Camping in Kings Canyon/Giant Sequoia National Park

Photographs by Tala Parker and Hana Robertson

Photographs by Tala Parker and Hana Robertson

I love being in nature, smelling salty ocean air or taking in the breathtaking beauty of trees. It makes me feel human; mortal in a world that has been evolving for billions of years. Because of this, I was very excited to go camping in Giant Sequoia National Park where some of the oldest living things in the world take root.

Giant Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Forest is one of my favorite places on earth. During the summer, the days are a perfect 70-80f (20-30c) degrees. The sequoias themselves are breathtaking. The trees, some of which have severe burn marks and still grow strong, are up to three thousand two hundred years old. They tower over all others, their scruffy red bark and thick almost broccoli like branches distinct. Sequoias require fire to continue to thrive. Fire not only causes the trees to release their tiny oatmeal sized seeds, but it also burns away the underbrush to clear space for saplings while fertilizing the soil. The destructive force occasionally burns through the fire-resistant bark of mature sequoias and leaves them with hollow centers or with most of the tree burned away. However, the trees only require a small ring of flesh between the bark and the center to spread nutrients, so many sequoias can continue to grow even after a severe fire. I would highly recommend visiting the ancient trees.

Where to go

Overlook

Great chance to park the car and stretch your legs before making the final drive into the park. The location has views of the mountains and valley.

Dorst Creek

I reserved a camping spot at Dorst Creek about a month before going to the park. The camping grounds had many camping spots scattered throughout a few miles of land, some near a small creek, others near large boulders, and some surrounded by trees. Most spots had a small driveway for your car/RV, a fire pit, a bear-proof storage bin, and an area to set up a tent. Across the campsite, there were a few bathrooms with cold running water. They were quite clean but without electricity. At the camp, I was lucky enough to see a bear with her young cub. I would recommend staying at Dorst Creek if you don’t mind being near other campers.

Muir Grove

There is a large grove of sequoias which you can hike to directly from the Dorst Creek campsite. The hike takes about an hour and a half, maybe an hour if you walk quickly. It was my favorite hike, partially because it was much less traveled compared to some of the others. The trail takes you through groves of trees and meadows, along a cliffside, over a creek, and finally to a hidden grove of sequoias. Along the way, I saw a deer with her two young fawns.

General Sherman Tree

The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world. It stands tall but has an abrupt knobby end at its crown. This is where it was struck by lightning after the initial few hundred years of its growth, preventing it from growing taller. This caused it to grow in width for the next few thousand years. The base of the tree is truly massive and was quite an impressive sight to see. Surrounding the tree, there are numerous nice hikes which I explored for a few hours, stopping to eat the lunch I packed. At one spot I had the opportunity to see a small grove of sequoia saplings which was really interesting as they look much more delicate and spindly than I imagined such a large, strong tree would look.

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Giant Forest Museum

Near General Sherman Tree there is a small museum with information about the life of sequoias as well as information about the park. The museum also sells some souvenirs, such as postcards and shirts.

Beetle Rock

Located between the parking lot and overflow parking lot for General Sherman Tree, Beetle Rock provides a good view of the valley and surrounding mountains.

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Tunnel Log

Famous downed sequoia with a large cut which you can drive through. It’s pretty touristy, and you’ll likely end up waiting in line in your car for a few minutes before you can drive through and stop to take photos.

Moro Rock

The climb to the top of Moro Rock is steep and requires climbing many steps but it provides an amazing view of the surrounding mountains and valley. I recommend going at sunset. Make sure to bring layers and snacks and leave before it’s too dark so you can see your descent down the stairs.

Kings Canyon Visitor Center

Similar to the Giant Forest Museum, the Kings Canyon Visitor Center is a small museum and souvenir shop with info about sequoias, located near General Grant Tree.

General Grant Tree

General Grant Tree is the second tallest sequoia in the world. Like General Sherman, it was interesting to see and inspired in me a sense of awe at its sheer size and age. However, the surrounding hikes were not as nice as those around General Sherman Tree. The trails were very dusty and fairly uninteresting.