Round Meadow is one of the best short hikes in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The scenic meadow, surrounded by immense old sequoias, epitomizes the distinctive scenery of the Giant Forest; no other old-growth sequoia grove has big meadows like this. The meadow is a quick walk from the Giant Forest Museum, but if you want to avoid the busy parking lot, it's possible to park on the Generals Highway, step right into an especially nice part of the old-growth forest, and walk a short distance to the meadow. On busy days this route feels much less touristy, and the unusually lush vegetation along the way makes it one of the more scenic walks in the area.
Until 1997, Round Meadow was a major hub of activity, with cabins, a restaurant, and the park headquarters in the woods on the east side of the meadow — all told, over 100 structures. However, the area has been restored and now no hint of the development remains.
To find the parking area, first find the Round Meadow parking lot, which is reserved for handicapped parking only. If you're driving south, if possible turn into the lot and make a U-turn, so that you're headed north (uphill) on the Generals Highway. Drive a few hundred yards and look for a pullout on your right, big enough for maybe five cars. Park here.
From the pullout, an unmarked trail enters the woods. Take this trail, which immediately passes by some huge sequoias, and after a hundred yards turn right onto the Hazelwood Nature Trail. Cross the footbridge and at the next intersection continue straight.
Because of their relatively low elevation the woods are unusually lush, with a groundcover of grasses and ferns, an understory of small dogwood trees, and a moderately dense canopy overhead. At the same time, the woods are still very open, allowing good views of the big sequoias. Overall it's a very pleasant walk. The dogwoods are covered with white blooms in spring and turn bright yellow in the fall.
The Alta Trail (this part is also called the Hazelwood Nature Trail) descends gently through some impressive sequoia forest. Shortly after the trail becomes paved and passes through a hole cut into a fallen tree, turn right onto the paved trail marked "Big Trees".
Crossing the road, the trail passes through the Round Meadow parking lot, which is for handicapped parking only. Continue straight and follow the paved trail around the meadow. This is one of the best meadows in the Giant Forest, with a lot of really big sequoias right at its edge. The biggest trees are at the beginning and end of the loop, but there are some more big trees and great views of the meadow at about the halfway point.
On the way back, take the right-hand branch of the Hazelwood Nature Trail. It's longer and maybe a little less impressive, but it's still very scenic and a nice way to see a little more of the Giant Forest. At the apex, there's a narrow, attractive meadow to your right, alongside the Alta Trail.
© 2011, 2013 David Baselt