It’s only reachable by foot via a steep trail after driving 12 miles to the end of South Fork Drive. It’s worth the effort, however, as the remote Garfield Grove is the second largest sequoia grove (when combined with the contiguous Dillonwood Grove) in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. And there are rumors that this grove contains the elusive Phantom Tree, a tree that, if ever found, would unseat the General Sherman Tree from its number-one spot of largest tree in the world.
Garfield Grove is located in the southernmost corner of Sequoia National Park. The seven sections of land that include Garfield Grove were the original allotment of public land designated in 1890 as Sequoia National Park. The grove is accessible by a steep trail that, in just under 3 miles, gains nearly 2,800 feet of elevation. The trail then traverses the grove for another 2.5 miles, making for a scenic day hike.
Along the way, there are views of Dennison Ridge to the south and Homers Nose to the north. Just before entering the giant sequoia grove, the trail crosses Snowslide Canyon, an avalanche chute that, in 1867, released a massive slide that violently ripped giant sequoias from the roots and pillaged everything in its path all the way to the South Fork of the Kaweah River at the bottom of the canyon.
This was an amazing event that occurred in the winter of 1867-1868. After several weeks of rain, all forks of the Kaweah River were raging.
An early South Fork settler, Ira Blossom, became suspicious when he noticed that the South Fork river had stopped flowing altogether. He got on his horse and rode the more than 12 miles up the South Fork, where he discovered that the river had been dammed by a massive mudslide and the river was rising fast behind it.
Ira knew what was coming. He returned quickly and was able to sound the alarm to all those settled along the South Fork of what was about to come.
And, sure enough, the dam, which consisted of a huge swath of Mount Dennison that slid 4,000 feet down to the river, eventually had so much water built up behind it that something had to give. And when it did, a virtual lake of water came roaring down the South Fork canyon.
Giant sequoias were reported to have traveled as far as Visalia. Take a walk up the river canyon and some of the giant logs can still be found. And those stand-alone pine trees growing in the lower reaches of the South Fork are also because of floodwater moving seeds from one place to another.
Garfield Grove contains some extremely mature giant sequoias, but none of these trees were ever officially named, most likely due to the remoteness of the grove. The late Wendell Flint, who spent many years searching for and measuring the biggest of the Big Trees, in his book To Find the Biggest Tree, ranks a tree in Garfield Grove that he called “King Arthur” as the 10th largest (and would now be by default the ninth largest due to the burning of the number-two Washington Tree in 2003).
Hikers who make the trek are rewarded with giant exposures of buttresses and burls, hollow burn cavities, and several fallen monarchs.