The biggest attraction (pun definitely intended) in Sequoia National Park is, without a doubt, the General Sherman Tree. If you see just one tree during your Sequoia visit, this is the one. But of course, you’ll want to see some others as well, which is why you’ll want to hike the Congress Trail, a loop that begins and ends near the Sherman Tree. The Congress Trail is good, but there’s a secret bonus hike along the way that’s even better, and I’ll reveal it below.
The General Sherman Tree is located along Generals Highway, about mid-way through Sequoia National Park (south of Lodgepole and north of the Giant Forest Museum). During the busy summer months, parking at the General Sherman Tree trailhead is limited to handicapped visitors. A larger parking lot is located north of the main trailhead, connected by a short hiking trail. Alternatively, you can park at Lodgepole and take the Green Route 1 shuttle bus. I’d suggest getting off the shuttle at the large parking area since the trail to the General Sherman Tree is downhill and easy. On the return trip, catch the Green Route 1 shuttle northbound at the handicapped-access parking area, to avoid the unnecessary walk back up the hill.
As I explained above, I started my hike with a bus ride from Lodgepole to the General Sherman Tree Trailhead, which is about 4/10 of a mile north of the actual tree. It’s also downhill from here — not a lot, but enough to make it easier going this direction.
When you visit during the summer months, this trail will be packed with people. Don’t expect any solitude on this part of the hike — just realize that the Sherman Tree is something you have to see while on your way to a more relaxing hike.
General Sherman Tree
Getting a picture taken with the General Sherman Tree is a lot like getting a photo with Mickey at Disney — there will probably be a line. And if you’re like me, traveling solo, you’ll find it very difficult to get a picture with no people in it. So, I took a picture with some random other people and moved on.
In no time, I was itching to get away from the crowds at the General Sherman Tree. So, I set off on the Congress Trail, which begins nearby.
The Congress Trail is a loop that’s roughly 2 miles long. If you haven’t had your fill of big trees during your visit to Sequoia National Park, this trail will take care of that.
There are plenty of incredible trees along the Congress Trail, but there are also plenty of people. I had a hard time enjoying the trail due to the lack of solitude. Which is why, after about 3/4 of a mile, I took a detour.
The Alta Trail is a less-developed and less-traveled alternative to the Congress Trail. I headed up the trail, thinking I’d only go to the first cluster of trees. And then I went further. And further.
Nobody else had discovered this perfect place, so I suddenly had the forest all to myself. That gave me the freedom to wander around and take some great pictures.
And there are plenty of beautiful trees to see along this trail…
… along with some wildflowers in bloom…
… and some interesting shadows and silhouettes.
Just when I thought I was all alone, a friend stopped by. This deer was obviously quite used to people and had no problem with me taking a few pictures as he munched on the foliage. We talked for a while — although I had to carry the conversation.
I must have sounded silly talking to the deer. And that wouldn’t have been a problem — until I suddenly realized that a family of humans had hiked up the trail, and were watching, and listening. I have no idea how long they had been there before I noticed them.
Eventually I turned around and headed back to the Congress Trail, and finally, I discovered the meaning behind its name. Trees are named after The President, The House, and The Senate.
The President was the first tree in the governmental structure. It’s a big sequoia, standing alone.
And good news! The historic sign that marks the President is being restored and will be back in Spring, 2017! But… I was visiting in June, 2018.
Unlike the President, the Senate is an entire group of similarly-gigantic Sequoias, gathered together as if deciding what to filibuster next.
The Senate’s sign is also being restored, and the sign that says the sign is being restored also needs to be restored!
Up last are the members of The House, grouped together in a similar fashion as the Senate.
And hey, guess what! That sign is missing, too! What does it take to get these signs refinished, an act of Congress?
Thank you very much, I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.
The backside of the Congress Trail is about 6/10 of a mile…
… and takes you back to the crowded Sherman Tree area. On this side of the trail, you’re closer to the road, so you might hear some cars. But, remarkably, there were fewer people. Maybe most folks start where I started, but don’t finish the entire loop.
If you miss this side of the trail, you’ll miss this neat little tunnel, cut out of a fallen tree trunk.
And after that, you’re back at the Sherman Tree. At the handicapped parking area, I caught the next northbound Green Route 1 shuttle, back to my car at Lodgepole.
Here’s a look at the drive into Kings Canyon on Highway 180…
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ7j2oR-edw”]< video >[/su_youtube]
… the drive south on Generals Highway to the Giant Forest Museum:
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wmsn6v_UDI8″]< video >[/su_youtube]
… and the drive north to Lodgepole and Buena Vista Trailhead:
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAZYNzMw_Vs”]< video >[/su_youtube]
The Bottom Line
The General Sherman Tree is crowded and not especially spectacular, but it’s something you must see when visiting Sequoia National Park. The Congress Trail is nice, and it gives you up-close access to some big trees (and some clusters of big trees, which is great for photos), but it can be crowded. My favorite part of the hike was my detour onto the Alta Trail, which provided solitude, beautiful trees, and a wildlife encounter.