Sequoia National Park is a national park in the southern Sierra Nevada east of Visalia, California, in the United States. It was established on September 25, 1890. The park spans 404,064 acres (631.35 sq mi; 163,518.90 ha; 1,635.19 km2). Encompassing a vertical relief of nearly 13,000 feet (4,000 m), the park contains among its natural resources the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States, Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet (4,418 m) above sea level. The park is south of and contiguous with Kings Canyon National Park; the two are administered by the National Park Service together as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. They were designated the UNESCO Sequoia-Kings Canyon Biosphere Reserve in 1976.
The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman tree, the largest tree on Earth. The General Sherman tree grows in the Giant Forest, which contains five out of the ten largest trees in the world. The Giant Forest is connected by the Generals Highway to Kings Canyon National Park's General Grant Grove, home to the General Grant tree among other giant sequoias. The park's giant sequoia forests are part of 202,430 acres (81,921 ha) of old-growth forests shared by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Indeed, the parks preserve a landscape that still resembles the southern Sierra Nevada before Euro-American settlement.
Many park visitors enter Sequoia National Park through its southern entrance near the town of Three Rivers at Ash Mountain at 1,700 ft (520 m) elevation. The lower elevations around Ash Mountain contain the only National Park Service-protected California Foothills ecosystem, consisting of blue oak woodlands, foothills chaparral, grasslands, yucca plants, and steep, mild river valleys. The region is also home to abundant wildlife: bobcats, foxes, ground squirrels, rattlesnakes, and mule deer are commonly seen in this area, and more rarely, reclusive mountain lions and the Pacific fisher are seen as well. The last California grizzly was killed in this park in 1922 (at Horse Corral Meadow). The California Black Oak is a key transition species between the chaparral and higher elevation conifer forest.
At higher elevations in the front country, between 5,500 and 9,000 feet (1,700 and 2,700 m) in elevation, the landscape becomes montane forest-dominated coniferous belt. Found here are Ponderosa, Jeffrey, sugar, and lodgepole pine trees, as well as abundant white and red fir. Found here too are the giant sequoia trees, the most massive living single-stem trees on earth. Between the trees, spring and summer snowmelts sometimes fan out to form lush, though delicate, meadows. In this region, visitors often see mule deer, Douglas squirrels, and American black bears, which sometimes break into unattended cars to eat food left by careless visitors. There are plans to reintroduce the bighorn sheep to this park.
The vast majority of the park is roadless wilderness; no road crosses the Sierra Nevada within the park's boundaries. 84 percent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is designated wilderness and is accessible only by foot or by horseback.
Sequoia's backcountry offers a vast expanse of high-alpine wonders. Covering the highest-elevation region of the High Sierra, the backcountry includes Mount Whitney on the eastern border of the park, accessible from the Giant Forest via the High Sierra Trail. On a traveler's path along this 35-mile (56 km) backcountry trail, one passes through about 10 miles (16 km) of montane forest before reaching the backcountry resort of Bearpaw Meadow, just short of the Great Western Divide.
Continuing along the High Sierra Trail over the Great Western Divide via Kaweah Gap, one passes from the Kaweah River Drainage, with its characteristic V-shaped river valleys, and into the Kern River drainage, where an ancient fault line has aided glaciers in the last ice age to create a U-shaped canyon that is almost perfectly straight for nearly 20 miles (32 km). On the floor of this canyon, at least two days hike from the nearest road, is the Kern Canyon hot spring, a popular resting point for weary backpackers. From the floor of Kern Canyon, the trail ascends again over 8,000 ft (2,400 m) to the summit of Mount Whitney. At Mount Whitney, the High Sierra Trail meets with the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, which continue northward along the Sierra crest and into the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park.
The area which now comprises Sequoia National Park was first home to Monachee (or Western Mono) Native Americans, who resided mainly in the Kaweah River drainage in the Foothills region of the park, though evidence of seasonal habitation exists even as high as the Giant Forest. In the summertime, Native Americans would travel over the high mountain passes to trade with tribes to the East. To this day, pictographs can be found at several sites within the park, notably at Hospital Rock and Potwisha, as well as bedrock mortars used to process acorns, a staple food for the Monachee people.
