Sequoia National Park is a fantastic destination for families looking to explore the great outdoors. With its towering trees, scenic vistas, and diverse wildlife, this park offers a unique experience that kids of all ages will love. However, with the recent forest fires that have affected the area, planning a trip to Sequoia National Park requires a bit more preparation and awareness. As a parent, you want to ensure that your kids are safe and have a memorable experience.
In this ultimate guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about exploring Sequoia National Park with your kids during the forest fire season, and the importance of fire in this larger than life ecosystem. From the best trails to take to safety precautions you should follow, we'll help you plan a trip that is both enjoyable, educational and responsible. So grab your hiking boots and get ready to create some unforgettable memories with your family in one of the most beautiful national parks in the country.
Sequoia National Park
Cool morsels: Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park was among the first national parks ever created, designated as such in 1890. Visitors for thousands of years--for this was home to American Indian tribes long before modern European discovery--have stood in awe of the trees here, which are the world’s largest by volume and the third oldest on the planet. General Sherman, a tree you’ll see on your Sequoia National Park visit, is the largest of all sequoias. At 275 feet tall and over twelve million pounds, it is 2.5 times longer and over 35 times heavier than the largest blue whales!
There was a time in early park history when tunnels were cut into sequoias in order to attract more people into the park. Thankfully, times have changed. The goal in the park now is to allow nature to run its course with only minimal human interference. Visitors are still welcome into the park to see the giant sequoias that stand healthy and whole.
Consider the following quote from famous California naturalist John Muir:
“Barring accidents [giant sequoias] seem to be immortal, being exempt from all diseases that afflict and kill other trees. Unless destroyed by man, they live on indefinitely until burned, smashed by lightning, or cast down by storms, or by the giving way of the ground on which they stand.”
As Muir noted, giant sequoias are masters of survival. If you’ve already visited and completed the lesson for Calaveras Big Trees State Park, then you know that these trees have many traits that help them withstand all sorts of challenges, even forest fires. In this section, we’ll learn all about forest fire ecology, and how to keep sequoias--and the rest of the forest--happy and healthy.
What you can see and do!
1) Hike to General Sherman Tree, 1 mile round trip: This trail not only takes you to the worlds largest tree, General Sherman, but also lets you walk close to other giant sequoias where you can feel the hair like bark. There is also a cutting from a giant sequoia on display on the trail where you can see holes in the cutting where the tree healed itself after several fires.
3) Walk on top of a fallen sequoia and hang on its strong roots: This fallen sequoia is located along the road on the way to Moro Rock. There is parking right next to it. This is a great spot for pictures.
4) Big Trees Trail, 1 mile loop: This trail feels almost mythical, like at any moment a unicorn might walk out from behind a tree. It won't though, but if your quite you might see some deer and hear all sorts of birds.
This trail is well worth your time as you follow a flat boardwalk as it loops around a lush green marsh and more incredible giant sequoias.
5) Tokopah Falls, 4 mile round trip trail: Beautiful hike along the Kaweah River that leads you through tall granite cliffs. The waterfall sits along large boulders where you can picnic, sketch, and relax.
This hike in Sequoia has lots of surprises so keep your eyes alert, you may find marmots as you near the rocky areas or even snow flowers.
Pro Planning Tips
Season: Spring, winter and fall
Time Needed: 2 days
Hike Moro rock early or late in the day, the trail is in full sun. There are a lot of steps along a large dome to get to the top. There is a small rock wall along the trail edge but it can be a scary trail if you have a fear of heights.
General Sherman is the busiest area of the park, expect a long line to take a picture in front of General Sherman, go at dusk for less crowds.
To get to Tokopah Falls, park at the end of Lodgepole Campground near the bridge, walk across the bridge to find the trailhead.
Don’t swim in the Kaweah River by the Tokopah Falls Trail. People have drowned here, it has swift strong currents.
Many people who visit sequoia only go to see General Sherman and the other big trees, make sure to do the other hikes because they are less crowded and still impressive.
Your vehicle can only drive through tunnel log if it is shorter than 8 feet tall. There is a small road to drive around it if your vehicle is too big.
Giant Sequoias need fire
You may be surprised to hear that forest fires are an important part of the Giant Sequoia forest ecosystem. In other words fires are needed for these incredible trees to survive. Fire in this forest is needed in order for a sequoia cone to open and release its seeds. Some cones will sit on the trees for years waiting for a fire, before falling to the ground. Fire is also needed to clear the debris and shrubs that might have grown near the Sequoia tree. This produces fertile soil and makes room for the new trees to grow and receive sunlight.
Dig Deeper with a Learning Adventure
If you love exploring the California mountains with you kids, the California Adventure Activity Book is a great resource for your family. It includes our Top 10 Sierra Nevada destinations (Including Sequoia National Park) with activities for each location and fun earth science lessons. It's like a Junior Ranger program for each location. Here are some of the things included:
- 10 adventures in the CA Sierra Nevadas
- 10 Earth Science Lessons
- 10 Hands-On Science Activities
- 10 Coloring Pages
- 1 Sticker Map
- Reward Tickets
- 10 Scavenger Hunts
- Journal Pages
Fire Management Learning Activity
The book includes 10 earth science lessons and fun activities. For the Sequoia National Park adventure, you'll learn about Fire Management through a fun activity called "Matchstick Forest Fire". It's simple and fun, and one of the few times its OK to play with matches. (With parent supervision of course!) All of the lessons in this book are simple and fun and help you get even more out of your adventures.
The book also contains a scavenger hunt pages for each adventure that you can cut out and fold up into a booklet. Here are some of the things you'll be looking for and learning about on your trip to Sequoia National Park.
The General Sherman tree is 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base making it the largest tree in the world by volume. Its thickest branch is 6.8 feet thick! There is a fence around General Sherman to protect its roots from soil compaction from lots of visitors.
The Douglas squirrel (Chickaree) is an omnivore that eats seeds, fungi, insects, eggs, small animals, and even small snakes. It opens sequoia cones to eat their seeds. While eating, some of the seeds will fall to the ground, helping the sequoia to reproduce.
After a fire a sequoia will heal itself by slowly covering its burn with new wood and bark. Sequoias need fire to survive. It releases seeds from their cones, creates ash nutrient rich soil, reduces competition from other trees.
Closed Sequoia Cone
A closed sequoia cone can grow about 2-3 inches long, about the size of a chicken egg. It is green colored and can stay on a tree for up to 22 years. They need fire to dry them up so they can open.
Mountain dogwood trees (pacific dogwood) can grow up to 30 feet tall and have large snow white flowers that bloom in the spring. In CA they can be found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and NW coastal Mountains. Their leaves are 2-5 in long, oval shaped and have fuzzy hairs on the back.
Fires in Sequoia National Park
It is common for fires to be active in Sequoia National Park. Some are natural fires, but many are prescribed meaning that they are set by the park on purpose and controlled so they stay small. This might make different areas of the park or trails close down, so check the park website (Sequoia Current Fires) to stay up to date on any closures.
You may be wondering why these fires are not just prevented or suppressed. By setting small fires the park is able to prevent large, out of control forest fires that may occur if too much forest debris or cluttered plant life was to build up on the forest floor. Giant Sequoias have a natural tannin in their bark that helps them to be resistant to disease and fire. As long as the fires aren't too large or burn for too long, sequoias can survive them and even heal themselves. Large, long burning, out of control fires can kill the whole forest.
While fire season in Sequoia National Park is year round you can still have a fun and safe trip with your kids to the park. Check the park website linked above to see closures and plan what you see and do in the park around them.