The Sequoia Complex fires (also knows as the SQF Complex and previously known as the Castle Fire) were started by a major lightning event on August 17th, 2020. Between September 13th and 15th, the fire rapidly expanded through the Giant Sequoia National Monument, burning through the Freeman Creek, Belknap, Alder Creek, and Mountain Home groves. The following week, the fire burned through the Garfield and Dillonwood Groves in Sequoia National Park.
The Camp Nelson area, Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest, and Balch Park are currently closed. The Black Mountain Grove, which burned in a different fire a few years ago, is the one exception and is still open. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are also open. Even Garfield Grove is apparently still open, although it’s not clear what condition the trail is in.
|Overall Rating||Distance, miles||Climbing, feet||Trail name|
|Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks|
|* *||Grant Grove area (Kings Canyon National Park)|
|* * *||10.0||2200||Redwood Mountain Grove|
|* * *||0.4||50||Grant Grove|
|* * *||3.8||980||Evans Grove|
|*||2.3||140||Little Boulder Creek Grove|
|* * *||Kings Canyon (Kings Canyon National Park)|
|* * * *||1.5||90||Zumwalt Meadow|
|* * *||11.7||1530||Mist Falls and Paradise Valley|
|* * *||15.7||5220||Copper Creek Trail|
|* *||11.7||3440||Lewis Creek Trail|
|* *||7.2||1910||Hotel Creek Loop|
|*||10.6||3760||Don Cecil Trail|
|* * * *||Giant Forest area (Sequoia National Park)|
|* * * *||9.6||1380||Wolverton Cutoff Loop|
|* * * *||1.9||150||Round Meadow|
|* * * *||4.2||530||Muir Grove|
|* * * *||2.9||470||Congress Trail|
|* * *||14.9||2580||Sevenmile Loop|
|* * *||7.3||1360||Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow|
|* *||0.3||110||Lost Grove|
|* * * * *||22.6||3300||Bearpaw Meadow High Sierra Camp|
|* * * *||13.7||3920||Alta Peak|
|* * *||12.0||3000||Pear Lake|
|* * *||4.1||530||Tokopah Falls Trail|
|* *||14.1||2800||Twin Lakes|
|* *||9.6||2260||Middle Fork Trail|
|* * *||4.8||1270||Atwell Grove|
|* *||7.8||1370||East Fork Grove|
|* *||13.0||3850||Garfield Grove|
|Giant Sequoia National Monument|
|* *||Mountain Home area (Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest)|
|* *||2.3||530||Bogus Meadow|
|* *||Camp Nelson area (Giant Sequoia National Monument)|
|* * * *||5.5||2220||Bear Creek Trail|
|* *||7.7||1780||Nelson Trail|
|* *||7.4||1390||Freeman Creek Grove|
|* *||19.3||1600||Black Mountain Grove|
|*||5.1||820||Red Hill Grove|
|*||1.0||150||Stagg Tree (Alder Creek Grove)|
|* * *||1.4||120||Trail of 100 Giants|
|*||1.5||690||Deer Creek Grove|
Check these websites for the latest information.
The vast majority of sequoias are in a 70-mile-long stretch of the Sierra Nevada in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the neighboring Sequoia National Monument. Within this area, the National Park groves tend to be in the best condition; most National Monument groves have been clearcut, partially logged, or logged of non-sequoia conifers only.
This leaves Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as perhaps the best places to see the world’s biggest trees. These two neighboring parks contain about a third of the world’s sequoia forest, mostly in unlogged condition. The parks have many of the world’s biggest trees (including seven of the ten biggest), and the sheer mileage of old-growth trails greatly exceeds that of any other park.
But the sequoias are just a small part of the parks. The parks’ high country, with its distinctive granite landscapes and remote high lakes, is a dramatic contrast to the big trees and provides some of the best hiking in the area. The alpine scenery can’t be seen from the road or from the sequoia groves, so you won’t really feel like you’ve been to the mountains unless you venture into the backcountry.
Kings Canyon (the canyon itself, not the whole park) is another major attraction. The canyon doesn’t have quite the same scenic majesty as Yosemite Valley — it lacks the sheer vertical granite walls, the dramatic waterfalls, and the lushly-wooded valley floor — but it also doesn’t have any of Yosemite’s crowds and it’s not at all touristy. With a few exceptions, on most of the area’s trails it practically feels like you have the canyon to yourself.
