Adjacent to the better known Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and within the Sequoia National Forest, the Giant Sequoia National Monument can be visited as part of a circuit to witness the otherworldly beauty of the largest trees on the planet, a species which now in the US only grows on a narrow stretch along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The monument was designated in 2000 to protect 33 lesser known sequoia groves and to better control the destruction of the forests around them. It currently includes over 300,000 acres (121,000 ha) inside the national forest, split in two separate sections: the northern one in the Hume Lake Ranger District and adjacent to the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks; and the southern one in the Western Divide Ranger District. We drove from the north and stopped at the Sequoia National Forest office in Dunlap to get maps and information, then headed to the Converse Basin Grove. This is where you’ll see the few survivors of an era when the forest was being turned to timber and a lot of giant sequoias were felled. The short 2.5-mile loop hike to see the Boole Tree will bring you to the 6th largest tree in the world and the only one that remained from the 19th century in this grove. Nearby is the easy walk to the Chicago Stump, to see the stump of what was once known as the “General Noble” tree, a giant from the ancient past which was felled, cut into pieces and reassembled at the Columbia Exhibition in Chicago in 1898. Young sequoias now are making a comeback and it’s not all a trip into a lost past. In fact, sequoias aren’t the only giants here, and you’ll be amazed by the height of the ponderosa pines growing next to the ancient trees. We spent the night at the Big Meadows campsite area, off the scenic General Highway. The roads inside the forest and the monument toward some of the campsites and trailheads are pretty rough and mostly unpaved, so an appropriate vehicle is necessary if you want to reach them by car. However, many trailheads are available from paved roads. Sleeping at 7,600 ft (2,300 m), nestled between ponderosa pines and surrounded by the Sierra Nevada was one of the best experiences of the whole roadtrip to national monuments. In September when we visited in the middle of the week, we enjoyed plenty of privacy at this otherwise popular campsite area. The next morning we made the short trip to the Buck Rock Lookout, a remainder of the old network of fire lookouts nestled on top of an impressive rock and connected to the ground by a flight of 172 steps. Open June-October from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm, it’s absolutely worth seeing because you won’t get a better panorama of the forest, the Sierras and the Great Western Divide than from this lookout. There are many camping options in the northern part of the monument, developed or wild, RV sites, as well as lodges and cabins in the adjacent national parks. You can play around with the US Forest Service’s interactive map to find them all. For a private “glamping” option check out the Sequoia High Sierra Camp. You’ll find shops, delis and gas stations in the small nearby communities. In the southern section of the national monument, close to Springville, we walked the short interpretive Trail of 100 Giants, to see a grove with old sequoias and giant ponderosa pines. There were a lot of trees down to the ground, apparently affected by disease, which made the site look partly like a timber yard. Even so, with the morning mist and the haze from nearby wildfires, the whole experience was quite magical and is worth a visit. The parking lot across the road from the trailhead has a pay station with a small fee to visit this grove. The scenic road through the southern section of the monument is in great condition and can be accessed by any car, as are most of the campsites and campgrounds along it. There are lodges and cabins with diners and shops along the road as well. This map contains a bit more information about the monument than the online one from the National Forest Service, but it’s still incomplete. At the office in Dunlap we found maps of individual groves with trails and campsites, which are also available online here at the bottom of the page. Before heading there read the Presidential Proclamation through which the monument was established to get a better picture of why it was protected. If you wish to get in touch with a local organization that supports this monument contact the Sierra Business Council and the Sequoia ForestKeeper.
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