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HIKING: KINGS CANYON

Family Walks Among the Giants

May 14, 2000|JOHN McKINNEY

Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks offer memorable family walks among the world's largest trees. One of my family's favorites is a hike through North Grove and a visit to the mighty General Grant Tree--between 1,500 and 2,000 years old and thriving.

The General Grant Tree was the showpiece of General Grant National Park, forerunner of Kings Canyon, established in 1890. Designated "the Nation's Christmas Tree" in 1926, it still shelters Christmas services beneath its boughs. Congress proclaimed the tree a National Shrine in 1956, a living memorial to the nation's war dead.

The General Grant Tree is just plain big: 267.4 feet tall, the third largest tree in the world. While third in size, it's No. 1 in base diameter--more than 40 feet.

Admiration for the General has not diminished. The parking lot is often full of tour buses, the perimeter around the tree enveloped by a sea of humanity.

Still, the tree is something to behold, and no visit to Kings Canyon National Park would be complete without it. While you're in the General's neighborhood, take the 0.5-mile interpretive loop past a Sequoia named for Grant's Civil War rival, Robert E. Lee, and the awesome Fallen Monarch. Split-rail fences around the mighty sequoias keep tree lovers from trampling the giants' fragile roots.

Not far from the crowds--in fact just across the vast parking lot--tranquillity, in the form of North Grove, awaits. Wander through a forest of sugar pine, white fir and sequoia, the latter seeming all the more grand in the company of trees of lesser girth and stature.

If you happen to be staying at adjacent Azalea Campground you can avoid the zoo-like Grant Tree parking lot by taking a connector trail to the trail head.

Directions to trail head: From California Highway 180 at the Kings Canyon National Park Big Stump entrance, take the Azalea Campground/Grant Tree turnoff and go a mile to the large parking lot. North Grove Loop Trail begins at the far side of the recreational vehicle/bus parking area.

The hike: Start with a brief descent on a paved road before veering right on signed North Grove Loop Trail. Your path, an old dirt road, descends 0.75 mile through a mixed forest of incense cedar, sugar pine and the occasional sequoia to the bottom of a hill and a junction with Old Millwood Road. This road once extended to Millwood, an 1890s mill town from which sequoia logs were sent by flume down to the San Joaquin Valley town of Sanger.

North Grove Loop Trail now ascends south and east to a more distinct junction, where you bear left to return to the parking area.

If you'd like a three-mile round trip, bear right at the above-mentioned junction and descend 0.25 mile to Lion Meadow, joining a narrower path that leads to the Dead Giant, a towering, hollow but still-standing sequoia. You'll pass a vista point of Sequoia Lake over in Sequoia National Forest, then join a wide dirt road to ascend back to the trail head.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

North Grove Loop Trail,

WHERE: Kings Canyon National Park.

DISTANCE: 1.5-mile loop, 3-mile loop, plus a 0.5-mile nature trail.

TERRAIN: Grand stands of giant sequoia.

HIGHLIGHTS: Huge trees, some of the largest on Earth.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Three Rivers, CA 93271; tel. (559) 565-3341,

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