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, and some unusual clusters of sequoia. The Congress Trail is the most impressive trail in the park; no other trail has so many big sequoias in such a short distance.
It’s easy to follow the loop: just stay on the paved trail and, whenever you see a paved trail to your left, take it.
At the north end of the trail, the hillsides are unusually stark and barren, with no groundcover or understory whatsoever. Although a lot of peoyle go off-trail to take pictures in this area, it looks like this is the natural state of the area as opposed to the result of people trampling the vegetation. The south end of the trail has a much more attractive appearance and is the real payoff for hiking this loop.
Although the trail to the Sherman Tree is a continuous stream of people, almost everyone turns around after reaching it. A few hundred yards past the tree the Congress Trail becomes remarkably quiet, with maybe a group every 1-2 minutes at peak times.
Start in the always-busy Sherman Tree parking lot. I’ve always been able to find parking, but if it’s really busy, shuttles from the nearby campgrounds and visitor centers are available.
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 bit of a climb back to the parking lot; however, in summer you can always take the shuttle back to the lot.
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.
The forest becomes much more interesting, with more big sequoias, as you near the barely-visible Alta Trail on your left. The impressive stretch of trail from here to the McKinley Tree is the best part of the hike.
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. The trail then descends into an attractive and densely wooded area with a large number of sequoias scattered around. Two rather unusual clusters of relatively small trees, the Senate and House, are in this area. This is the most scenic part of the trail. The quietness and peacefulness of the woods contrasts dramatically with the busy Sherman Tree area.
The trail reaches a 5-way junction at the massive McKinley Tree. The Alta Trail is a worthwhile side trip; it’s about a quarter-mile to the Lincoln Tree. The other trails lead into lush, sequoia-studded woodland.
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, 2019 David Baselt