From rolling foothills to immense forests to sheer granite peaks rising above lush meadows and broad lake basins, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks astound visitors with their wild beauty.
Sequoia National Park was established on September 25, 1890, making it our country’s second national park. Fifty years later, on March 4, 1940, Congress established Kings Canyon National Park, which is adjacent to the north boundary of Sequoia. Since World War II, these neighboring parks have been administered jointly. Today, more than 1.5 million people enjoy the beautiful sights at these parks each year.
As we celebrate more than 125 years of protecting this unique California landscape, learn more about these two incredible parks.
1. Sequoia was the first park created to protect a living organism. Found only in the unique environment of the western Sierra, the massive sequoia trees grow at between 5,000 and 8,000 feet in elevation. The relatively mild winters at that elevation, along with a traditional history of fire, has made the mid-Sierra zone the perfect habitat for sequoias. To protect the giant sequoias from logging, Sequoia National Park was established in 1890.
2. Before Kings Canyon, there was General Grant National Park. A week after Sequoia was created in 1890, General Grant National Park was established to protect the sequoias in the General Grant Grove. In 1940, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a new national park called Kings Canyon that incorporated the area of General Grant National Park with the spectacular canyons and high Sierra country to the east. Since Kings Canyon’s roots go back to General Grant National Park, it shares the title of our country’s third national park with Yosemite National Park.
3. Fire and proactive forest management play a unique role in the parks. Science has taught us the importance of fire’s role in the ecosystem in places like Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Heat from low-intensity fires allows sequoia cones to open and drop their seeds in the fresh ash bed -- seeds the size of an oatmeal flake! Sequoia and Kings Canyon were the first national parks west of the Mississippi to use prescribed burning as way to not only protect, but to ensure the long-term survival and rejuvenation of giant sequoias. Active fire and fuels management started here in the 1960's and is a practice that is used today to reduce hazardous fuel loads and to maintain a healthy forest.
4. Sequoia is home to the tallest mountain in the lower 48. Towering 14,494 feet, Mount Whitney lies on the eastern border of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest. While Mount Whitney is a sight to see, a mountain ridge called the Great Western Divide blocks its view from Sequoia’s roads on the west side. The best place to view Mount Whitney without hiking a long way is the Interagency Visitor Center on Highway 395.
5. Sequoias are some of the largest and oldest trees in the world. These massive trees can live for over 3,000 years thanks to a chemical in their bark called tannin, which helps to protect against rot, boring insects and even fire. These magnificent trees can grow as tall as a 26-story building, averaging between 180 and 250 feet tall. The most famous resident of Sequoia National Park -- the General Sherman Tree -- stretches almost 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter, making it the largest tree in the world by volume. Learn more about some of the other remarkable trees you can see on public lands.
6. Most of these parks are wilderness. Over the past 125 years, Congress has expanded Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to 1,353 square miles -- of which over 95 percent is designated and managed as wilderness. The parks’ wilderness protects areas from the foothills to the high country that teem with granite peaks and glacial canyons for visitors to explore.
7. Susan Thew’s photographs expanded Sequoia National Park. In August 1923, Susan Thew left the Giant Forest for the High Sierra to join the campaign to promote the expansion of Sequoia National Park. Thew spent her summers photographing some of the most rugged terrain in the U.S. Her photographs became the most complete visual record of the area to date, and were integral to the passage of the 1926 bill to enlarge Sequoia National Park. Years later, Thew’s gazetteer approach inspired the photographic campaign of Ansel Adams to create Kings Canyon National Park.
8. The parks’ wide elevation range hosts diverse ecosystems and wildlife habitat. The parks stretch from 1,300 feet in the foothills to 14,494 feet in the high Sierra -- an amazing elevational range that creates a topographic diversity supporting over 1,200 species of vascular plants and over 315 different species of animals across elevation zones. Some of these stunning animals include peregrine falcons, black bears, and even the western and mountain bluebirds. The parks also contain some of the widest array of pines, from the massive sugar pine to the ponderosa pine and the high-elevation foxtail and whitebark pines.
9. The parks have over 800 miles of trails. With trails winding by the famed sequoias, sheer cliffs, river canyons and rocky mountain passes, a hike is the best way to see the varied ecosystems of the Sierra. The famous John Muir Trail, a 221-mile trail stretching from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, travels through Kings Canyon and into Sequoia. Prime hiking season is from July to September, when the weather is sunny and dry. Check out the parks’ guide to some of the other fantastic trails and decide what is best for you.
10. The trees aren’t the only natural wonders in the parks. The incredible geology of Sequoia and Kings Canyon created marvels like Sequoia’s Crystal Cave, a marble cavern that contains a half-mile loop trail. The cave’s formations are fragile, so the only way to see it in person is on a guided tour. If you’d like to do some above-ground exploration, climb one of the iconic granite domes of the Sierra at Sequoia’s Moro Rock. Here visitors can take in a stunning view of the Great Western Divide, if they’re willing to brave the 350 steps.
11. Mountaineering is a popular activity at the parks. Norman Clyde is a legend among the mountaineering community for being the first to reach over 130 peaks -- many of which are in the Sierra Nevada. Modern climbers can follow in Clyde’s path by scaling incredible routes throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Climbs range from easy to extraordinarily difficult, including the popular Angel Wings, Obelisk, Grand Sentinel and Charlotte Dome. Check for rock-climbing closures before heading out -- part of Sequoia’s Moro Rock closes annually to climbing during peregrine falcon nesting season.
For those who’ve seen “nature’s cathedral” in person, they can attest that pictures really can’t do justice to the wonders of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. You have to experience this wild beauty for yourself -- start planning your trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon today.