How many ways can you say, “Wow, that’s big”? Probably not enough to adequately express your reaction when you see the monster of all monsters that is the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest living tree. Sure, within Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks there are other trees are taller or wider, but none has the combined weight and width of this leviathan. The General Sherman Tree measures 103 around, and soars 275 feet into the blue Sierra sky—and it’s still growing. Every year it adds enough wood to make another 60-foot-tall tree. Still can’t grasp the size? One branch of the General Sherman is so big—almost 7 feet in diameter—that it’s larger than most trees east of the Mississippi River.
Considering the giant sequoia’s size, you might think it’s the world’s oldest tree, but it’s not. Admittedly, at roughly 2,200 years old (no one knows for sure), the General Sherman is no spring chicken. But giant sequoias are only the second oldest living trees: ancient bristlecone pines, found in the White Mountains to the east, have earned that distinction.
Not surprisingly, General Sherman attracts a crowd, which is why the park runs free summer shuttle buses to two separate stops, one above and one below this amazing tree. Many visitors get off at the upper stop and walk one-way downhill to the lower stop, passing the General Sherman along the way. That’s fine for a quick trip, but there’s much more to do here. Get an even bigger dose of sequoia awesomeness by hiking the adjacent Congress Trail, a 2-mile/3-km loop that travels through dozens of sequoias with diameters the size of your living room. The House and Senate groves, two more sequoia clusters near the end of the loop trail, are the most impressive, but another standout is the Washington Tree, which was long considered the world’s second largest tree. It used to be just 20 feet shorter than the General Sherman, but after a lightning fire burned its upper reaches in 2003, and then a winter storm broke it nearly in half and sheared off all its limbs in 2005, it now stands—and, amazingly, still survives—at about 115 feet tall.