By the time the first European settlers arrived in the area, smallpox had already spread to the region, decimating Native American populations. The first European settler to homestead in the area was Hale Tharp, who famously built a home out of a hollowed-out fallen giant sequoia log in the Giant Forest next to Log Meadow. Tharp allowed his cattle to graze the meadow, but at the same time had a respect for the grandeur of the forest and led early battles against logging in the area. From time to time, Tharp received visits from John Muir, who would stay at Tharp's log cabin. Tharp's Log can still be visited today in its original location in the Giant Forest.
However, Tharp's attempts to conserve the giant sequoias were at first met with only limited success. In the 1880s, white settlers seeking to create a utopian society founded the Kaweah Colony, which sought economic success in trading Sequoia timber. However, Sequoia trees, unlike their coast redwood relatives, were later discovered to splinter easily and therefore were ill-suited to timber harvesting, though thousands of trees were felled before logging operations finally ceased.
The National Park Service incorporated the Giant Forest into Sequoia National Park in 1890, the year of its founding, promptly ceasing all logging operations in the Giant Forest. The park has expanded several times over the decades to its present size; one of the most recent expansions occurred in 1978, when grassroots efforts, spearheaded by the Sierra Club, fought off attempts by the Walt Disney Corporation to purchase a high-alpine former mining site south of the park for use as a ski resort. This site known as Mineral King was annexed to the park. Its name dates back to early 1873 when the miners in the area formed the Mineral King Mining District. Mineral King is the highest-elevation developed site within the park and a popular destination for backpackers.
Sequoia National Park contains a significant portion of the Sierra Nevada. Included in the Park's mountainous landscape is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney, which rises to 14,494 feet (4,418 m) above sea level. The Great Western Divide parallels the Sierran crest. It is the mountains of the Great Western Divide that greet visitors in Mineral King and that can be seen from Moro Rock and the Giant Forest area. Peaks in the Great Western Divide climb to more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m). Between these mountains lie deep canyons, including Tokopah Valley above Lodgepole, Deep Canyon on the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River and deep in the park's backcountry, Kern Canyon, which is more than 5,000 feet (1,500 m) deep for 30 miles (48 km).
Most of the mountains and canyons in the Sierra Nevada are formed in granitic rocks. These rocks, such as granite, diorite and monzonite, formed when molten rock cooled far beneath the surface of the earth. The molten rock was a by-product of a geologic process known as subduction. Powerful forces in the earth forced the landmass under the waters of the Pacific Ocean beneath and below an advancing North American Continent. Super-hot water driven from the subjecting ocean floor migrated upward and melted rock as it went. This process took place during the Cretaceous Period, 100 million years ago. Granitic rocks have speckled salt and pepper appearance because they contain various minerals including quartz, feldspars and micas. Valhalla or the Angel Wings are prominent cliffs that rise above the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.
While geologists debate the details, it is clear that the Sierra Nevada is a young mountain range, probably not more than 10 million years old. Forces in the earth, probably associated with the development of the Great Basin, forced the mountains to grow and climb toward the sky. During the last 10 million years, at least four periods of glacial advance have coated the mountains in a thick mantle of ice. Glaciers form and develop during long periods of cool and wet weather. Glaciers move through the mountains like slow-motion rivers carving deep valleys and craggy peaks. The extensive history of glaciation within the range and the erosion resistant nature of the granitic rocks that make up most of the Sierra Nevada have together created a landscape of hanging valleys, waterfalls, craggy peaks, alpine lakes and glacial canyons.
