000 genetically identical stems (or branches), experts say.

Pando which in Latin translates to I spread is so massive that satellite imagery shows the outline of the clone in stark contrast with the rest of the surrounding national forest; its complex network of roots is so vast that it tunnels beneath Utah State Route 25, a winding two-lane highway that slices through Pando’s center.

No one knows Pando’s exact age with some estimates dating it to the end of the last ice age or about 25,000 years ago and others going as far back as 80,000 years.

The Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Tree, as it’s usually known, is one of the best known live oak trees in the United States. In its more than 1,000 years, the Big Tree has survived hurricanes, fires, and even an 1864 Civil War battle that razed the rest of the town, Lamar, Texas, to the ground. With a height of 44 feet, trunk circumference of 35 feet, and crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017).

Many lists of oldest trees stick to single-trunked plants that produce annual growth rings. These kinds of trees are easier to date. Scientists called dendrochronologists focus on assigning calendar years to tree rings and interpreting data within those rings. By using a hand-cranked tool called an increment borer they extract core samples without depriving the tree of strength and vigor.

Giant cypress in Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a rule, gymnosperms—flowerless plants with naked seeds—grow slower and live longer than angiosperms, flowering plants with fruits. Gymnosperms include ginkgo and every kind of conifer—including yews, pines, firs, spruces, cedars, redwoods, podocarps, araucarias and cypresses. Roughly 25 gymnosperm species can live 1,000 years or longer. The cypress family contains the most millennials but the longest-lived species is a pine with an effective age limit of five millennia. By contrast, eight centuries is extremely old for an oak, an angiosperm. And only one kind of flowering plant, a baobab, has been positively dated beyond one millennium.

During research for his book Elderflora: A Modern History of Ancient Trees, Jared Farmer learned a lot about the world’s oldest growers. Here are some of the most exceptional specimens.

The longest-lived gymnosperms

Bristlecone pine at Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Basin bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva, ≥4,900 years

Until 1964, the oldest tree ever known grew in a cirque on Wheeler Peak in Nevada’s Snake Range in what is now Great Basin National Park. After a graduate student researcher tried and failed to extract a complete core sample, he decided to produce a stump. This scientific desecration haunted him the rest of his career even though he cut it down with permission of a forest ranger. Originally labeled WPN-114 this pine was posthumously renamed Prometheus.

The oldest survivor with a name is Methuselah which grows in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of eastern California. This pine was originally cored by tree-ring scientist Edmund Schulman who made bristlecones famous through his 1958 article in National Geographic. The innermost rings on Schulman’s core samples are extremely suppressed and partly eroded making dating difficult. The oldest extracted ring from Methuselah might be from 2490 or 2555 BC. In any case this tree is well over 4,500 years old today.

Methuselah’s location is no longer marked by the U.S. Forest Service but anyone who hikes the trail will be close to it and many other living beings as old as the pyramids of Giza. In the same population an unnamed bristlecone even older than Methuselah grows and it is known only to an inner circle of dendrochronologists. Secrecy provides protection from vandals who would carve names on it, relic hunters who would take cones from it, and photographers who would inadvertently damage the fragile soil.

In a deeper sense, the identity of the true oldest living bristlecone is simply unknowable. That’s not just because no one has the time—or the funding or the imperative—to do an exhaustive search throughout the Great Basin. The effort would be futile. On most ancient bristlecones, the oldest wood has long ago been ablated, speck by speck, by desert winds.

Giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, ≥3,266 years

As soon as Anglo-Americans encountered giant sequoia in the midst of the California gold rush, they acted in paradoxical ways: protecting them while also cutting down trophy specimens for traveling exhibits. By counting rings on stumps, people knew in the 1850s that sequoias can live for thousands of years.

After the Civil War, two of the largest protected sequoias became known as the General Grant and the General Sherman. A rivalry ensued between Fresno County, home of the Grant and Tulare County, home of the Sherman. In 1931, the California Chamber of Commerce announced an unscientific verdict: Although Sherman was—and still is—the world’s largest tree, Grant would count as the world’s oldest. Confusingly, tourists routinely referred to another monumental tree, Yosemite National Park’s Grizzly Giant as the age champion based on its incomparably gnarled appearance.

