Big Trees Trail offers an easy, educational, and beautiful hike through giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest. Big Trees Trail is a level and paved nature trail circling 0.8 miles beneath towering sequoias along the edges of Round Meadow. Handicapped visitors can park at a convenient lot near Round Meadow for a 1-mile wheelchair-friendly hike. Able-bodied visitors starting from the Giant Forest Museum can pick between a couple routes to Round Meadow for a 1.4-mile hike with just 50 feet of elevation change. Natural beauty makes it easy to admire the giant golden trees rising over the lush green meadow, and display panels along the trail will increase your appreciation of these marvelous trees.
The Giant Forest is the world’s second largest giant sequoia grove and home to the world’s biggest tree, the General Sherman Tree. Round Meadow is one of the greatest areas of the most famous sequoia grove, as a panel near the start of Big Trees Trail explains:
In Giant Forest, sequoias grow bigger than anywhere else, and Round Meadow is one of the best sequoia habitats within the Giant Forest.
When Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 to protect the giant sequoias, Round Meadow was privately owned and circled by cabins. It was not until 1916 that donations from the National Geographic Society made it possible for Round Meadow to be purchased and incorporated with the rest of the park. Human development continued around the meadow until the 1970s when cabins, a campground, a restaurant, and other utilities began to be removed to help protect the giant sequoias. Today this recovering sequoia habitat is a beautiful place to visit.
From the parking area for the Giant Forest Museum, follow the paved path northeast along Generals Highway to a four-way junction. Alternately, if you would like to visit the museum first and jump start your giant sequoias schooling, you can follow a paved path north from the museum (past a pavilion that was a gas station back when the Giant Forest Museum was the Giant Forest Market) and cross Generals Highway to the same four-way intersection. In addition to the trails back to the parking lot and the museum, there is a trail leading north labeled Sunset Rock, and another paved trail continuing east along Generals Highway. Both trails lead to Big Trees Trail.
For the shortest route, hike down the paved trail parallel with the road. Cross a footbridge over Little Deer Creek after a tenth of a mile and proceed straight for another tenth of a mile to Big Trees Trail.
For the more scenic route, begin down the trail toward Sunset Rock. Follow the dirt trail for less than a tenth of a mile down through a pleasant pine forest to Little Deer Creek. On the other side of a wooden footbridge, the main trail continues straight for almost another mile to Sunset Rock, a scenic granite opening on the edge of the Giant Forest that would make a good and easy extension for those looking to venture farther. To the left, a trail circles back toward Beetle Rock near the Giant Forest Museum Parking Lot. To reach Round Meadow, turn right and walk upstream along Little Deer Creek.
To the right, across the beautiful babbling creek, you will pass what could be called Triangular Meadow, a small three-cornered grassy plot between the trails to Round Meadow. Next, on the left, you will pass the first sizeable sequoia, the Clara Barton Tree, named after the founder of the American Red Cross.
Just past the Clara Barton Tree, you will come to an unmarked junction with the paved trail from the Giant Forest Museum. Turn left and walk 300 feet to the start of Big Trees Trail where there is a large sign with arrows pointing in both directions around the paved oval-shaped loop.
A dozen display panels are posted along Big Trees Trail, describing the area’s sequoias and history. The panels make sense in any order, so you can hike in either direction around Big Trees Trail. After completing the 0.8-mile loop with 30 feet of hard-to-perceive elevation change, you can hike either route back to the Giant Forest Museum. Of course, the wheelchair-friendly trail can also be reached from the handicapped parking area just off Generals Highway near the start of the loop.
Turn left at the start of Big Trees Trail to hike clockwise around Round Meadow, heading toward a bathroom and a curious pair of sequoias on the edge of the meadow. Ed by Ned are actually two sequoias that grew up so close to each other that they fused at the bottom. The base of Ed by Ned is 34 feet long and 25 feet wide. Stones placed on Big Trees Trail offers a visualization of the trees’ massive footprint. As you hike through more of the Giant Forest, you are likely to spot other sequoias that have joined in this way.
When you walk beneath giant sequoias it can be hard to see their tops and appreciate their full size. The large opening at Round Meadow allows you to admire the great trees from top to bottom. All along Round Meadow, which resembles a grassy green carpet that fills with corn lilies and wildflowers in the late spring, a ring of giant sequoias soak up the moisture that collects in the meadow. The mature giant sequoias along Round Meadow are easy to spot. These monarchs can be over 250 feet tall with massive bare trunks and a collection of branches at their round top. This allows these massive trees to absorb sunlight at the top of the forest canopy while having less fuel for fires lower down. Even when giant sequoias stop growing taller they will continue to grow wider. Younger sequoias (under 100 years old) have a pointed top and a lot more branches designed to grab whatever sunlight they can get near the forest floor. Younger sequoias do not stand out from the surrounding pines the way that the towering monarchs do.
