Since 2011 visitors haven’t been allowed to drive to Crescent Meadow on summer weekends, so the only ways to get to Crescent Meadow is to take a shuttle or walk. Fortunately, it turns out to be a great walk.
The outbound half of this loop mostly passes through typical Sierra pine woodlands with some sweeping views, a few big trees, and a chance to climb Moro Rock. After reaching Crescent and Log Meadows, the loop returns through the stately old growth of the Giant Forest, passing through several different environments. I’ve seen visitors hiking the loop as far as Tharp’s Log and then taking the shuttle back from Crescent Meadow, but in so doing they miss the best of the giant sequoias.
This certainly isn’t a wilderness hike, since it includes some the park’s biggest tourist attractions. But only the Giant Forest Museum area and Moro Rock are really crowded. The Crescent Meadow area can get a little busy; at peak times you might see a group every minute. Everywhere else you’ll pretty much have the trail to yourself. Overall, the constantly-changing scenery and many points of interest make this a really fun hike and a great introduction to the Giant Forest.
The Moro Rock Trail, which is well marked with a big wooden sign, begins across the street to the right of the Giant Forest Museum. The trail winds through pine woods, offers a brief view of the Central Valley, and then passes through an area with lots of dead trees. After passing over a little rise, the sceney improves dramatically as the trail descends slightly into a lush and very attractive sequoia grove, where some huge trees stand by a little brook in a shallow glen.
For an optional side trip, when the Moro Rock Trail meets a paved road, take the trail to the right toward Hanging Rock. The trail pushes through some dense brush and then climbs to a somewhat anticlimatic ovoid boulder sitting on a granite outcropping with a view to the west. The best part of the side trail isn’t Hanging Rock but the dramatic views of Moro Rock, which actually looks a lot more impressive from this vantage point than it does when climbing it. This side trip adds 0.2 miles to the hike.
Back on the Moro Rock Trail, the route jogs to the right as it crosses the road, then continues through a pine forest and soon arrives at the busy Moro Rock parking area and shuttle stop. It’s a fun climb up to the top of the rock. Even though visitors can’t drive here any more in the summer (most people take the shuttle), the rock is still one of the park’s main attractions and on a nice summer weekend there’s a nearly constant stream of people clomping up and down the narrow, winding steps carved into the rock. The rock isn’t as busy before 10 am, but the views are better in the afternoon when the sun illuminates the mountains to the east.
Continuing on from Moro Rock, the trail resumes behind the shuttle stop, descending through a tangle of cut logs, probably the victims of a bark beetle infestation. There’s a rather impressive cluster of sequoias just past Moro Rock, but otherwise there aren’t any sequoias between here and Crescent Meadow. Instead, the trail winds through typical and very pleasant Sierra pine forest. At the intersection with the Badger Point Trail, go right; the trail emerges onto a sunny granite face where a crystal-clear creek cascades down a little channel carved into the rock.
The trail briefly vanishes at the rock face. Stay to the left, skirting the edge of the rock and crossing the creek, to pick up the trail again. The trail climbs up to Badger Point, where there’s a superb view to the west. Both Moro Rock and Castle Rock, a dramatic granite spire across the valley, are clearly visible.
The trail crosses a little meadow and then descends toward Crescent Meadow. Turn left onto the High Sierra Trail and then immediately right onto the paved Tharp Log Trail, which briefly skirts Crescent Meadow. Although it’s one of the more scenic sights of the hike, there aren’t actually a lot of sequoias around this meadow. The trail then cuts over to Log Meadow, which has a few sequoias but still not that many.
Tharp’s Log is a hollow sequoia log that was converted into a crude shelter by a 19th century rancher. The same rancher also built the much nicer Cattle Cabin nearby.
After Tharp’s Log, the trail climbs over a low ridge and finally enters real sequoia forest. The trail offers a brief glimpse of a large burned area, then descends into an attractive fern-filled glade. The stately old growth, which is very open, pine-scented and remarkably quiet, is typical of the Giant Forest.
A prominent spur to the right leads to the Chimney Tree, a rather severely damaged hollow tree with little hole in the bottom where you can walk in. Back on the main trail, turn right at the next intersection, following the sign toward the Sherman Tree, then turn left onto the Huckleberry Meadow Trail. The redwoods become more common but smaller in this area. At the Squatters Cabin, a stout, well-built little log cabin next to an attractive cluster of big sequoias, turn right.
The trail climbs a small hill studded with half a dozen immense sequoias. At the top of the hill the trail emerges into an open area before beginning its descent down the other side of the hill. Interestingly, although the west side of the hill is much more lush, the sequoias are, at least at first, smaller. The lush look mainly comes from the hazel shrubs that grow here. The scenery gets increasingly lush, with ferns carpeting the ground and leafy mountain dogwood above, as the trail descends into a densely-wooded and exceptionally attractive glen, one of the best parts of the Giant Forest. The area is especially attractive in the spring, when the dogwood trees bloom.
Follow the Hazelwood Trail toward the Giant Forest Museum. This area has some really impressive sequoias. The trail becomes paved and passes a spur to the Big Trees Trail and Round Meadow, a worthwhile detour if you have the time and energy. The paved trail climbs gently as it returns to the Giant Forest Museum.
© 2011, 2012, 2018 David Baselt