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1990s, a forest ecologist created a mathematical formula for estimating a sequoia’s age based on the volume of its bole or the trunk below the crown. He tested his formula on hundreds of stumps in Converse Basin, the one large grove of big trees that had been devastated by industrial logging. Here, many trimillennials including the oldest ever known at 3,266 years or more had been leveled to make grape stakes and shingles. The ecologist disproved for good the old assumption that biggest means oldest. By his estimation, the General Sherman was only 2,150 years old and the Grizzly Giant was a shocking 1,790 years young.

The most senior of these trees probably lacks a name because of its relative smallness. And it may be newly dead. In 2020 and 2021, megafires devastated the southern Sierra, killing up to 20 percent of all mature sequoias.

Worth Pondering…

In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws… to represent themselves. Nothing is holier nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

—Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)

The Ultimate Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are filled with a vast expanse of nature, dozens of the world’s largest trees, and thousands of miles of backcountry trails

A grove of giant redwood or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.

— President Theodore Roosevelt

Giant Sequoias, the world’s largest trees by volume, are found only on California’s western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These majestic trees were the impetus behind the creation of the United States’ second and third national parks: Sequoia National Park and General Grant National Park (later expanded and renamed Kings Canyon National Park).

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoias can grow to be upwards of a 26-story building in height and over 3,000 years old. They were named Sequoiadendron giganteum, or Sequoia for short, after the Native American man, Sequoyah, who created the Cherokee’s system of writing. In the mid-1800s, Western settlers came across these trees and were awe-struck by their grandeur. Not surprisingly, the largest sequoias were given names of monumental American figures of that time including Lincoln, General Sherman, and General Grant, as well as a sequoia known only as the “President.”

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the largest tree stumps in the world is known as the Mark Twain Tree. Embodying the American spirit of adventure and storytelling, the Mark Twain Tree was cut down and sent off in cross sections to be displayed in museums in New York and London. Although the parks were created to stop logging, the Mark Twain Tree was cut down, right or wrong, to showcase these wonders of the world and educate the public. Standing before a cross-section and looking at its many rings, we are offered a different perspective on the age and incredible scale of these ancient specimens.

So here we have two separate national parks joined at the hip, very different and with one big thing in common—size. Sequoia National Park has the largest tree on Earth by volume stationed within its boundaries its name is General Sherman. Kings Canyon is home to one of North America’s largest (and most beautiful) canyons, and to the world’s second-largest tree, General Grant.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Largest Tree in the World

Sequoia National Park is home to the largest tree in the world which stands 275 feet high with a volume of 52,508 cubic feet. Though far from being the world’s tallest tree, this sequoia’s mass is unrivaled across the planet. Named after American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, the General Sherman Tree is a highly visited feature of the National Park System.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recently, fires in the area of the Giant Forest sequoia grove made it necessary to take additional steps to protect General Sherman and other giant sequoias. General Sherman’s incredible 36-foot-diameter base and nearly 103-foot circumference were wrapped in foil up to 10–15 feet high to help shield its already thick bark from potential flames. Luckily, a recent program of prescribed fires kept this massive sequoia and its neighbors protected, though, unfortunately, other groves in the surrounding Sequoia National Forest did not fare so well.

Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This increased threat to the world’s largest tree was brought to national attention and it was used as an opportunity to highlight controversy over its name. One periodical called for the tree to be “saved and then renamed.” General Sherman’s tactics during and after the Civil War were indeed nothing short of brutal. His command oversaw the mass killing of Native Americans and the near extinction of buffalo.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Critics justifiably highlight the paradox inherent in sequoias being named after a Cherokee man while the pinnacle exemplar of the species is ironically given the name of a general who oversaw the mass slaughter and displacement of Native Americans.

Is the answer to America’s past to revise or rename everything that is challenging or can we continue to rationally face these difficult aspects of our history without needing to destroy or rename national landmarks?

Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of canceling history, it is important to have the past inform the present to avoid making similar mistakes. It is the trees themselves that are great regardless of any given name or historical figure with whom they are associated. The giant sequoias were here long before American colonization, and, God willing, they will remain for millennia to come. In Shakespeare’s famous words, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Protecting the Trees

On September 25, 1890, Sequoia National Park was created by President Harrison to protect sequoias from private industry. General Grant National Park was created one week later to protect additional groves in the area. Expanded and renamed Kings Canyon National Park in 1940, the park is home to the second largest tree in the world, the General Grant Tree. Named after President of the United States, and General, Ulysses S. Grant, the tree stands 268 feet tall with a volume of 46,608 cubic feet.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Grant established the National Park Service. This act alone makes it fitting that a giant sequoia is named in his honor. Grant famously oversaw the end of the Civil War at Appomattox, where, on April 9, 1865, a peace agreement was signed with General Lee and no prisoners of war were taken. In 1868, Grant was elected president of a nation still deeply wounded by domestic bloodshed. President Eisenhower made the General Grant Tree a national shrine in 1956 to honor all those who have lost their lives serving our country. It is the only living shrine in the United States.

Castle Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature’s Mightiest Survivors

Everyone who stands at the base of a mighty sequoia for the first time is changed by the experience. These gigantic trees, thousands of years in the making, command a feeling of great reverence. Their presence is felt in the stillness and peace of their groves. While recent fires have threatened and taken the lives of many sequoias, others have survived through many flames long since extinguished. Sequoias are some of nature’s best survivors. They have a very thick skin, so to speak, with bark that can be up to 1.5 feet thick, shielding the living tissue underneath.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire plays an essential role in the growth of sequoias and the health of the forest. Through fire come renewal and the opportunity for new sequoias to plant and have the sunlight to grow. Fire clears out natural buildup on the forest floor, making way for new life. Fire severity increases in potential when small fires are prevented from doing this necessary work. Native Americans managed the forest with fire and the National Park Service has learned to do the same with controlled, “prescribed” burns. Sequoia seeds successfully grow into seedlings thanks to the mineral soil cleared, and enriched, by fire.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We can strive to protect these beautiful trees out of genuine love, or attachment, but we don’t own nature, and whether we like it or not, we aren’t in control of its cycles. 2014 marked the most severe drought in 122 years, but that does not mean it is wholly unnatural, or “man-made.” Humanity impacts nature in a variety of ways but it is part of the deception of our time to assume that we are to blame for most of the frightening occurrences or extreme events that happen in nature.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The evidence is written in the rings of trees that were here long before us. Giant sequoias have survived as long as they have because they have learned to live through and grow from adversity. They are known as a “pioneer species” because they are among the first to take root after a fire occurs. There is a humbling and regenerative wisdom amongst these trees that seems to calmly, yet powerfully, whisper, “This too shall pass.” Edwin Markham, American poet of the 19th and 20th centuries, wrote:

The sequoias belong to the silences of the millenniums. Many of them have seen a hundred human generations rise, give off their little clamors and perish. They seem indeed to be forms of immortality standing here among the transitory shapes of time.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box


Sequoia National Park: 404,063 acres

Kings Canyon National Park: 461,901 acres

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Date Established: 

Sequoia National Park: September 25, 1890

Kings Canyon National Park: March 4, 1940  

Location: Central California

Park Elevation: 1,370 feet-14,494 feet

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the parks got their names: 

Sequoia National Park: This park was named after the giant Sequoia tree! The naming of the sequoia tree has a complicated past—some stories say that it commemorates a Cherokee Indian Chief named Sequoya who is well known for giving a phonetic alphabet to his nation; others record that it was named after the tree genus of its close relative—the redwood tree—which was named after the Latin word sequoiadendron giganteum

Kings Canyon National Park: Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in America—1.5 miles deep—and was named for the Kings River that flows through the base of it creating the canyon. The Kings River also flows through Sequoia and Sierra National Forests.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic sites in the park: 

Sequoia National Park: Hands down this honor goes to the General Sherman Tree—the largest tree in the world by volume—so iconic that it was chosen by the National Park Service to represent all trees in all of the parks on the iconic Arrowhead logo insignia. It is estimated that General Sherman is between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. A new, well-established trail to the iconic site was completed in 2006, allowing more space for visitors to wander and to better appreciate the massive size of the tree. The 0.8-mile out and back hike is a breeze, but do go slow—the elevation at the parking lot is 7,000 feet and you most likely climbed by car to get there so you might be a bit light headed on the short walk due to the elevation change. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kings Canyon National Park: The views on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway took our breath away. It is these views that Sierra Club photographer Ansel Adams captured and shared with the U.S. government to successfully lobby for national park status. Winding down the 50-mile mountain pass you will see wildflowers, forests of trees, sloped mountains, rock formations, and at the base of it all, the Kings River—the stepping off point to the wilds of the Sierra Nevada wilderness.  

