Winter, spring, summer and fall — there’s always something cool to do at Sequoia National Park. Summer months are peak season, when the park’s high-elevation trails are (generally) free of snow and open to backpackers. Winter brings calming solitude and unique sporting opportunities. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall draw visitors with wildflower blooms and brilliant fall colors, respectively.
Hiking and Backpacking
Day hikes through Sequoia National Park include popular routes through the park’s namesake attraction, the Giant Forest. The Big Trees Trail is a quick loop that goes around Round Meadow and includes placards that describe various aspects of sequoia ecology. The famous General Sherman Tree is located a half-mile walk from a trailhead on the Generals Highway that descends into a grove via stairs. Keep in mind that although these trails may be short, you’ll often be hiking at elevations exceeding 7,000 feet. Be prepared for the challenges of altitude — drink plenty of water and don’t over exert yourself!
If you’re planning an overnight trip in the extensive wilderness, you’ll need to pick up a backcountry permit first. Daily visitor quotas for the backcountry are enforced during peak season, late May to late September. Permits cost $15 inside quota periods and are free outside of quota periods. Many High Sierra trails depart from Crescent Meadow, including the 18-mile journey to Angel Wings in the Valhalla Cirque. Long Meadow and Fish Creek are also popular hiking trails.
Rock climbing is very popular in Sequoia National Park. There are many different ascents, some of them rising more than 1,000 feet up exposed granite cliffs. Angel Wings is a challenging climbing destination, called the “alpine El Capitan” — referencing the granite giant in Yosemite — by noted wilderness photographer and rock climber Galen Rowell. Its sheer surface rises more than 1,800 feet, and prospective climbers must venture 18 miles into the park’s backcountry just to get to it. Other rock faces that aren’t as remote include Moro Rock, Hospital Rock and Little Baldy, all of which can be accessed from Generals Highway.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails abound near the 9,200-foot high Pear Lake Ski Hut. The hut, which is open all winter long, is accessible via a six-mile hike from Wolverton Meadow. Just getting there will likely be a challenge due to the altitude, which gains more than 2,000 steep vertical feet from meadow to hut. The hut sleeps 10 people and costs $22 per night.
If you’re not feeling that adventurous, many of the lower-elevation areas of the park are open to skiers and snowshoers. Just be careful to avoid residential areas, plowed roads and other restricted areas. Wolverton also has an area reserved for snowplay with a pair of sledding hills.
There are more than 200 caves in Sequoia National Park, but Crystal Cave is the only one that is open to the general public (other caves are open by special permission to scientists who research cave ecology and biology). You can book tours to the cave seasonally from May to October, explore its 3.4-mile length and check out neat calcite formations. Photography is allowed inside the cave, but it’s only accessible via guided tour. The latter fact is probably what’s kept it so remarkably well preserved, despite years and years of heavy foot traffic.