Park caves, like most caves in the Sierra Nevada of California, are mostly solutional caves dissolved from marble. Marble rock is essentially limestone that was metamorphosed by the heat and pressure of the formation and uplift of the Sierra Nevada Batholith. The batholith's rapid uplift over the past 10 million years led to a rapid erosion of the metamorphic rocks in the higher elevations, exposing the granite beneath; therefore, most Sierra Nevada caves are found in the middle and lower elevations (below 7,000 ft or 2,100 m), though some caves are found in the park at elevations as high as 10,000 ft (3,000 m) such as the White Chief cave and Cirque cave in Mineral King. These caves are carved out of the rock by the abundant seasonal streams in the park; most of the larger park caves currently have or have had sinking streams running through them.
The park is home to over 240 known caves, and potentially hundreds more. The caves in the park include California's longest cave at over 20 miles (32 km), Lilburn Cave, as well as recently discovered caves that remain strictly off-limits to all but a handful of specialists who visit on rare occasions to study cave geology and biology. The only commercial cave open to park visitors remains Crystal Cave, the park's second-longest at over 3.4 miles (5.5 km) and remarkably well-preserved for the volume of visitation it receives annually. It was discovered on April 28, 1918 by Alex Medley and Cassius Webster. The cave is a constant 48 °F (9 °C), and only accessible by guided tour.
Caves are discovered every year in the park; in fact, 17 have been discovered since 2003 alone. The most recently discovered major cave in the park, in September 2006, has been named Ursa Minor. Park caves are valued by scientists and cavers alike for their pristine beauty, variety, and endemic cave life.
Animals that inhabit this park are coyote, badger, black bear, bighorn sheep, deer, fox, cougar, eleven species of woodpecker, various species of turtle, three species of owl, opossum, various species of snake, wolverine, roadrunner, beaver, various species of frog, and muskrat.
In addition to hiking, camping, fishing, and backpacking, the following attractions are highlights with many park visitors:Sherman Tree Trail An 0.8-mile roundtrip paved trail that descends from the parking lot to the base of the General Sherman tree and meanders through a grove of giant sequoia trees.
Tunnel Log is a fallen giant sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park. The tree, which measured 275 feet (84 m) tall and 21 feet (6.4 m) in diameter, fell across a park road in 1937 due to natural causes. The following year, a crew cut an 8-foot (2.4 m) tall, 17-foot (5.2 m) wide tunnel through the trunk, making the road passable again.
Tokopah Falls The trail to Tokopah Falls starts just beyond the Marble Fork Bridge in Lodgepole Campground. It is an easy 1.7 mile (one way) walk along the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River to the impressive granite cliffs and waterfall of Tokopah Canyon. Tokopah Falls is 1,200 feet (365.8 meters) high, and is most impressive in early summer.
Crescent Meadow is a small, sequoia-rimmed meadow in the Giant Forest region of Sequoia National Park. This sierran montane meadow marks the western terminus of the High Sierra Trail, which stretches from the meadow across the Great Western Divide to Mount Whitney. Pioneer Hale Tharp homesteaded in this and nearby Log Meadow. Conservationist John Muir visited this meadow many times and praised it highly calling it the "Gem of the Sierras". The meadow lies at the end of a three-mile paved road which leaves the Generals Highway near the Giant Forest Museum.
Moro Rock is a granite dome located in the center of the park, at the head of Moro Creek, between Giant Forest and Crescent Meadow. A 400-step stairway, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is cut into and poured onto the rock, so that visitors can hike to the top. The stairway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The view from the rock encompasses much of the Park, including the Great Western Divide. It has an elevation of 6,725 feet (2,050 m).
Campgrounds in the park include three in the foothills area: Potwisha (42 sites), Buckeye Flat (28 sites), and South Fork (10 sites). Four campgrounds are at higher, conifer-dominated elevations, ranging from 6,650 to 7,500 feet (2,000 to 2,300 m): Atwell Mill (21 sites), Cold Springs (40 sites), Lodgepole (214 sites), and Dorst Creek (204 sites).
Giant Forest Museum offers information about giant sequoias and human history in the forest. The historic museum was built in 1928 by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood.