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ADV Rides8 Great Reasons to Ride California’s Giant Sequoia Forests

8 Great Reasons to Ride California’s Giant Sequoia Forests

 Explore ancient forests, granite domes and roaring falls in the land of giants.

Published on 10.06.2017

Ride with the giant sequoias of California

Yosemite and Death Valley may be the best known national parks in California, but in between the two you’ll find something equally impressive. Sequoia and Kings Canyon, while technically two distinct national parks, share borders and are co-managed with a single entry fee. The tandem parks are home to Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous US, and the Kings River Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in North America, yet the area is most famous for its Giant Sequoias — the largest trees on earth.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks aren’t the only place you can find giant sequoias though. Neighboring ‘Sequoia National Forest’ is home to many lesser known old-growth sequoia groves. This vast wilderness area is less restricted for trail riding and camping as well, allowing you to have a more immersive experience in the Giant Sequoia Forests.

While there are dozens of good reasons to ride California’s Sequoias, we’ve compiled a list of 8 of the best reasons Adventure Riders should add this area to their bucket list. We also provide all the information you need to plan your own 3- to 4-day Adventure Ride, including maps and GPS tracks with top points of interest, gas stops, scenic camp spots and more. So suit up and get ready for a taste of what’s waiting to be discovered on a ride through the land of giants!

1. Ride in the Shadow of Giants

Touching the giant sequoia trees
Rusty red bark nearly three feet thick helps these behemoths survive everything from fires, lightening, fungal rot, strong winds, earthquakes and more.

Like towering sentinels they guard the ancient forests, and there’s no better place to get up and close with one of these noble giants than Sequoia National Park. Giant Sequoia trees are known to grow 311 feet (95 m) high and have a base 40 feet (12 m) across. A single limb can be as big as a sizable tree on their own. They are the largest trees on Earth and some of the oldest organisms, living up to 3,200 years — a time when the Greeks were battling the Trojans. And they only exist in one place in the world, the west-facing slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada range between 5000-7000 feet (1500-2100 m) elevation.

The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest living tree (measured by volume) and the star attraction in the Sequoia National Park. It stands 275 feet (84 m) high and weighs a staggering 2.7 million pounds! If you want to avoid the big crowds but still get a sense of how big these trees get, the General Grant tree is more accessible and still impressive at 268 feet (82 m) high (the 2nd largest Giant Sequoia Tree).

Honda CRF250L Rally parked next to giant sequoia stump.
Giant stumps like this one are a somber reminder of a time before these magnificent trees were protected.

The Trail of 100 Giants is another excellent option for viewing Giant Sequoia Trees. It’s a short hike on a paved trail that can be done comfortably in motorcycle boots. A more somber stop is the Chicago Stump. This massive tree was cut down in 1893 to be reassembled for display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was referred to as the “California Hoax” at the time because of wide skepticism that trees this large could actually exist. The meadows near the Chicago Stump are filled with old cut down Sequoias from the 1800s, a time before these magnificent trees were protected.

2. Roaring Waters

South Fork Kings River Sequoia National Park
The powerful currents of the Kings River are an impressive site in spring but proceed with caution, the wet rocks on the river banks are slippery!

Roaring Waters in Sequoia

The powerful Kings River flows through Kings Canyon, a 10,000-foot (3,000 m) deep glacier-cut canyon in the heart of the Park. A 9.5-mile section of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway runs along the river, giving you an up close look at its powerful currents and striking views of several large waterfalls that drain into it. Near the end of this fantastic road is the Cedar Grove area, which resembles the famous Yosemite Valley in size and grandeur.

Grizzly Falls in the Sequoia National Park
Enjoying the mist of Grizzly Falls on a hot summer day, the perfect stop just off the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway to cool off for awhile.

Grizzly Falls is just off the road and is a great stop for a quick snack. The impressive 75-foot (23 m) waterfall is steps from the parking lot and offers refreshing mist to cool you off on a hot day. For those looking for more tranquil waters to relax by, picturesque Hume Lake at 5,200 feet (1,585 m) elevation offers sandy beaches and even a natural rock water slide on the east side of the lake.

3. Stunning Mountain Vistas

Ride motorcycles in sequoia national park

The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to some of California’s most varied and scenic terrain, with elevations ranging from 1,200 to 14,000 feet (366 to 4267 m). Over eons glaciers have advanced and receded, sculpting the landscape into jagged peaks and u-shaped canyons. Massive granite domes have also been uplifted, looming thousands of feet overhead.

View of the Needles in the Sequoia National Forest.
The view of “The Needles” is spectacular on top of Dome Rock in the Sequoia National Forest.