Mount Eisen, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know…

Sequoia is America’s second national park. It was the first national park to be created to protect a living organism, the giant sequoia tree, which at a time of the park formation was vulnerable to complete destruction due to logging endeavors. 

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest tree in the world by volume is in Sequoia National Park, it’s name is General Sherman. The largest of the sequoias are as tall (on average) as a 26-story building. 

The world’s second largest tree by volume, the General Grant Tree, can be found in Kings Canyon National Park. It is not only America’s official Christmas tree, but also a national shrine dedicated to U.S. veterans in 1956. It is estimated to be 2,000 years old.

Mt. Whitney, standing at 14,505 feet, is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states and is located on the eastern side of Sequoia National Park.  

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Giant Sequoia Tree’s Guide to Life

Have a thick skin

Stand up to the heat

Don’t let things bug you

Heal your own wounds

Enjoy your days in the sun

Strive for balance

Hold yourself up high

Worth Pondering…

No other tree in the world, as far as I know, has looked down on so many centuries as the Sequoia, or opens such impressive and suggestive views into history.

—John Muir, The Big Trees, Chapter 7 of The Yosemite (1912) 

Extraordinary Places

Beautiful Experiences Extraordinary Places

My ever-growing list of Extraordinary Places will help take your road trip planning to the next level. Hand-picked, I promise each one is worth the detour.

What is an Extraordinary Place?

Extraordinary Places are the places that stay with you long after visiting. They are the places that fill you with wonder. They are epic natural wonders, weird roadside attractions, and deeply meaningful locations. Simply put, Extraordinary Places turn a great road trip into an unforgettable adventure.   

Explore my list and start planning your next RV road trip today.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

There are, essentially, three ways to experience the Grand Canyon: The more remote and less crowded North Rim, the more developed South Rim with more amenities, and the rigorous Rim to Rim hike that lets you experience both. Another important thing to remember is that it’s incredibly difficult to take a good picture that captures the size and scale of the canyon.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, a World Heritage Site, encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States. Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock-forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.

Well known for its geologic significance, the Grand Canyon is one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world. It offers an excellent record of three of the four eras of geological time, a rich and diverse fossil record, and a vast array of geologic features and rock types. It is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground with 496 full-hookup sites, and a brand new Lodge. The Lakeside Cabins and Eagle Cottages are also available for overnight stays. Longleaf pines and the local palmetto forest surround the four “woods cabins”. Remaining “lakeside cabins” along Lake Shelby offer swimming, fishing, and sunrise walks right outside your front door.

Related: Life Is a Highway: Taking the Great American Road Trip

There’s gorgeous white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and a variety of activities but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that encourage visitors to explore its nine distinct ecosystems. Enjoy the serenity of Gulf Oak Ridge trail as you stroll underneath Live Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. Take a bike ride on Rosemary Dunes. If you’re hoping to see an Alligator, explore Gopher Tortoise trail along the edge of Lake Shelby. A majority of the trails are suitable for walking, running, and biking.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s proximity to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Foley, Fairhope, and Mobile provides Gulf State Park with several retail and restaurant options to choose from. The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, Weeks Bay Reserve, The USS Alabama, and Meaher State Park are all within driving distance.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

This great Navajo Nation valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet framed by scenic clouds casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s about 16 miles from Bluff to the eastern entrance on the right of Valley of the Gods, a miniature version of Monument Valley without the crowds. Its mesas and spires are formed of the same Cedar Mesa sandstone as the somewhat larger formations at Monument Valley. The 17-mile loop drive on a dirt road is suitable for most vehicles in good weather. Drive this beautiful, lonely loop—though not in a large RV and not towing a trailer. Heavy rains often make this road impassable. Valley of the Gods is also a good place to dry camp.

Related: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

The loop finishes on Highway 261 (paved) just south of the descent from the Moki Dugway and north of the turnoff for Goosenecks State Park. Highway 261 will take you south back to U.S. 163.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

A short trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations anywhere. While you could make it a day trip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it.

