Sequoia National Park
The Congress Trail is a must-do hike if you want to witness a selection of the biggest trees on earth – the magnificent giant sequoias
Stroll Among the Giant Sequoias on the Congress Trail
We visited Sequoia National Park in May 2022 as part of a four State road trip and owing to time constraints, had two “must do” trails on our list; the Moro Rock trail for its breathtaking views of the Park and the Congress Trail for a walk among the enormous trees that gave the National Park its name – the Giant Sequoias.
Where is the Congress Trail?
The Congress Trail is situated within Sequoia National Parks’ Giant Forest, renowned for its giant sequoia trees. The main parking area is located a few miles north of the Giant Forest Museum.
Where to park for the Congress Trail?
The main car park for the Congress Trail is the same one used for those visiting the General Sherman Tree. However, there is also a separate dedicated parking area for accessible (disabled) use only (those displaying a placard). Both car parks are highlighted on this map with an orange ‘P’.
How to get to the Congress Trail?
General Sherman Tree Car Park
From the north: Turn left off Generals Highway onto Wolverton Road, approximately 1.6 miles south of the Lodgepole Visitor Center. Then turn right in 0.6 miles and follow this road to the car park.
From the south: Turn right off Generals Highway onto Wolverton Road approximately 2.7 miles north of the Giant Forest Museum. Then turn right in 0.6 miles and follow this road to the car park.
From the car park, follow the Sherman Tree Trail for approximately 600 metres to the start of the Congress Trail.
Accessible Only Car Park (Disabled Parking)
This is located along the Generals Highway, 2.2 miles south of the Lodgepole Visitor Center if approaching from the north or 2.1 miles north of the Giant Forest Museum if approaching from the south.
During the busier summer months, there may be no parking available here. If this is the case, park at either the Lodgepole Visitor Center, Giant Forest Museum, or General Sherman Tree Car Park and ride the wheelchair-accessible park shuttle (Green Route 1)
From the car park, a relatively flat paved trail leads you past the General Sherman Tree to the start of the Congress Trail.
In the quieter months, finding a parking place in the main General Sherman Tree Car Park may not be an issue.
However, during the summer months, to avoid the stress of finding a parking spot, you may wish to leave your vehicle in a car park at either the Lodgepole Visitor Center or Giant Forest Museum and ride in on one of the free park shuttles.
Shuttle buses run multiple times each hour from morning to late afternoon (late May to mid-September). For further details, check out the Sequoia National Park Shuttles page.
You can even choose not to bring your car to the National Park at all, especially during the busy months when parking spaces are more difficult to come by. Check out the Sequoia Shuttle, operating throughout the summertime from multiple locations in California.
There are convenient pickup points throughout Visalia, Exeter, Three Rivers, and Lemon Cove, operating numerous times each day, seven days a week.
Congress Trail Description
From the main car park, follow the Sherman Tree Trail for approximately 640 metres, as it gently leads you down through the forest. At this point, you will reach a path on your left, signposted ‘Congress Trail’.
Now, you certainly don’t want to miss out on seeing the largest tree by volume on earth. So, before starting along the Congress Trail, turn right and follow the path a short distance to the magnificent General Sherman Tree.
You should have no trouble spotting it, firstly owing to its size and secondly because of the inevitable crowd amassed around it taking their obligatory photos.
Some General Sherman Tree stats for you:
- Height: 83.8 m (275 ft)
- Diameter: 11 m (36 ft)
- Trunk volume: 1,487 m3 (52,500 cu ft) – biggest on earth!
Then, return to the Congress Trail and within minutes you will leave the crowds behind as the paved trail meanders its way south through the serene pine forest.
After approximately 1.2 km you will pass the barely visible and unpaved Alta Trail leading off to the left. It is following this point where the main attractions along the Congress Trail are located.
A few hundred metres past the Alta Trail you will arrive at the enormous President sequoia tree, the 3rd largest giant sequoia by trunk volume on earth!