The best time to visit the parks is from July through October. Temperatures are usually in the mid-70s, perfect for hiking, during these months, although some of the higher-elevation trails can still be covered with snow well into August. It’s common to hear rumbles of thunder in the summer and to see dark clouds building up over the peaks, but less common to actually get rained on. July is the most attractive month, with lots of wildflowers blooming (especially the purple lupines that grow among the sequoias), but on the other hand it also has the most bugs. Bug repellent is absolutely essential in July and August but unnecessary by October. It’s possible to visit the Giant Forest and Grant Grove in the winter, but the road between them is closed.
Giant Sequoia National Monument is part of the vast National Forest system. Unlike the National Parks, which were created to preserve their natural landscapes, National Forests are essentially government-owned agricultural lands. As a result, most National Forest sequoia groves have been partially logged, most notably in the 1980s when dirt roads were built into many pristine old-growth groves and a series of clearcuts made. The sequoias were left standing, but since they tend to be widely scattered, the big trees are now oddly isolated in open fields. Fortunately, only a small part of each sequoia grove was clearcut before the Giant Sequoia National Monument was created in 2000 to protect the groves from further logging.
Overall, the Monument isn’t as scenic as the national parks. The sequoias are just as impressive, but they’re only present along short sections of trail. And the Monument doesn’t have the spectacular high country or craggy peaks of the national parks.
On the other hand, especially if you’re a frequent visitor, the Monument is a lot more pleasant to visit. It’s a lot less busy; on most trails you probably won’t see anyone at all. It feels easier to drive to, with only about 20 miles of driving on twisty roads; since the people on the road are mostly locals, you don’t get stuck behind slow-moving cars that don’t pull over. There are fewer rules and regulations: there aren’t any entrance fees, you can camp at the side of any road for free, and you can gather firewood, walk your dog, and ride your mountain bike on any trail. Besides camping, hunting and off-roading seem to be the most popular activities.
The national monument is divided into a northern “Hume Lake” unit and a bigger southern “Western Divide” unit. The southern unit has almost all of the old-growth hikes, especially the area around the town of Camp Nelson.
The dirt roads and many of the paved roads in the Sequoia National Monument are closed each winter and spring, so with the exception of the Nelson Trail and the Bear Creek Trail the sequoias can’t be reached, sometimes until as late as July.
**** Giant Forest
The Giant Forest is the centerpiece of Sequoia National Park. It has the most scenic sequoia hikes as well as some spectacular high country trails.
*** Grant Grove
This heavily-developed area near the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park isn’t as scenic as the Giant Forest, but it has some significant sequoia groves, including Grant Grove, a popular attraction that contains the world’s second-largest tree, and the relatively undeveloped Redwood Mountain Grove, the world’s largest old-growth sequoia grove.
*** Kings Canyon
The actual canyon in Kings Canyon National Park doesn’t have any sequoia groves, but it offers a lot of challenging trails. Although most of them seem to have been built for backpackers, the area nontheless has some good day hikes.
*** Atwell Grove
This exceptional grove is located on a hillside above Mineral King Road. The grove has been partially logged but fortunately there’s no evidence of logging anywhere along the main trail. Unfortunately, not very much of the trail is actually within the big trees.
** East Fork Grove
Located right next to Atwell Grove, the East Fork Grove has a much different character, with a low density of sequoias and few really big sequoias.
Following is a listing of all the hotels and campgrounds in the Generals’ Highway area.
If the in-park options are full, it’s almost always possible to get a hotel room in Visalia or Fresno. Visalia, about an hour and a half from the Giant Forest, has a high-rise Marriott which is pretty decent, as well as a typical small-town business district with some good places to eat — much better than what’s available in the parks. Fresno, which is two hours from the Giant Forest and two hours from Kings Canyon, has a lot more options although it isn’t as nice.
Most campgrounds don’t have showers, but there are public pay showers next to the Grant Grove, Lodgepole, and Cedar Grove visitor centers. You’ll need at least $3 in quarters.
© 2011–2012 David Baselt