Your itinerary includes the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (established 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You’ll be consuming a lot of meat so be sure to stop for breaks. Proceed in any order you please.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart has one more stop in the store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). There’s a drive-through and BBQ sandwiches if you so please but you can also head inside for a full plate lunch packed with smoked turkey, sausage links, and moist brisket with sides like mac and cheese, hash browns, and broccoli salad—because you should probably get some greens in.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there’s a lot more to Lockhart than just smoked meats. This “little city with a big heart” as the town slogan goes retains much of its wild cowboy roots and will show you an entirely different perspective on Texas. Check out the Jail Museum for its take on Norman castellated architecture (a popular style for jails during the period; it was built in the mid-1800s). Golfers can look out on the rugged Texas scenery while enjoying a round of golf at the Lockhart State Park Golf Course which also has RV camping, an on-site swimming pool, and a fishing hole.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River straddling the border between Utah and Arizona. Most of Lake Powell along with Rainbow Bridge National Monument is located in Utah. It is a major vacation spot that around two million people visit every year.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell is the second-largest man-made reservoir by maximum water capacity in the US behind Lake Mead storing 24,322,000 acre-feet of water when full. However, due to high water withdrawals for human and agricultural consumption and because of subsequent droughts in the area, Lake Mead has fallen below Lake Powell in size several times in terms of volume of water, depth, and surface area.

Lake Powell was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam which led to the creation of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The reservoir is named for explorer John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river via three wooden boats in 1869.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park, California

The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree, measured by volume. It stands 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base. Sequoia trunks remain wide high up. Sixty feet above the base the Sherman Tree is 17.5 feet in diameter. A fence protects the shallow roots of the Sherman Tree. Help protect the tree by staying on the paved trail.

Related: The Wonderful National Parks of the West

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two trails lead to the Sherman Tree. Parking for the Main Trail is off Wolverton Road (between the Sherman Tree and Lodgepole); just follow the signs. The half-mile trail has a few stairs and is paved. As you walk, you’ll enter the Giant Forest sequoia grove. Exhibits along the trail explain the natural history of giant sequoias.

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hundreds of sequoias grow in the Giant Forest sequoia grove. The Congress Trail, a paved two-mile loop that begins near the Sherman Tree offers excellent opportunities to see notable trees. Big Trees Trail, a one-mile loop around a lush meadow has interpretive exhibits about the natural history of giant sequoias. For a longer walk, explore the many miles of trails in the area. Beyond the Giant Forest, more sequoia groves await.

Visit the world’s second-largest tree, the General Grant Tree in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park is immense—nearly 800,000 acres—and infinitely variable. It can seem unwelcoming even brutal during the heat of summer. This is a land shaped by strong winds, sudden torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. Rainfall is sparse and unpredictable. Streambeds are usually dry and waterholes are few.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation come together in the park. Few places more vividly illustrate the contrast between “high” and “low” deserts. Below 3,000 feet the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert) occupying the eastern half of the park is dominated by the abundant creosote bush. Adding interest to this arid land are small stands of spidery ocotillo and cholla cactus.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The higher, slightly cooler, and wetter Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the undisciplined Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the “promised land”. Others were not as visionary. Early explorer John Fremont described them as “…the most repulsive tree in the vegetable Kingdom.”

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home from about A.D. 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the US.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park. It has 150 rooms plus an additional 75 open areas. Twenty-one of the rooms are kivas and 25 to 30 rooms have residential features.

Forsyth Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

Forsyth Park is a large city park that occupies 30 acres in the historic district of Savannah. The park is bordered by Gaston Street on the North, Drayton Street on the East, Park Avenue on the South, and Whitaker Street on the West.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park contains walking paths, a café, a children’s play area, a Fragrant Garden for the blind, a large fountain, tennis courts, basketball courts, areas for soccer and Frisbee, and a home field for Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club. From time to time, concerts are held at Forsyth Park. Standing in the middle of the park with the pathway wrapping around it lies the Confederate Memorial Statue. This work of art was donated by the Monroe County Courthouse to commemorate those volunteers who gave their lives fighting for the Confederacy. Surrounded by a fence, it is protected to sustain its culture and longevity.

Worth Pondering…

Life is a gift, not an obligation. So make the very best of every single day you’re given!

—Donovan Campbell

Best Hikes for National Hiking Month

Your boots were made for walking through some of America’s most awe-inspiring scenery

Hiking is great exercise and has been proven to lower the risk of heart disease, boost bone density, and improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

“Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety,” says Gregory A. Miller, Ph.D., president of the American Hiking Society. “Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA and we sometimes forget that.”