But its other credentials are pretty impressive too with a height of 73.4 m (240.9 ft) and a circumference of 28.3 m (93.0 ft).
Chief Sequoyah Tree
A short distance uphill from the President Tree sits another giant sequoia, known as Chief Sequoyah. This ranks as the 27th largest giant sequoia worldwide, reaching a height of more than 69 metres (228 feet), a circumference of 27.6 m (90.4 ft) with a trunk volume of 951.7 m3 (33,608 cu ft).
The tree was named by Sequoia National Park superintendent Colonel White in honour of Cherokee Nation Chief Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee writing system.
The Senate & The House
The impressive trees come in quick succession at this point and next up are the two groups of sequoia trees; firstly, The Senate followed shortly by The House.
The individual trees that form these groupings may be more modest in size but clustered closely together, they certainly create a worthy spectacle.
Continuing along the Congress Trail, you will next reach a junction of four paths shortly after which the sizable McKinley Tree will appear just off the trail to your right. Interestingly, this tree was named after William McKinley, the 25th President of the USA.
Lincoln Tree (not on the Congress Trail, short diversion required)
If you are up for a little extra exploring and seeing yet another magnificent sequoia, you may wish to venture a short distance off the Congress Trail along the Alta Trail.
Firstly, take the trail to the left when you arrive at the McKinley Tree four trail intersection. Then, after approximately 300 metres down this path on your left sits the Lincoln Tree, named after (you guessed it) President Abraham Lincoln.
This is the fourth largest sequoia in the world by trunk volume (1,259.3 m3 (44,471 cu ft). Furthermore, its other statistics are equally impressive with a height of 78.0 m (255.8 ft) and a circumference of 30.0 m (98.3 ft).
Retrace your steps to the Congress Trail and turn left.
Return Section of the Congress Trail
From the McKinley Tree, the trail tracks north and in approximately 1 km rejoins the Sherman Tree Trail where you will turn right.
It is now simply a case of retracing your steps back to the car park. However, you will probably find this final stage of the walk a little more taxing as the car park sits 57 metres (187 feet) higher than the official starting point of the Congress Trail.
Congress Trail – Our Thoughts
If you are planning on visiting Sequoia National Park you simply have to witness the amazing giant sequoias.
The Congress Trail combined with the Sherman Tree Trail gives you the opportunity to walk among a selection of these wondrous specimens, including the largest of them all!
This is a nice, easy, paved trail suitable for all. For disabled visitors, the dedicated car park alongside the Generals Highway offers straightforward access to the trail.
We experienced the Congress Trail in early May and even then the path to the General Sherman Tree was pretty busy, so I can only imagine what this must be like in the summer months! Therefore, if you want to avoid the crowds, arrive early and preferably on a weekday.
Sequoia National Park covers a large area and the elevation at different locations can vary greatly.
As such, the weather at different points within the park can be significantly different, even on the same day. Therefore, make sure you check out the Congress Trail weather ahead of your arrival.
If you only have limited time to explore the National Park, make sure you add the Congress Trail and the Moro Rock Trail to your to-do list. You will not be disappointed!
Congress Trail – Q & As
How long does the Congress Trail take?
2-2.5 hours depending on the length of time you wish to spend admiring the incredible trees along the route.
How long is the Congress Trail?
The total round-trip hike from the main car park is 2.92 miles (4.7 km).
Is the Congress Trail difficult?
The trail is paved and undulates gently making this a relatively easy hike. The most difficult section is the last portion leading back to the main car park from the vicinity of the General Sherman Tree.
When does the Congress trail open?
In reality, it never closes. It is the process of gaining access to it that can pose a problem during the winter months owing to snowfall.
Are dogs allowed on the Congress Trail?
Unfortunately, no dogs (or any other pet) including Emotional Support Animals, are permitted on any of the trails within Sequoia National Park.
Have you experienced this trail?
If you have, please share your experience with us and our readers. If you have any questions that we have not answered here, please let us know and we will get back to you just as quickly as we can.
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