Moro Rock is the most famous granite dome monolith in the Sequoia National Park but also one of the busiest. To avoid the crowds, head south to the Sequoia National Forest to visit Dome Rock. A short climb takes you to the top where you’ll be rewarded with hundred-mile views of the valley below and the serrated ridgeline of “The Needles” above.

Buck Rock lookout in Sequoia National Park
Panoramic 360° views await those that make it up the 172 steps to the top, or you can choose to enjoy the view from below.

Perched high atop another granite peak at 8,500 feet (2,591 m) sits Buck Rock Lookout. This fire detection station, run by the forest service, was constructed in 1923. The structure is open to the public during the fire season, that is if you are prepared to climb the 172 steps suspended from the side of the rock face. If you make it to the top, the endless views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range are unforgettable.

4. Exciting Trails

Single track trails of the sequoia national forest
The single track trails are superb in the Sequoia National Forest and countless small stream crossings only enhance the already impressive scenery.

It’s the trails of the Sequoias that are the big draw for dirt-loving ADV Riders. Many of the dirt roads are smooth and easy to ride as a novice but it can get technical in spots. You’ll find everything from steep descents to rocky jeep trails and tight single tracks, with more than enough challenges to get your adrenaline pumping. For this reason, a smaller dual sport motorcycle in the 250cc to 650cc range is an ideal choice.

Buck Rock OHV Trail Sequoia National Park

Giant Sequoia Trees dropping in
This rocky descent near Huckleberry Meadow was a fun challenge on a smaller dual sport but can be a handful on a big-bore adventure bike.

A fully-loaded big-bore adventure bike can be a handful on some of these trails. Those on bigger bikes will need a high level of skill to take on the most challenging spots or a steadying hand from a friend. Although, many of the trails are rated by difficulty and the tricky sections are marked on our GPS tracks in case you want to take one of the easier alternate routes.

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Author: Rob Dabney

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11 thoughts on “8 Great Reasons to Ride California’s Giant Sequoia Forests

  1. Pingback: Small Bikes Big Adventures: Suzuki DR200S and Yamaha XT250 - ADV Pulse

    • The CRF250L performed great. It’s not a hardcore dirtbike but it was the most performance-oriented compared to the XT250 and DR200S. It had more power and suspension, although it’s on the soft side for a big guy like me. It could use better damping too. Gearing was challenged on some of the tougher hill climbs but it made it through. Fun bike for this type of riding and the windscreen was nice on the longer paved sections. It’s also a little less cramped in the ergos for a larger rider than the other two bikes. The CRF250L Rally would be much more awesome with an upgraded suspension and maybe a gearing change and pipe to open it up.

  2. Great article. I know both areas well so I was curious about dirts roads and routes. They are much more difficult to find in theses areas now, especially since Sequoia National Monument was created. I have not looked at your gps files yet, but I can see on the map, with pins, that your route appears to be 100% pavement. Dirt? BTW: looks like you spent a night at Brewers Ponderosa Lodge. That area, at the top of the pass on 190, is one of the best kept secrets in California- especially for m/c riders! That area has tons to offer and very few tourists. Thanks for a a very good article.

    • Thanks John. We didn’t stay at the Ponderosa Lodge but we stopped by there to pick up beer and burgers for camping one night. It is really remote up there. The route we put together is about 25% dirt but the dirt sections can get pretty technical. You need to do a lot of pavement to link up trails in this area unfortunately, but they are some fantastic roads. There are a lot more trails to the east of Hume Lake (13S05) that we didn’t include because they are closed for fire recovery for the time being. And as you probably know, there are also a ton of trails to the south and east of California Hot Springs that are part of the Sequoia National Forest… towards Lake Isabella and Kennedy Meadows. Not a lot of points of interest around there, just great trail riding, some of the best in California.

      • Hi Rob, thanks for taking time to reply. Next time you are up on 190, there is a dirt road that goes from Coy Flat (right by Camp Nelson) and comes out on 190 South of Ponderosa. It starts at the end of the paved road at Coy Flat, climbs up quickly, then on top turns South East and becomes Crawford and/or Windy Gap road. Grab a map, see if you can find it- well worth it! I’ve ridden it about 20 times. If you go again, I’ll guide if needed. We like to go that way from Camp Nelson, then when we intersect 190 take it up to Ponderosa, or down to The Trail of 100 Giants, then come back to Camp Nelson area on the pavement. It’s a good loop. The paved twisties up there are great as I’m sure you experienced. Cheers!

        • I’ve been eyeing that trail but haven’t had a chance to check it out. Will definitely have to explore it next time I’m in the area. Thanks for the tip John!

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