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aside from those health benefits, here’s another reason to go hiking—November is National Hiking Month! Celebrate this month and take a hike. We’ve got some great hikes for you to consider.

Know your limits, pace yourself, and pay attention to how you are feeling. Your safety is your responsibility. Your tomorrow depends on the decisions that you make today.

Related: Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Pathway, Sedona, Arizona

The Bell Rock Pathway is a 3.6-mile trail. Along this pathway, you’ll enjoy fantastic views of Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, and other landmarks. Most of the pathway has a wide, hard surface but there are some steep hills too. Some places around Bell Rock are rocky and rough. There is a popular observation area on the west side of Bell Rock not accessible from the highway.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

Five federal and state wildlife refuges including Cameron Prairie, Sabine, and Lacassine are an integral part of the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Located in Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, the Wetland Walkway is a 1.5-mile handicap-accessible walk over the impounded freshwater marsh. The site includes boardwalks, trails, observation decks, and interpretive signs. This is an excellent site for nature photography. Port-O-lets are available on site along with a handicap-accessible observation tower and five rest shelters along the trail. This is a great place to spot gators and birds of all sorts.

General Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park, California
The Main Parking and Trailhead are just off Wolverton Road which leaves the General’s Highway just north of the Sherman Tree area. From this parking area, the ½-mile trail descends and includes some stairs. Rest on the benches along the trail; don’t overexert yourself at this elevation (7,000 feet) if you are not accustomed to it. For accessible parking and an accessible trail, use the small parking area along the General’s Highway two miles north of the Giant Forest Museum.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys History Walk, Georgia

The city of St. Marys was officially founded in 1787. Due to its strategic location, St. Marys has played a prominent role in Georgia’s development over the centuries making it a fascinating destination for history buffs. For some insight into the city’s storied past visit the St. Marys History Walk, a 600-foot walking trail where 24 interpretive panels outline the history of the area. The History Walk highlights a wealth of bygone eras ranging from the development of St. Marys’ shipbuilding industry to its role in the War of 1812. The History Walk is located at the corner of Bartlett Street and West St. Marys Street.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The multi-use trails can be used by horseback riders. Abington Trail is recommended. Trailheads are at the States Creek Mooring Area and on Rowlands, Wallsville, and Austin Roads. Most trails near the campground are foot traffic only except North Woods Trail which is open to biking and horseback riding.

Blue Mesa Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Do you want to view a landscape that is out of this world? If your answer is yes then the Blue Mesa Loop Trail is sure to please. This mile-long trail takes you into a landscape brushed in blue where you will find cone-shaped hills banded in a variety of colors and intricately eroded into unique patterns. Descending from the mesa this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among petrified wood as well as these badland hills. The trail descends 100 feet below the rim and can be a little steep in places.

Related: The 10 Best Hiking Trails in America’s National Parks

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that inspire visitors to explore the nine distinct ecosystems within park boundaries. Enjoy the serenity of the Gulf Oak Ridge Trail (3.0 miles) as you stroll underneath Live Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. Hike (or bike) the Rosemary Dunes (2.1 miles) and be on the lookout for the elusive Bobcat. If you’re hoping to see an alligator, explore the Gopher Tortoise trail (1.5 miles) along the edge of Lake Shelby. Other trails include Beach Mouse Bypass (1.1-mile boardwalk), Cotton Bayou (1.1 miles), and Campground Trail (2.2 miles). The majority of trails are suitable for walking, running, and biking.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas

Rising above Central Texas, Enchanted Rock has drawn people for thousands of years. The massive pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- or 40-story building. Explore 11 miles of trails, including the iconic Summit Trail (0.8 miles). Other trails of note include Loop Trail (4.6 miles), Turkey Pass Tour (0.7 miles), and Base Trail (0.9 miles).

Clingmans Dome Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome boasts the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The “Dome” refers to the mountaintop, not the man-made observation tower. The Dome actually lies within both Tennessee and North Carolina and is the highest point in Tennessee. On clear days, visitors may see as far as 100 miles.

Related: Hiking Arizona

Clingman Dome Trail Observation Tower © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The half-mile trail to the summit of Clingmans Dome is paved but steep. During the short hike, you will gain 332 feet which makes the climb gradient almost 13 percent. The trail to Clingmans Dome intersects with several other hiking trails including the Appalachian Trail, the Forney Creek Trail, and the Forney Ridge Trail.

