Land of Giants: 10 Facts About Sequoia National Park

Giant sequoia trees, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

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Tucked into the southern Sierra Nevada range, with elevations ranging from 1,300 feet to nearly 14,500 feet, Sequoia National Park is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking trees.

Throughout this California park, towering mountain summits, marble caverns, and a variety of diverse landscapes help support habitats for plants and animals—whether terrestrial, aquatic, or subterranean.

Also one of the oldest national parks in the United States, Sequoia is managed jointly with nearby Kings Canyon National Park to protect a total of 868,964 acres, including 808,078 acres of wilderness. 

Sequoia National Park Protects the World’s Largest Tree (By Volume)

General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park
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Standing at 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter at its base, the much-beloved General Sherman Tree has earned the title of world’s largest tree measured by volume.

There are two trails that visitors may take to access General Sherman, which is found in the Giant Forest. The tree itself is bordered by a wooden fence to keep its shallow roots protected from any damage.

Sequoia National Park also boasts the world’s second-largest tree, the General Grant Tree, located just beyond the Giant Forest.

It's Also Home to Some of the World’s Oldest Trees

Park managers believe General Sherman to be around 2,500 years old, making it the tenth oldest living tree in the world.

Giant sequoia trees like the ones in Sequoia National Park can live up to 3,400 years. The rings inside these trees help scientists understand the local ecosystem here.

Controlled Burning Is an Essential Part of Park Conservation

Controlled burning in Sequoia National Park
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Starting in 1982, Sequoia National Park’s Fire Monitoring Program has studied the interactions between fire and plants, animals, soil, water quality, and other aspects of the park’s ecosystems.

Fire ecologists collect data before, during, and after controlled burns or naturally occurring wildfires to help park managers determine environmental conditions, monitor fuel diversity, and determine which parts of the park are in most need of prescribed burns.

The Park Has Three Distinct Climate Zones

The elevation at Sequoia National Park ranges from 1,370 feet at the foothills up to 14,494 feet in the alpine mountains.

The mid-elevation Montane Forests range from 4,000 feet to 9,000 feet and are characterized by coniferous trees, giant sequoia groves, and an annual average of 45 inches of rain—mainly between October and May.

Trees that grow in the high-elevation alpine mountains, typically whitebark pine and foxtail pine, rarely appear above 11,000 feet.

Sequoia Is Home to the Tallest Mountain in the Lower 48 States

Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park
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On the far eastern border of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest, the 14,494 foot Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 U.S. states.

Visitors can get the best view of Mount Whitney from the Interagency Visitor Center on the east side of the mountain range.

Mount Whitney is also the most frequently climbed mountain peak in the Sierra Nevada, with an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet from the trailhead at Whitney Portal.

The Park Supports Over 1,200 Species of Vascular Plants 

With such an extreme elevation gradient in the park, it’s no wonder that Sequoia supports such diverse plant life. There are dozens of different plant communities scattered throughout the landscape, including over 1,200 vascular species representing 20% of the total number known to occur in California.

The rocky alpine terrain contains about 600 species of vascular plants alone, at least 200 of which are restricted only to the harsh growing conditions of the area. The skypilot plant, for instance, has adapted to grow in alpine areas above 11,000 feet, all while tackling the cold temperatures, wind, and snow.  

Over 315 Different Animal Species Live in Sequoia National Park

Brown bear and brown bear cub, Sequoia National Park
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There are more than 315 animal species found at different elevation zones in Sequoia, including 11 species of fish, 200 species of birds, 72 species of mammals, and 21 species of reptiles.

Mammals such as gray foxes, bobcats, mule deer, mountain lions, and bears are more common in the foothills and the Montane Forests and meadows.

The Park Has Two Dedicated Endangered Species Recovery Programs

Two of Sequoia National Park’s animals, the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep and the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog, have dedicated conservation projects to help restore their populations to the park.

In 2014, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife translocated 14 bighorn sheep from the Inyo National Forest to Sequoia National Park, and there are now 11 herds of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep thriving in the area.

Mountain yellow-legged frogs, which were once the most numerous amphibian species in the Sierras, have disappeared from 92% of their historic range. In the early days of the park, frog populations were moved from their natural habitats into high elevation lakes to draw tourists to the area, creating an imbalance in the ecosystem where frogs and trout competed for the same resources. The national park program helped tadpole numbers increase by 10,000%.

Sequoia National Park Is America’s Second-Oldest National Park 

The park was established on September 25, 1890, by President Benjamin Harrison, a good 18 years after Yellowstone became the country’s first official national park.

Sequoia National Park was created for the specific purpose of protecting the giant sequoia trees from logging, making it the first national park formed specifically for preserving a living organism. In 1940, the park was expanded to include Kings Canyon National Park; the two parks have been administered jointly since the Second World War.

The Park Is Rich in Cave Resources

At least 200 known caves are located beneath Sequoia National Park.

There have been 20 species of invertebrates discovered in the park’s cave systems, including roosts for the rare Corynorhinus townsendii intermedius bat species (or Townsend’s big-eared bat).

Currently, the 3-mile-long Crystal Cave is the only cavern available for public tours, as the remaining formations are restricted to scientific research and require special permissions. The smooth marble, stalactites, and stalagmites inside Crystal Cave were polished over time by subterranean streams.