At Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, you can witness some of the most spectacular landscapes and natural scenery in the United States. Home to soaring granite cliffs, deep canyons, and the largest tree in the world, this beautiful area boasts enough hiking trails to keep you busy for weeks. If you’re only visiting for a short period, however, these great day hikes provide a taste of the park’s most beautiful sights. As a bonus, the trails are all within an easy drive from most Fresno vacation rentals, which are situated in the central region of California. Check out the top day hikes in the area.
1. Congress Trail
Explore a wonderland of giant trees on the Congress Trail. The trail starts at the Sherman Tree parking lot, which sits between the Lodgepole Visitor Center and the Giant Forest Museum in the southern end of the park. The adventure begins with a steep descent to the stunning General Sherman Tree itself – the largest tree on earth. From there, a paved route wanders through the forest, offering awe-inspiring views of the park’s giant sequoias. Other than the steep, half-mile incline to and from the General Sherman Tree, the route consists mostly of gently rolling hills, making it a great choice for active kids. If you include the short spur from the parking lot, the full loop comes in just under 3 miles; with plenty of stops for photos, expect to spend about two hours total.
2. Big Trees Trail
If you’re traveling with toddlers or people with limited mobility, the Big Trees Trail is a fantastic way to experience the world-famous giant sequoias. This mostly flat, paved route starts at the Giant Forest Museum in the southwestern end of the park and loops around Round Meadow in the shade of towering pines. Along the way, check out the informative signs that illustrate the local ecology and the history of nearby trees. The Big Trees Trail is 2/3 mile long, and takes less than an hour to complete.
3. Soldiers Loop Trail and Moro Rock
Challenging and peaceful, the Soldiers Loop Trail provides the opportunity to experience the Giant Forest in near-complete solitude. After you head east from the Giant Forest Museum, the trail starts with a short but intense climb before continuing through flowering stands of Pacific dogwood and breathtaking pines. Near the end of the loop, take the short side trail up to Moro Rock to enjoy a panoramic view of the Great Western Divide. After your side excursion, you can hike back to the trailhead or, in the summer, hop on the shuttle back to the museum. With the Moro Rock trip, the loop is about 4.5 miles and four hours long. Several steep climbs and descents make the route unsuitable for small children, but active teenagers should have no problem navigating the hills.
4. Middle Fork Trail
Get out into the backcountry on the Middle Fork Trail, which starts near the Buckeye Flat Campground in the far southwestern corner of the park. Although this trail extends 14 miles out to Bearpaw Meadow, many day hikers turn around 3 miles in at Panther Creek Falls, making a pleasant 6-mile round trip that takes approximately 4 to 6 hours. With its gentle slope and packed-dirt surface, the trail is great for kids. Be aware that poison oak is common in the area, so take caution when choosing resting spots. It’s best to avoid the Middle Fork Trail in the summer, when the extreme temperatures increase your risk of heat exhaustion; the route is at its best in the spring, when wildflowers dot the slopes.
5. Zumwalt Meadow Trail
Experience the beauty of Kings Canyon on the 1.5-mile Zumwalt Meadow Trail, which meanders next to a river and through a lush green meadow. This spectacular trail, which offers gorgeous vistas of the park’s sheer rock cliffs, is the perfect option when you’re short on time; the entire route takes about an hour at a leisurely pace. Start from the trailhead parking lot, which sits approximately 4 miles east of the Cedar Grove Village road. Little ones can easily manage the path, which is mostly flat and includes several boardwalk sections.
6. Cedar Grove Overlook Trail
Combine spectacular views of Kings Canyon and a heart-pounding workout on the Cedar Grove Overlook Trail, which starts from Cedar Grove Village. After a series of strenuous switchbacks and an elevation gain of 1200 feet, you emerge at the top of a forested ridge; from there, head to the exposed overlook, a rocky outcropping with a view that’s well worth the climb. Because of its intensity, the trail isn’t recommended for toddlers or little ones on foot. The round trip is 5 miles long and takes approximately three to four hours.
7. Buena Vista Peak Trail
If you’re after views of the high Sierra, head straight for the Buena Vista Peak Trail. Starting from the parking area, which sits on the Generals Highway near Kings Canyon Overlook, the route climbs for a mile up the side of a granite peak. Plan to stay a while at the top, which looms above Redwood Canyon and offers full-circle views of the mountains and giant sequoias. Although the trail involves a great deal of climbing, it’s not technical, so you can feel confident bringing kids. The round trip is 2 miles and takes approximately one to two hours.
8. Bubbs Creek Trail
Enjoy the remote, off-the-beaten-path feeling of a backcountry hike without the need for camping gear on the Bubbs Creek Trail. As you pass through a former Indian village, up switchbacks, and along Copper Creek, it’s easy to feel a world away from civilization. Three miles in, stop for a dip in a brilliantly colored swimming hole that sits below a small waterfall. Turn around here, or continue on to Sphinx Creek for a picnic before heading back. The trail starts at the parking lot of Roads End Permit Station; if you go all the way to Sphinx Creek, expect a total distance of 8 miles and a minimum five hour round trip. The trail is possible for teenagers, but small children may have trouble on the steep switchbacks around mile 2. If you’re staying at a nearby vacation rental, arrive early to avoid the possibility of afternoon rainstorms.
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