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Sequoia National Park: Yosemite's Laid-Back Sister

Sequoia National Park: Yosemite's Laid-Back SisterSequoia National Park: Yosemite's Laid-Back Sister

Sequoia, you're no Yosemite. That's a good thing if you are a traveler looking for a small-scale national park experience with much of the grandeur but little of the congestion often associated with Yosemite National Park. Whether you are a senior or a family with young children, California's Sequoia National Park is a peaceful, manageable alternative to world-famous Yosemite, Sequoia's larger sister at the opposite end of the High Sierras.

I've enjoyed Sequoia's charms in both sun and snow, whether hiking, biking, snowshoeing, or picnicking in the green forest. Forest -- and the trees that make it up -- is what Sequoia is all about. So get ready to look up, up, up as you walk, hike, bike, or simply drive your way through Sequoia's giant trees. Here is a guide to Sequoia's major attractions.

Giant Forest

The Giant Forest, home to five of the world's 10 largest trees, is the main attraction at Sequoia. Preservationists have taken great care to encourage the survival of these ancient trees, some of the largest living objects in the world. When traffic at one of Sequoia's main lodges began to impact tree roots and trees began to fall, the lodge was removed and all commercial development around the trees prohibited. Before you walk through the trees, visit the Giant Forest Center museum, then join the connecting nature trail that winds through the forest with a stop at the almost 3 million-pound General Sherman Tree, the world's largest living tree. But keep your wits about you. On one of our visits, my family was surprised by a glimpse down the path of a family of American black bears. We kept our distance, exiting the area quickly, and they kept theirs.

Crescent Meadow Loop and Tharp's Log

Hike across a fallen tree in a lovely meadow alive with wildflowers at Crescent Meadow Loop, an easy day hike for even the most inexperienced hikers. Along the way, you'll delight in Tharp's Log, a fallen giant Sequoia reconfigured into a log cabin home by Hale Tharp, a Gold Rush miner and the first non-American explorer to discover the Giant Forest. You can go inside Tharp's tree trunk-turned-home to see his handcrafted fireplace, windows, and crudely crafted wood furniture.

Crystal Cave

Kids will love the darkness, the flashlights they get to carry, and the stories about bats in Crystal Cave, which is only open during the summer. I still can't get stalagmites and stalactites straight no matter how many times I've visited this underground cavern, filled with ornate marble polished by subterranean streams and the icicle-like stalactites that line the cave's ceiling.

Moro Rock

After you've been through the Giant Forest and perhaps below the forest in Crystal Cave, be sure to check out the views above with a trip to Moro Rock. Moro Rock is a granite dome with a 1/3-mile staircase that takes you 300 feet to the summit of the rock, where you will be rewarded for your uphill effort with spectacular views of the High Sierras and the valley below.

Wuksachi Lodge

The Wuksachi Lodge offers Sequoia's nicest in-park lodging and dining. Its main lodge area offers a cozy, central gathering place after a day spent exploring the great outdoors, with a restaurant, bar, gift shop, and ranger-led activities. Simple, pleasant motel rooms with modern, woodsy furnishings look out into the surrounding forest, home to deer that roam freely within feet of your room.

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