Here’s my guide to the best places to visit California’s giant redwoods and giant sequoias. Now with SIX of our family’s favorites!
I will never forget the first time I saw a tree big enough to drive through. I was only five years old and beyond thrilled that our family road trip not only took us through the redwoods, but actually THROUGH a giant redwood tree.
If you are planning a family road trip to or through California, I hope you’ll be able to visit some of its oldest — and largest — inhabitants: giant sequoias and giant redwoods. I’ve put together a list of some of the best (and most accessible) places to see ancient redwoods and giant sequoias, with a map showing their locations at the end of this post. But first …
Giant Sequoias vs. Redwood Trees – What’s the difference?
Both of these majestic trees can — and should — be visited in California.
Giant sequoias hold the record for biggest trees by volume and have grown to staggering diameters, even as wide as three lanes of traffic! Since they are sometimes called “Sierra redwoods,” there can been some confusion between sequoias and their coastal redwood cousins. Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are found only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and between elevations of 4,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level.
While giant sequoias can also grow to staggering heights, old growth coastal redwoods get the prize for world’s tallest trees. Native coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are found from just north of the Oregon border down to the Central Coast of California. They rely on an often-foggy coastal climate to thrive, and the tallest of the old growth redwoods top out at 350 feet and taller (that’s 32 stories or more!).
Here are 6 of the best places to see redwood groves and giant sequoia trees in California.
Here is a quick guide to
five SIX of our family’s favorite destinations for visiting California’s towering redwoods and giant sequoias. This post contains affiliate links.
1) The Chandelier Tree, a.k.a. the “drive-thru redwood tree”
Leggett, California – Cutting a car-size hole through ancient redwoods is, thankfully, no longer permitted. However, you can still drive your kids through the Chandelier Tree (above) at Leggett, California, where this enormous coast redwood continues to stand and grow in spite of its drive-thru traffic.
Just be sure to turn your side mirrors in to avoid spending more time in there than you’d like! The Chandelier Tree is just south of the intersection of Highway 101 and Coastal Highway 1, not far from the famed “Avenue of the Giants,” included in Armstrong Redwoods State Park below.
Follow this link for more information about the Chandelier drive-through redwood tree.
2) Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Angel’s Camp, California – We are very fond of “Big Trees” as it’s easy to reach in less than 3 hours from San Francisco or Berkeley, and has two groves of giant sequoias that simply do not disappoint.
In particular, the North Grove walking loop gets you up close to–and even inside of–jaw-droppingly delightful and massive ancient sequoias (AKA Sierra redwoods).
Bonus: It’s easy enough to do with toddlers on foot, or you can push a buggy or stroller through if you like.
If you plan well in advance, you may be able to get a camping reservation here as well (see my tips for Camping at Big Trees here).
Otherwise, you can book a hotel room in nearby Angel’s Camp (my kids would recommend the Best Western Cedar Inn & Suites with swimming pool and complimentary hot breakfast).
Read more about Calaveras Big Trees State Park in my blog post here, and access the CA State Parks pages for the park here.
3) Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Humboldt County, California – If it’s giant coast redwoods you want to see on your Northern California road trip, look no farther than Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Among the miracles awaiting, you’ll find the Rockefeller Forest — the largest expanse of old growth redwood trees remaining on the planet!
Suffice to say there are plenty of shady coastal redwood groves to explore on foot. You’ll find a list and description of favorite forest hiking trails in Humboldt Redwoods here that will get you up close with indisputably huge redwood trees.
Humboldt Redwoods is also home to a spectacular 31-mile scenic drive called the “Avenue of Giants” (somewhat parallel to Highway 101).
If you’re not sure how your little ones will do on the meandering driving route, know that you can tour small sections of the Avenue of Giants without committing to the whole tour.
There are plenty of places to stop and picnic and explore the giant redwoods and redwood forests along the way. For a printable map of the Avenue of the Giants, click here.
For more information about Humboldt Redwoods State Park, including details about camping in the park, click here.
4) Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park, California – With so many other spectacles competing for your attention within Yosemite National Park, you might lose sight of its majestic resident trees. Some of our favorites are the giant sequoias near the south entrance in the Mariposa Grove, which is home to some 500 mature giant sequoia trees.
UPDATE FOR YOSEMITE’S MARIPOSA GROVE – Mariposa Grove has reopened following a large restoration project, but a visit to the grove now requires a 4-mile round trip hike (considered moderate/strenuous) from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza near the south entrance. Visiting the Grizzly Giant and Tunnel Tree from this route requires an additional 1.5 miles of hiking.
