Redwood Canyon

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Redwood Canyon in Kings Canyon National Park contains the largest grove of sequoia trees in the world. It is also the site of California longest cavern, the Lilburn Cave. There are two loop trails in the canyon. The Sugar Bowl Trail (6.4 miles) follows the ridge of Redwood Mountain and then drops down into the canyon and joins the Redwood Creek Trail which will return to the trailhead. The Hart Tree Trail (6.5 miles) travels along the (east) opposite side of the canyon and passes the Hart Tree, the largest tree in the grove.

I day hiked in Redwood Canyon on June 5, 2012. It was a good hike covering a little more than 12 miles and just under 2000 feet of elevation gain. It had rained the night before and the temp that morning was a chilly 38F (it only warmed up to about 42F by mid-day). This ancient forest, the largest grove of redwoods in the world, was shrouded in mist from the low hanging clouds. It produced a neat atmosphere that deadened sound. Sometimes it was eerie, sometimes it was spectacular. I saw less than a dozen other hikers that day which was just enough to make me feel comfortable, but not crowded. I left the trailhead and ascended the ridge of Redwood Mountain (known as the Sugar Bowl Loop). I was surprised by how many redwoods could be found along the top of a mountain. Then I descended into the canyon and crossed Redwood Creek and climbed the other side of the canyon (known as the Hart Tree Loop). The trail on this side wandered more and the redwoods were more spread out. It also had more human history and I found the remains of a few cut redwoods, one of which had been turned into a log cabin -- one hollowed out log WAS the entire cabin. Perhaps the most special thing for me was being able to walk among the redwoods without lots of tourist about. There were no paved trails or fences. You could walk right up to the trees and touch them. The only signs were trail markers. I like it that way -- natural, with no human "improvements" other than a trail. I did discover something new: the fallen cones of redwood trees are small and like to collect in the depression of the trails that pass under the trees. If these stretches of trail happen to be on a slope, the round little cones act like ball-bearings and are extremely treacherous. Damn things almost made me fall on my butt several times!

The Redwood Canyon Trailhead is 6 miles from the Grant Grove Visitor Center. From Grant Grove, drive 5 miles south on the Generals Highway, turn right at Quail Flat onto a rough dirt road.  Continue for 1 miles to Redwood Saddle, and follow the left fork to the parking area. 
  Google Maps - Redwood Canyon

  Redwood Canyon - National Park Service Website
  Buena Vista Peak - nearby location

A view of Redwood Canyon, the largest redwood grove in the world, from the top of Buena Vista Peak. The mountain in the center of the photo is Redwood Mountain, and the Sugar Bowl Trail traverses its ridge and then descends into the canyon to meet Redwood Creek. The Hart Tree Trail  travels along the lower region of the canyon east of Redwood Mountain.

On June 5th I hiked Redwood Canyon in Kings Canyon NP. It is a pretty incredible place. The canyon contains the largest grove of giant sequoias in the world. I hiked over 12 miles that day, first traveling along the ridge of Redwood Mountain, then dropping down to Redwood Creek, crossed it and continued up the other side of the canyon and eventually returned to the trailhead. It had rained the night before and low clouds were still hanging around creating a foggy, eerie environment. The temperature was 38F when I started and it only warmed up a few degrees. I found the best way to keep warm was to keep moving.

Sometimes the clouds would thicken and the forest would become dark and foreboding. The towering redwoods added to the effect.

There were huge, ancient trees everywhere.

And sometime the sun would try to break through the clouds. Here it lit up a redwood for a few moments (just enough time for me to snap off this photo) and then it passed. The whole day was like that -- the light was constantly in flux and no two moments were the same.

I loved the fog and the damp feel the forest had this day.

One of my favorite things to look at is the bottom side of a fallen sequoia. The growth pattern is really interesting. It amazes me that these massive trees can anchor themselves in the forest floor and not fall for centuries.

The last couple years there have been prescribed burns in Redwood Canyon. It helps rejuvenate the forest and plays an important part in sequoia cones releasing their seeds. In 2009, after returning from a day hike I got caught in one of the prescribed burns while driving home. It was scary seeing flames several feet high burning the debris on the forest floor a mere one lane away from my vehicle (roads make wonderful firebreaks). I thought it was interesting to see the effects of the fire closeup and personal while hiking.

The dogwood trees were in bloom.

I came across this lovely little beauty near Redwood Creek. These bright red plants really stick out in a forest that is mostly shades of brown and green. Take a moment to really stare at this pretty little thing. The snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is one of the truly spectacular wild flowers of the Sierra Nevada. It resembles a thick, fleshy, brilliant red asparagus pushing out of the pine needles layer on the forest floor. The snow plant lacks chlorophyll and is nonphotosynthetic and is related to the heaths (blueberries, cranberries, rhododendrons). It has a symbiotic relationship with the fungi that live on the dense litter of dead leaves in damp forests floors. The plant’s roots contain fungi which feed water and nutrients to it. These fungi also extend into the roots of pines and other conifers. Sugars from the conifer roots enter the fungi and then are transferred into the roots of the snow plant.

Sequoias have an incredible ability to survive forest fires which produce some very interesting growth patters.

Looking down the inside of the Fallen Goliath tree.

The outside of the Fallen Goliath tree. This thing was huge -- bigger than a city bus. If you look down on the lower right of this picture you can see a couple pieces of toilet paper. That's just nasty! Please bury your waste or pack it out when you visit the wilderness. It is the respectful thing to do, both for your fellow hikers and for the forest.

A deer appears on the trail ahead of me. Notice the size of the tree next to it.

More interesting burn patterns on a giant redwood.

The Hart Tree is the largest sequoia in the Redwood Canyon grove. It is also the world's tallest giant sequoia (311 ft). It is really hard to photography these behemoths from the forest floor so I just focused on the trees base which has a huge fire scar.

A different angle of the base of the Hart Tree.

The trail passes through a fallen redwood.

This is the spectacular bottom side of the tree that the trail passes through.

Here's a clump of middle aged redwoods. They are all about the same size and probably sprouted at the same time many centuries ago.

That's me standing out in one of the few places in Redwood Canyon where I wasn't surrounded by trees. It was nice to see all of those redwoods, but after about 10 or 11 miles of walking in a forest filled canyon it was nice to break out and see a vista.


I don't know the name of this plant but every time I saw one it was covered in drops of water. It had rained the night before and the humidity was high enough that there was very little evaporation.  If you look closely you can see the reflection of the sky and silhouettes of surrounding trees in each droplet.

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Last Updated: 6/8/2012