/ spring hikes
THE HEART OF GIANT FOREST
(Published May 28, 1999)
When it’s hot in the foothills, but
snow still blankets the high country, the
place for hiking is in Giant Forest. Scenery
and history combine on any number of trails
that criss-cross through the ancient forest.
Our family of four (with kids
ages 8 and 10) chose a four-mile loop through
the forest that began at the Hazelwood Nature
Trail, the former site of a park campground.
A quarter mile east of the now-deserted Giant
Forest Village is the trailhead and a small
The hike would take us through
the center of Giant Forest, thus ensuring
lots of Big Trees, but we were really searching
for the Washington Tree, which is nearly as
large as the General Sherman, but with much
fewer visitors. We also planned to visit to
an old homesteader’s cabin and the Bear’s
Bathtub, and explore the site of an American
The route began on the Hazelwood
trail, then we took the Alta Trail to the
Huckleberry Trail. There are many trail junctions
along the way, but with a topographical map
of the area (available at park visitor centers)
and this written description, it is easy and
worth it to take this journey.
Start the hike on the Hazelwood
Nature Trail (elevation 6,400 ft.) where there
are interpretive signs about the founding
fathers of Sequoia National Park and the region
-- Hale Tharp, John Muir, George Stewart.
As the nature trail makes its loop back to
the parking lot, take the trail to the right
Notice the giant sequoias all
around in various stages of growth, and their
different hues of cinnamon-red as sunlight
filters through the overstory. Stand up against
one and measure yourself; you’ll barely
be taller than its buttressed base.
The next junction in the trail
comes in the midst of a recently fallen giant
that straddles the trail.
There are two trail signs --
one for Bear Hill, the other for Moro Rock.
Take the Moro Rock trail to the left and immediately
there’s another junction.
Here again, take the left fork.
The trail parallels a creek surrounded by
dogwoods that should be in bloom within the
next couple of weeks, making this trail an
even more unforgettable experience. There
is a switchback across the creek and then
up the hill, one of only a couple of short
climbs on this route.
Once at the top of the hill,
the trail cross the low ridge and we entered
a part of burned forest that was part of the
Huckleberry prescribed fire two summers ago.
The trail heads north around the ridge and
then descends to Huckleberry Meadow.
Coming out of the trees, the
Squatter’s Cabin comes into view. This
is an extremely well-built log cabin with
fireplace, and the homesteader obviously planned
on staying awhile.
But it wasn’t to be. The
cabin was built on land already claimed by
Hale Tharp, a Three Rivers pioneer and reportedly
the first non-American Indian to visit the
Giant Forest, and this little dream home was
This is about the halfway point
of this day hike, and we ate our lunch in
solitude on a log overlooking the meadow.
We had not seen another person since we left
the Hazelwood Nature Trail.
To continue this loop hike, go
east from the Squatter’s Cabin for three-tenths
of a mile. From the next trail junction, Crescent
Meadow comes into view just ahead, but take
a left turn and head back up the hill, leaving
the well-traveled trails in this area behind.
The trail climbs back up the
other side of the hill that we’ve been
circling and follows a drainage that supports
some delicate hillside meadows. Another trail
junction is reached; to the right is the Congress
Trail, but we went left where the trail sign
pointed toward the Washington Tree.
We continued for about a half
mile and came upon Circle Meadow, where a
deer was grazing. Another trail junction and
sign, and we took a short detour to view the
The Bear’s Bathtub is a
hollow chamber between two giant sequoias
that is filled with water. The trees have
grown close together, so it’s obvious
that a bear could no long fit comfortably
in this original redwood hot tub, but perhaps
a century ago...
As we retraced our steps back
to our original trail we noticed movement
in the forest on the other side of Circle
Meadow. As we watched, six does entered the
meadow and began grazing.
We continued north and soon came
to the Washington Tree. The massive tree is
easy to spot; it was quite obviously larger
than most we had seen that day. (Note: The
Washington Tree, formerly the second largest
tree in the world, was accidentally burned
to death in 2003 by a prescribed fire ignited
by the National Park Service.)
On the other side of the trail
from this tree is a promising and beautiful
sight. Hundreds and hundreds of young sequoias
are growing guaranteeing regeneration of these
rare trees in this area.
From the Washington Tree, we
retraced our steps to where a trail sign points
us toward the Alta Trail. After crossing the
creek, start looking at the large, flat granite
boulders for signs of past Indian occupation.
This was a summer village for
the Yokuts Indians. We first pass by large
holes, all in a line; just down the trail
are some mortar holes, marked by a metal trail
Following the creek for a ways,
there is substantial flow and deep pools,
which made for a reliable source of water.
The Washington Tree stands as a sentinel over
these exposed granite domes, the creek, and
the black earth, darkened by generations of
Indian campfires, making this a very spiritual
After leaving the former village,
we met the Alta Trail, turned left and headed
down toward the Generals Highway and the parking
lot. A couple more junctions are encountered,
but the signage is now clear enough to find
the way back to the car.
are many “social” trails throughout
the area described above that look well-worn
and lead off into the forest. Keep in mind
that every junction mentioned in the above
article is well-marked with a Park Service
metal sign. The signs can be confusing themselves,
but at least they designate a main trail.
A topographical map should always be taken
on any hike in the forest to avoid confusion.