You will pass several giant sequoias with black scars from fire damage. Another panel along the trail explains:
Frequent fire is common in good sequoia habitats, and mature trees have ways to survive. Most large sequoias survive fire and live well despite large scars. Thick bark with many air pockets insulates the wood from heat. With little sap or pitch in it, the bark is not very flammable. High branches hold foliage well above most fires. With competing plants burned away, surviving trees get more water, nutrients, and sun. A typical sequoia here might have survived several fires each century. New wood grows from either side of a fire scar, covering a little more each year. This healing growth leaves telltale marks on the tree’s annual growth rings. These marks reveal how many fires a tree has survived.
Continuing north up the west side of the Round Meadow. The pavement on Big Trees Trail will turn into a wooden boardwalk as the trail crosses a wetter section of the meadow. A beautiful cluster of massive sequoias rises up above the trail. Some sequoias have flared bases, which can be a sign that the trees grew up in moist soil and relied on wider bases for support.
In the Giant Forest, there may only be a thin layer of soil between the surface and the bedrock. Despite this lack of depth, giant sequoias are able to grow over 250 feet tall in just three feet of soil. Shallow roots spread far from a sequoia’s base and can grab on to the roots of other trees for even more support. While sequoias thrive alongside the meadow, which collects lots of water for their roots to absorb, they do not grow in the center of the meadow where their roots would rot from too much water. At the north end of Round Meadow you will pass a massive fallen sequoias that may have come down because the soil around the tree got too wet and the roots rotted.
Circle down the east side of the loop, where you will pass large granite boulders on the forest floor, including one boulder that has fused with a giant sequoia not unlike the Ed by Ned Trees. You’ll spot those paired sequoias again as you come back to the south end of Round Meadow. Pass over a small stream flowing out of the meadow to close out the loop.
After completing Big Trees Trail, you can hike either way back to the Giant Forest Museum. Dogs and mountain bikes are prohibited on Big Trees Trail. There is an entrance fee for Sequoia National Park, but not permit is required to hike around Round Meadow. Big Trees Trail is wheelchair-friendly and enjoyable for all, so get out and explore the giant sequoias!
To get to the trailhead: Take the Generals Highway (Route 198) to the Giant Forest Museum and park in the large lot on the west side of the road across from the museum. The Giant Forest Museum is 16.5 winding miles up Generals Highway from the Foothills Entrance Station and 4.5 mile south of the Lodgepole Visitor Center.
Trailhead address: Generals Highway (California 198), Sequoia National Park, CA 93262
Trailhead coordinates: 36.565718, -118.772369 (36° 33′ 56.58″N 118° 46′ 20.52″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Sierra Nevada trails and campgrounds.
|Sunset Rock |
This 2-mile hike visits a large granite dome with great views to the west, possibly the best place to end your day in the Giant Forest.
|Beetle Rock |
This short walk from the Giant Forest Museum to Beetle Rock visits a granite dome with great views and stunning sunsets.
|Hanging Rock Trail |
This short 0.35-mile hike passes views of Moro Rock en route to a balancing boulder on a canyon rim at the edge of the Giant Forest.
|Moro Rock |
This 0.6 mile hike sports panoramic views and should be considered a mandatory hike for first time visitors to Sequoia National Park.
|General Sherman Tree |
This one-mile hike visits the world's biggest tree, a 275-foot tall Giant Sequoia that is 36.5 feet across at the base.
|Congress Loop |
This easy paved two mile loop visits the fourth and fifth tallest Sequoias in the world (among others).
|Crescent Meadow |
This level 1.6-mile loop visits a Sequoia you can stand inside (Chimney Tree) and another that someone used to live in (Tharp's Log).
|Sugar Pine Trail and Bobcat Point Trail Loop |
This short but diverse 1.5-mile loop peaks at Bobcat Point, which presents a fierce perspective of Moro Rock and a massive canyon.
|Tokopah Falls |
This 4.2-mile hike reaches the base of the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park.
|More trails in the Sierra Nevada Mountains|
Explore other destinations in Sequoia National Park and the rest of the range.
|North Grove - Big Trees Trail in Calaveras Big Trees State Park|
This easy 1.5-mile loop explores the first giant sequoias discovered by settlers in California./td>
|Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park |
This 1.6-mile hike (or longer) visits the biggest trees in Yosemite.
|General Grant Tree Trail in Kings Canyon National Park |
This 0-8 mile loop in the Grant Grove passes through a Fallen Monarch to reach the General Grant Tree, one of the world's largest sequoias.
|Trail of 100 Giants in Giant Sequoia National Monument |
This paved 0.5 to 1.3-mile loop visits a grove of giant sequoias alongside Western Divide Highway.
|Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Campgrounds |
There are 14 campgrounds with over 1,000 total sites spread throughout the park to facilitate your visit.