If you’re looking for a shorter or more accessible option, you can do the “Grizzly Giant Loop” at 2.0 miles from the same trailhead (considered moderate and averaging 1.5-2 hours). Or take the “Big Trees Loop,” which also starts at the same trailhead and is a 0.3-mile wheelchair- and stroller-accessible interpretive trail averaging 30 to 45 minutes for most visitors.
You can see the fully revised trail map for Mariposa Grove when you scroll down this page.
GOOD NEWS UPDATE – Day use reservations will no longer be required to visit Yosemite in summer 2023! Follow this link for more information and to reserve your 7-day park visitor pass.
If you’re looking for lodgings in this area, Yosemite’s historic Wawona Hotel is just a 15-minute drive from the grove. Or click here to see Yosemite area vacation rentals available on your dates. You might also like the feature I wrote for Family Travel 411 – The 411 on Yosemite National Park with Kids.
Find more help and inspiration for your Yosemite family vacation on my Yosemite board on Pinterest.
5) The Parker Group, Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park – If you want to see giant sequoias on the grandest scale there is, do not pass Go! Head directly to Sequoia National Park.
Sequoia is home to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree (based on volume)–but that’s not all. The park has mammoth sequoias and giant redwoods throughout the park.
Given that these are the closest sequoias to Los Angeles (of the truly giant groves – about 4 hours north) and the southern California population centers, the park can get quite busy in peak season. If you need to visit in summer, I recommend visiting the most famous parts early and on a weekday if possible.
While many are prominently mapped and made as accessible as possible, our favorites remain this stand called “The Parker Group” that is off the most beaten path, not far from Moro Rock, which you’ll want to be sure and visit while you’re there (see my tips for hiking Moro Rock with little kids here).
For help planning your trip to Sequoia National Park, click here to see the latest Park Newspaper with maps including giant sequoia locations and park updates (scroll down for the latest edition). Be sure to also read my important(!) tips for visiting Crystal Cave (NOTE: CRYSTAL CAVE IS CLOSED FOR 2023) while you’re there. You might also like the feature I wrote for Family Travel 411 – The 411 on Sequoia National Park with Kids.
If you’re looking for lodgings, the well-appointed Wuksachi Lodge is close to many of the largest sequoias in Sequoia National Park.
Important note on camping: Only a few campgrounds in Sequoia accept reservations, with most being available on a first-come, first-served basis. More camping info here. You might also like the feature I wrote for Family Travel 411 – Sequoia National Park with Kids.
6) General Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park is Sequoia NP’s northern neighbor. Just over the border near the west entrance to Kings Canyon, you’ll find the Grant Grove, home to the world’s second largest tree based on volume and the Grove’s namesake: The General Grant Tree.
While a tree as wide as three freeway lanes is definitely impressive, your kids are likely to find other favorite giant sequoias here. Not to be missed: The Fallen Monarch tree, where you can walk through the length of its hollow core, which has doubled as a saloon and horse corral over time. And my son’s favorite: the hidden-cavern, climb-through Illinois Tree, which you’ll find just off the main grove path on the Michigan Tree Trail.
If camping isn’t your thing, the rustic Grant Grove Cabins at Grant Village are just a short hike away (and close to dining and a general store). See more photos from the Grant Grove in my Kings Canyon National Park gallery.
Here is a map of the redwood and sequoia groves recommended in this post:
So how about it? Do you want to add any of these stops to your California bucket list? Be sure to check the California Travel Destinations page for more tips and recommendations for your family’s California vacation. And also here’s a Family Road Trip Safety Packing List with printable.
More California outdoor vacation ideas:
Sequoia National Park with Kids Family Vacation Guide
Yosemite National Park with Kids Family Vacation Guide
Five Great National Park Vacations for Families
Ten Unforgettable California Family Vacation Ideas
Hike these 5 California National Parks with Kids – and Confidence!
You might also like:
San Francisco with Kids Family Vacation Guide (Family Travel 411)
Family Road Trip Safety Packing List
Pack This! The KneeGuard for Long Car Trips with Little Ones
Road Trip Tips and Car Seat Travel Advice
Tips for changing diapers during road trips with baby
Checking-In Safety Checklist for Travel with Babies and Toddlers
Packing List for Camping with Babies and Toddlers
Worldwide Directory of Baby Gear Rentals
How to Plan Your Best Vacation with a Baby or Toddler
Best Baby Travel Beds and Portable Cribs
Plus, don’t miss these family road trip tips, and also here’s a Family Road Trip Safety Packing List with printable.
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby and Take-Along Travels with Baby
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