The Redwood Mountain Grove is the world's largest sequoia grove and, though partially logged, it still has more old growth than any other grove. The part of the grove within Kings Canyon National Park is in nearly pristine condition, and unlike the Giant Forest and Grant Grove, it has a real wilderness feel and relatively few visitors; on a holiday weekend you might encounter another hiker once or twice an hour.
The grove might not have quite as many huge sequoias as the Giant Forest, and it's generally not as open. Nontheless it's still pretty impressive, with quite a few huge trees. It's also much more typical of sequoia groves than the Giant Forest.
The grove has three trails. The central trail, the Redwood Canyon Trail, is the least interesting; the understory is so dense that it's hard to appreciate the sequoias. The route described here combines the two outer trails into a single all-day hike that includes a nice variety of woodland, from the dense, lush forest along Redwood Creek to the open sequoia forest on top of Redwood Mountain and on the middle section of the Hart Tree Trail.
The best part of the Redwood Mountain trail system is the two-mile stretch of trail that leads along the ridgetop from the parking lot to the Sugar Bowl. This is an excellent option if you just want a short hike and seems to be the most popular hike in the area, although it's still not that crowded. This stretch of trail is especially photogenic in the late afternoon, since the ridgetop is perfectly lit by the setting sun.
Here's the trailhead location in Google Maps.
The trail is reached by a bumpy two-mile-long dirt road through the sequoias. The road is only open in the summer, usually from Memorial Day weekend until October or early November. Turn left at the first intersection to reach a good-sized dirt parking lot surrounded by sizable sequoias.
The trail gets off to a good start, descending through dense, lush woodland studded with large sequoias. An especially impressive collection of big trees grows around the intersection with the Redwood Canyon Trail. The trail then passes four huge stumps, the only really noticable signs of logging on this hike. This is Barton Post Camp.
The sequoias peter out after the Log Cabin (which is really just a hollow log) and the trail climbs through a mundane forest for a while. The forest has the sparse, open canopy typical of the area and gets progressively more open as the trail climbs. There's a nice view of Redwood Mountain; the nearby ridge is covered with huge, distinctivly round-topped sequoias.
After the trail crests a hill, the scenery takes a dramatic turn for the better as the trail starts descending through an exceptionally attractive sequoia grove, with light-colored giants standing individually or in small scattered groups among the pines. There are quite a few sequoias with strikingly stout, perfectly cylindrical trunks in this area and the understory is very open.
After the Fallen Tunnel Tree the woods gradually become denser and less attractive. There also seem to be fewer sequoias, or perhaps they're just hidden by the smaller trees. But the biggest sequoias of the hike are on this section of trail.
The trail passes a small waterfall at a creek crossing, and shortly afterward there's a short side trail to the huge Hart Tree.
The trees get even bigger and the woods even denser as the trail approaches Redwood Creek. The creek is only a few inches deep, but you may need to get your feet wet to cross. The Hart Tree Trail ends at the Redwood Canyon Trail.
(To the left, the Redwood Canyon Trail continues through scenic old-growth forest for another half-mile. After the old growth ends, the trail passes the Cave Research Field Station, a small shed to the left of the trail, then becomes heavily overgrown but can be followed as far as Big Springs, where a stream exits from a large cave system.)
Turn right onto the Redwood Canyon Trail, which is very pleasant, climbing gently through a wide, lushly-vegetated valley with the trickling, dogwood-lined creek nearby. It's noticably busier than the Hart Tree Trail. The trees are especially big in this area, but are obscured by dense foliage.
Turn left onto the Sugar Bowl Trail, which quickly leaves the sequoias behind and climbs, first through oak woods that gradually become more open, then through shady pine groves. The trail offers some views across Redwood Canyon, and gets slightly rocky near the ridge.
The Sugar Bowl is a small sequoia grove in a shallow depression maybe 100 or 200 yards across. The Bowl doesn't have any really big trees, but it has the unusual distinction of consisting entirely of sequoias. Normally it's unusual to see more than 5 or 6 sequoias growing together, so this is quite a sight, at least for those who've spent time among the sequoias. The bowl doesn't have any groundcover other than a thick covering of pine needles, and it's completely silent except for the buzzing of flies.
During the day the Sugar Bowl can be a little dull-looking, since all the trees are the same color. However, in the very late afternoon the trees are backlit by the yellow light of the setting sun and the grove takes on a much more striking appearance.
After the Sugar Bowl, the trail continues to meander through a very scenic collection of sequoias for another quarter-mile. While it doesn't have the unique look of the Sugar Bowl, this part of the grove still has an unusual density of sequoias and an open appearance with little groundcover.
The trail leaves the sequoias and breaks out into the sunlight, offering views across and down Redwood Canyon. Big Baldy rises on the other side of the canyon, and the craggy peaks of the Great Western Divide can be seen in the distance.
The trail reaches a small saddle where a single monster tree grows on a slight rise opposite a collection of smaller sequoias. After another stretch without any sequoias, the trail descends through a somewhat less spectacular section of mid-sized sequoias for its last mile. These sequoias have a rough brown bark that's not as attractive than the big sequoias elsewhere in the grove.
© 2011-2012 David Baselt