The Congress Trail is a popular paved loop that starts at the General Sherman Tree, the largest in the world, and goes about a mile south to an impressive collection of immense sequoias, a few of which look just as big as the Sherman Tree. Also at the south end of the loop are two unusual groupings of somewhat smaller sequoias, the House and Senate groups.
Although overall the Congress Trail has the biggest sequoias of any trail in the park, the forest around the Congress Trail isn't as attractive as elsewhere in the Giant Forest. The hillsides around the trail are uncharacteristically stark and barren; there's no groundcover or understory whatsoever. This may be due to its hilltop location or perhaps to controlled burns; interestingly, the park is attempting to plant groundcover near the Sherman Tree.
The trail to the Sherman Tree is really busy, but almost everyone just goes to the Sherman Tree and back. The Congress Trail is pretty quiet in comparison.
Start in the always-busy Sherman Tree parking lot and join the parade of sightseers descending the paved trail to the Sherman Tree. It's a 200-foot descent to the tree, so there will be a pretty significant climb back to the parking lot, especially given the elevation. However, in summer there's a shuttle to and from the tree.
The trail bottoms out near the Sherman Tree. To your right is a short spur to the tree, which really is quite a stupendous sight. To your left, opposite the short spur, is the Congress Trail.
The trail gets off to a good start. Scattered around the Sherman Tree are a number of other pretty impressive sequoias, and the trail passes a few of these. The sequoias then thin out and the trail passes through more mundane pine forest, although there are still occasional sequoias to keep things interesting.
Look for the barely-visible Alta Trail on your left. A nice side trip would be to hike 0.4 miles up this trail to the first junction, where there's a little meadow surrounded by sequoias; the Alta Trail is strikingly lush, with a little creek and a plush green groundcover that blooms with purple lupines in July.
A few hundred yards after the Alta Trail, look for a paved trail to your left and take it rather than continuing straight. The left-hand trail, which has most of the major sights of the loop, soon reaches the immense President Tree, which looks a lot like the General Sherman tree but lacks the crowds. Two rather unusual clusters of relatively small trees, the Senate and House, follow in short order.
Several unpaved side trails branch off to the left. The first two lead into lush, sequoia-studded woodland, while the last leads to the Lincoln Tree, which stands in a rather barren-looking grove of dead, broken-off pine trunks, probably the result of a fire.
The main loop continues past large sequoias as it curves back toward the north. The sequoias thin out briefly, then the trail reaches the Sherman Tree area and climbs back up to the parking lot.
© 2011 David Baselt