Sequoia National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the country. It was here (and in the surrounding areas of northern California) that John Muir wrote some of his most impassioned work. This work prompted the government to set aside parts of the country to be preserved and shared with the public.
Muir wasn’t the only person to see something special here. Every year, 1.5 million people come to Sequoia. They’re drawn by the mystique of the redwoods—some of the tallest trees on the planet, many of them thousands of years old.
As awe-inspiring as the redwoods are, there are a lot of other things to do and see here. And because it’s so popular, Sequoia is as accessible as it is majestic. That means that if you’re trying to start your kids down the path to caring about the environment, Sequoia is a great place to begin.
See General Sherman Tree
If you want to make an early impression on a kid, you could do a lot worse than showing them the tallest tree on the entire planet. At 275 feet, with a 36-foot diameter, General Sherman Tree makes for an unforgettable memory. The tree is also impressively old—anywhere from 2,300 to 2,700 years old. If your kids are learning about ancient Greece in school, you can point out that this tree has been around since probably the earliest days of the ancient Greeks.
There are two very short trails leading out to General Sherman Tree, if you want a quick and easy hike for little ones. But if you’d rather save their energy for other walks in the area, you can also park at a parking lot close by and skip the hike. There’ll be plenty of chances to walk around and depending on how old your children are, conserving their energy might make sense.
Paddle Hume Lake
For a place as wild and majestic as Sequoia, Hume Lake provides a placid oasis in the midst of the grandeur. These calm waters are perfect for kayaking or canoeing, and they’re a prime opportunity to introduce your family to the joys of paddling. If you want to try canoeing with a toddler, now’s your chance. The gorgeous green scenery surrounding the lake makes an incredible background for a paddling lesson your kids will never forget.
There is a significant camp on the lake. Hume Lake Christian Camps is one of the largest Christian camp operators in the world. That means that during certain parts of the year, you might have to contend with lots of campers. On the other hand, the fact that there’s such a strong summer camp scene here says a lot about the beauty of this place.
Experience Crystal Cave
Getting to visit a cave is an incredibly opportunity. Caves are unlike anything else on Earth. The glow of the minerals surrounding you can make you feel like you’re on another world. Rock formations take on bizarre shapes and unusual colors, and you’re completely surrounded by it. Everything you’re used to seeing in a landscape is completely gone.
Crystal Cave takes guests on a guided tour through this marble cavern. The walk to the cave is a half-mile from the Giant Forest Museum parking lot, and the walk inside the cave is another half-mile. (With a break partway through to turn the lights off and let guests experience complete darkness, possibly for the first time ever!)
While there is a decent amount of walking for kids, it’s a fantastic trip for those who are up for it. Many people—kids and adult alike—come to Crystal Cave as an afterthought, and leave feeling like it was a highlight of the trip.
Look Out from Moro Rock
Moro Rock is a giant granite dome that’s popular with rock climbers in the area. But rock climbing isn’t the only way to reach the top—which is good news when you have kids in tow. Depending on how old your kids are (and how much energy they have) you can choose from a two-mile hike, or just a quarter-mile walk up a set of stairs to reach the top of Moro Rock.
Once you’re at the top, you’ll be treated to one of the best views in the entire park. For a park where you spend so much time looking up at trees that tower over you, getting to stand tall and survey a gorgeous landscape can be an interesting change of pace. But even without that piece of the puzzle, it’s an incredible view for a short walk, making it great for kids.
Drive Through Tunnel Log
In 1937, this giant tree fell over onto Crescent Meadow Road. Instead of clearing it away, they just cut a tunnel through it and made it another park attraction. At 275 feet tall, this tree is believed to be about 2,000 years old when it fell.
The hole is 17 feet wide and 8 feet high, big enough for many vehicles. If your car is too tall, there’s a bypass nearby which still allows you to see it.
Still, if you do get a chance to steer your car through an entire tree, take it! That’s a chance you don’t get every day. Traffic is lightest in the morning, but it makes for a fun break in the afternoon too if your kids are worn out from walking.
See Tharp’s Log
Two logs in a row may not sound too exciting, but “log” doesn’t really do justice to what’s happening here. Hale Tharp was the first non-Native American to see Sequoia, climbing Moro Rock and camping out near Crescent Meadow. Years later, he settled down in the area by making a cabin out of a fallen redwood.
Using fire, he hollowed out 55 feet out of the 70-foot log. Then he built a cabin entrance at one end with a fireplace, window, and door.
Tharp’s Log is interesting historically. It’s a home from 1861 that’s still standing today. John Muir himself stayed here when he visited the area. But even if you’re too young to appreciate the historical significance, it’s cool to see a house carved out of a giant tree. No matter who you are, there’s something about Tharp’s Log to appreciate.
Explore on Foot
There’s so much to see, and so many places to explore. You can spend days wandering around Sequoia and still not see everything. And that’s what makes this a place for awesome outdoor family adventures. You don’t always need a destination. Sometimes you can just go somewhere interesting and let the world surprise you.
At Sequoia, there’s no shortage of interesting places to explore. General Sherman Tree may be the star of the show, but wandering Giant Forest is breathtaking whether you see the “tallest tree” or not. Looking up to see life, thousands of years old, towering over you like some ancient giant is a feeling hard to describe until you’ve seen it yourself.
And Crescent Meadow has tons of little side trails. Tharp’s Log is one of them, but there’s a whole host of other things to do and see around the meadow. The main trail is less than two miles long, but if your kids are old enough, you can follow side trails all day.
Sequoia is big, and breathtaking, and there’s so much waiting for you to discover. Go out and find it.
Photos by Derek Edwards.
More National Park Guides
Looking for more family guides to America’s national parks? See the complete list here.