Francis Beidler Forest Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Francis Beidler Forest, South Carolina

Frequented by photographers and nature lovers from all over the world, the 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary in the South Carolina Lowcountry is the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest—a pristine ecosystem untouched for millennia.

Related: Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Francis Beidler Forest Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy thousand-year-old trees, a range of wildlife, and the quiet flow of blackwater, all from the safety of a 1.75-mile boardwalk. A new trail system, the Grassland-Woodland Trail, meanders through Longleaf Pine, grassland, and woodland habitats. The new trails give visitors the opportunity to explore a new section of the sanctuary.

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne

Famous Trees and Where to Find Them

With their imposing size and universal symbolism, trees are the celebrities of the plant world. But some trees can boast special A-list status.

In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws… to represent themselves. Nothing is holier nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

—Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)

A century ago, Hermann Hesse contemplated how trees model for us a foundation of integrity in his beautiful love letter to trees—how they stand lonesome-looking even in a forest yet “not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.” Celebrating them as “the most penetrating preachers,” he reverenced the silent fortitude with which “they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.”

Trees are remarkable living things. Not only do they provide shade, oxygen, and often fruit, but they can also live remarkably long—the oldest tree in the world is a 4,852-year-old bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in the White Mountains of California with the appropriate nickname of Methuselah. However, it’s not the only tree to earn well-deserved recognition. Here are five other famous trees and forests you can visit around America.

Giant Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Sherman

Location: Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park, California

Age: Roughly 2,000 years

General Sherman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Sherman might possibly be the most famous tree in the world. While the age of the tree is impressive (likely to be around 2,000 years old), it’s actually the size of the tree that brings it fame. General Sherman is 275 feet tall and 36 feet wide in diameter making it the biggest tree in the world. The tree sits in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in California where thousands of visitors flock every year. Fences around the tree keep visitors from trampling on the shallow roots. General Sherman is still growing so it’s anyone’s guess how big it will eventually get.

The Big Tree before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Tree

Location: Goose Island State Park, Texas

Age: In excess of 1,000 years

The Big Tree after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Tree, as it’s usually known, is one of the oldest, most well known live oak trees in the United States. In its more than 1,000 years, the Big Tree has survived hurricanes, fires, and even an 1864 Civil War battle that razed the rest of the town, Lamar, to the ground. With a height of 44 feet, trunk circumference of 35 feet, and crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017). The tree has its own dark history as well, as it has variously been associated with hangings, cannibalism, or pirates.

Joshua tree in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Trees

Location: Mojave Desert of southwest California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona at elevations from 2,000 to 6,000 feet.

Joshua tree in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you might begin to question your map. Where are we anyway? In wonder, the traveler pulls over for a snapshot of this prickly oddity; the naturalist reaches for a botanical guide to explain this vegetative spectacle; and the rock climber shouts “Yowch!” when poked by dagger-like spines.

Mojave yucca in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, is a member of the Agave family. Don’t confuse the Joshua tree with the Mojave yucca, Yucca schidigera. This close relative can be distinguished by its longer, wider leaves and fibrous threads curling along leaf margins. Both types of yuccas can be seen growing together. The Joshua tree provides a good indicator that you are in the Mojave Desert but you may also find it growing next to a saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert in western Arizona or mixed with pines in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Joshua tree in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Legend has it that Mormon pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward. Today we enjoy this yucca for its grotesque appearance, a surprising sight in this arid landscape.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains

Location: North Carolina and Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is unique because it has over 130 native tree species and over 100 native shrub species that grow in five major forest types: Cove Hardwood, Spruce-fir, Northern Hardwood, Hemlok, and Pine-and-Oak. Other national parks have fewer than 15 native trees. Oak trees are one of the most important parts of the national park. There are 12 species of oak trees in the Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest tree in the Great Smoky Mountains is a blackgum that still stands at 562 years old. One of the tallest trees in the Smoky Mountains is a white pine tree that reaches 186 feet tall. The Smoky Mountains have a large population of tulip trees, including some that measure over 20 feet wide.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, North Carolina

Location: 15 miles from Robbinsville off Cherohala Skyway (NC-143)

