The Giant Forest, famed for its giant sequoia trees, is within Sequoia National Park. This montane forest, situated at over 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above mean sea level in the western Sierra Nevada of California, covers an area of 1,880 acres (7.61 km2). The Giant Forest is the most accessible of all giant sequoia groves, as it has over 40 miles (64 km) of hiking trails.
Five of the ten most massive trees on the planet are located within the Giant Forest. The largest of these, the General Sherman tree, measures 36.5 feet (11.1 m) across the base. The giant sequoia tree is the most massive species of tree on earth, and one of just five tree species documented to grow to 300 feet in height (the others are Coast Redwood, Eucalyptus Regnans, Douglas fir, and Sitka Spruce). It is also among the longest-lived of all trees on the planet.
Ponderosa, Jeffrey, Sugar, and Lodgepole pine trees are common here, as well as white and red fir. Visitors often see mule deer, Douglas squirrel, and American black bear. The National Park Service warns visitors not to leave any food in unattended vehicles because bears may break in to steal food.
Giant Forest Village
The giant sequoia trees are first encountered on the approach from the south at Giant Forest Village - a small cluster of buildings that is dwarfed by the surrounding trees. Some of the sequoias have become unstable due to root damage caused by building development and hence visitor services in this area have been reduced, including transfer of lodging to Wuksachi Village, 7 miles (11 km) north. The sequoia forest extends mainly east of the village, and is accessed by a 3-mile (4.8 km) side road plus many interconnecting foot trails. These range from 1 to 5 miles (8.0 km) in length, leading to various named individual trees and clusters of particular importance. The area is generally quite sheltered and receives high rainfall, which is one reason why the sequoia attain such size, but these conditions are also ideal for mosquitoes, which are abundant in the forests most of the year. These provide the only real hazard - the paths are generally quite level and well shaded from the sun.
Once the home of nearly 300 buildings, the region now has four, with no commercial activity. It is a designated "day use" area. The Giant Forest Lodge Historic District was designated in 1978, encompassing the main area of development in the Giant Forest grove. The development was demolished between 1995 and 2000, with day use features moving to the nearby Giant Forest Village-Camp Kaweah Historic District, which was itself extensively altered, and overnight visitor services moving to Wuksachi Village. The area within the grove was restored to nearly natural conditions, allowing the use of fire for forest management and the germination of new sequoia seedlings.
The forest can be reached from Fresno by State Route 180 or from Visalia by State Route 198. The Generals' Highway connects Giant Forest to Kings Canyon National Park and the General Grant Grove, home to the General Grant tree among other giant sequoias.
Some of the trees found in the grove that are worthy of special note are:
- General Sherman: In 1931 this tree was established to be the largest living thing in the world, therefore, also the largest tree in the world. It has a volume of 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters). The top of the Sherman is a dead limb that at one time served as a leader branch. Its largest limb is around 7 feet (2.1 m) in diameter. The second-largest tree in the world, the General Grant, is located about 27 miles away in Kings Canyon National Park.
- General Grant: This second-largest sequoia tree in the world is estimated to be over 3,000 years old. Located in Grant Grove, the General Grant tree was nicknamed the Nation's Christmas Tree by President Calvin Coolidge, and remains one of the most popular attractions in Kings Canyon National Park. Annual Christmas services are held at the base of the tree.
- President: Recent measurements by arborists who climbed up into the crown of the tree and rappelled down through the limbs have discovered that the President Tree is actually bigger than the General Grant Tree and is even beginning to rival the General Sherman Tree as the world's largest.
- Chief Sequoyah: Just uphill from the President tree is the massive and very impressive Chief Sequoyah. This tree is one of the most startlingly rugged trees in the forest.
- Lincoln (tree): This is the fourth largest tree at 44,471 cubic feet (1,259 cubic meters)
- Franklin (tree): Although it is the eighth-largest tree in the world, this tree has been largely ignored, perhaps because it is in such a massive grove with many other large specimens. This tree has a huge fire scar on one side and a very large diameter.
- Monroe: The tenth-largest tree in the world.
- General Pershing: The lower trunk is massive and the top is a tapering dead snag.
- Column Tree: About 100 yards (91 m) from the General Pershing is another large sequoia. Its lack of taper makes it the fourteenth-largest giant sequoia.
- Adams Tree: From about 90 feet (27 m) up, the trunk is very irregular with many limb buttresses and lots of foliage. The top is a maze of limbs.
- Cleveland Tree: One of the 40 largest giant sequoias.
- Washington Tree: Once the second-largest tree in the world, a fire in 2003 and snowstorm in 2005 cost it most of its trunk and size, and it is no longer exceptional.
- Hamilton: A large tree with a volume of 32,783 cubic feet (928.3 m3).
- Near Ed by Ned: Another tree with an impressive lower trunk, it was measured in 1997 at a volume of 30,333 cubic feet (858.9 m3).
- Hazelwood Tree: A large tree that, although reduced by half due to lightning damage, is still alive.