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A walk through Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a journey back in time. This forest is one of the Nation’s most impressive remnants of old-growth forest. The forest contains magnificent examples of more than 100 tree species, many over 450-years-old and some enormous tulip poplars more than 20 feet in circumference and 100 feet tall.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This 3,800-acre forest was set aside in 1936 as a memorial to the author of the poem “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer, who was killed in action in France during World War I (See poem below). The floor is carpeted with wildflowers, ferns, and moss-covered logs from fallen giants. This forest, part of the Joyce Kilmer-Slick Rock Wilderness, is maintained in its primitive state.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The only way to see the memorial forest is on foot. The figure-eight Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Trail covers two miles and has two loops: the 1.25-mile lower loop passes the Joyce Kilmer Memorial plaque and the upper 0.75-mile loop swings through Poplar Cove—a grove of the forest’s largest trees. The trailhead parking area has a flush toilet and picnic tables.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

—Joyce Kilmer

The Big Trees: Sequoia National Park

Huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees

Big trees are the prime attraction of Sequoia National Park—many groves of the remarkable giant sequoia are found scattered along the moist, west-facing slopes of the Sierra Nevada between elevations of 5,000 and 7,000 feet.

The scale and grandeur of these reddish giants is stunning, and the park has many easy trails that wind through the woody groves leading to quiet undisturbed places, ideal to contemplate the ambience of the forest.

Lake Kaweah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Using Sun & Fun RV Park in Tulare as our home base, we approached Sequoia National Park from the southwest. Long and straight, California Highway 198 crosses the flat San Joaquin Valley, through endless acres of citrus and vegetables. Hazy foothills slowly appear. At first these hills are low and covered only by parched grass, typical of the southern and western extremities of the Sierras.

Potwisha Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Gradually gaining elevation, the road passes around the edge of Lake Kaweah and runs through Three Rivers, the last town before the mountains. It is named after the Kaweah River, which nearby splits into South, East, North (and Middle and Marble) branches, each of which flows through a steep canyon.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The main road to Sequoia follows the Middle Fork and begins to climb several miles east of town. For 5 miles the route is along the side of the canyon, gaining in height above the river and crossing the national park boundary. The landscape is still mostly arid, with yucca and other desert plants.

One mile inside the park entrance, the Foothills Visitor Center offers information, exhibits to explore, and a small bookstore.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Passing the Hospital Rock picnic site, the road turns away from the canyon and heads north into the mountains. The 8 miles between the picnic area and the first group of sequoias at Giant Forest is amazingly steep and twisting, passing through countless hairpin bends and steep grades during a total climb of 3,700 feet. Vehicles over 22 feet are not advised to drive this route; even our toad is often reduced to speeds of only 15 mph.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

On the ascent there are several great viewpoints over the continuation of Middle Fork Canyon far below. The scenery changes from bushes to oak trees, to forests of fir, pine, and cedar, and finally sequoias; at first scattered and relatively small, although still of distinctive color and much larger than the neighboring trees, but quite suddenly the giants are all around, towering above everything else.

Forest Center, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

This is the Giant Forest, centerpiece of Sequoia National Park. The largest trees on earth are found here, including General Sherman, which is the world-record holder for the most massive living thing. Dozens of magnificent groves of sequoias can be seen in just 3 square miles.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Other unforgettable attractions of Sequoia National Park include Tunnel Log, Moro Rock, and Crystal Cave.

In 1937, due to natural causes, a 275-foot tall and 21-foot in diameter tree fell across a road. A year later, an 8-foot tall, 7-foot wide tunnel was cut through the trunk to make the road passable again.

Castle Rocks, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Moro Rock is a granite dome that affords one of the best views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In the 1930s, a 400-step stairway was cut into and poured onto the rock so visitors could climb to the top.

Forest Center, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hiking trails wind through the sequoia grove and meadows. Moro Rock-Crescent Meadow Road leads to Moro Rock, Tunnel Log, and the High Sierra Trail. The Big Trees Trail offers an easy hike around a meadow that’s ideal for families and people in wheelchairs.

Did You Know?

After spending five days with five men cutting down a single sequoia, Walter Fry counted the growth rings on the fallen giant. The answer shocked him into changing careers. In just a few days they had ended 3266 years of growth. Fry later became a park ranger and, in 1912, the parks’ superintendent.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Between Kings River and the Kaweah, we enter the colossal forests of the main continuous portion of the sequoia belt.

—John Muir, 1876