The little things

SA Guide: Panoramic Point, North Grove Loop, Buena Vista Pk., Big Trees Trail

When Laura and I visit a national park, monument or preserve - or anywhere we're going to hike - we like to pack as much as we can into our (usually) limited time. To that end, we nearly always plan our outings to favor the longer trails, the less frequented destinations, and any interesting off-the-beaten-path spots we've read about in advance. This tends to result in us having bypassed visitor centers, nature and interpretive paths, and shorter trails. We often refer to these as "the little things," as in, "Someday we're going to have to come back here and do all the little things that we've missed." This isn't a problem we've felt a pressing need to correct, especially since the kind of attractions we skip are often quite crowded. But of course there's usually a good reason these spots have grown popular, so they remain on our list, if so far down that they rarely get checked.

Well, as luck would have it, we recently got a chance to cross off some of that backlog during a visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. All thanks to a different class of little things.


It was Friday evening. We were on our way to Sequoia National Park with a planned stop in a hotel north of Visalia - the better to be ready to get out onto the trails early the next morning. It was a good plan, but unfortunately an invasion force launched by my annual summer virus was throwing a victory party between my ears. As we drove through Bakersfield heading for food and a bed the cold-bug cabaret was producing nasty effects; my brain was turning to porridge, my ears and nose each felt like they weighed ten pounds, and I was entirely unsure of what I'd be capable of on those trails in the morning, regardless of how early we got there. I'd seen it coming, I knew I was getting sick. But I was pretty confident (read: hopeful) it would go away overnight. And I just couldn't imagine not getting out of the heat and humidity of southern Orange County, not walking in the cool mountains, not seeing the Giant Sequoias (the big things).

Unfortunately events didn't go my way, and when morning came I just couldn't get behind the thought of long distances or large elevation gains. But I wasn't in a coma, so there was no way we were turning around and heading home. As we drove into the park we perused our informational sources (yeah, mostly our phones) and decided this was the day to hit some of those spots we'd previously given a pass.

After stopping at the Grant Grove Visitor Center we headed up the road behind John Muir Lodge to the Panoramic Point trailhead. This is a short, paved walk up to a viewpoint that looks out over Hume Lake and Kings Canyon. The path then loops around and down the backside of the hill as it returns to the parking area. We got there pretty early, so there were only a few other people around. Had the view been clear we would have stayed longer, but we headed back down the hill, then drove across CA 180 to the General Grant Tree area. Here we headed out on a bit longer (a little over a mile and a half) loop down into a large grove of Sequoias that, by virtue of its proximity to the General Grant grove (a popular spot), appears to see little traffic. While the much larger parking lot for the main attraction was nearly filled, there were only a few cars at the trailhead, literally only a few tens of yards away.

The North Grove loop was lovely, calm, and filled with amazing Sequoiadendron giganteum specimens, of which we took numerous photos, none of which can truly capture the immensity of this cinnamon-hued tree. It's an experience we always look forward to repeating.

These little treks were short and easy enough to allow time for my head to clear between them. They also offered a chance to pick up a drink or a snack as we drove to the next little thing; in this case another short hike - this time to a granite dome called Buena Vista Peak. Just off the General's Highway, this one mile hike up to a rocky summit is a great example of excellent return on minimal hiking investment. It's a scant few feet down the road from the more heavily visited Kings Canyon Overlook, and requires some actual sweat equity, so you'll compete with far fewer park patrons for a vista that actually surpasses the Overlook. There are no Giant Sequoias along this trail, but there are some quite large and impressive sugar pines, as well as amazing understory diversity, to go along with spectacular 360° views at the top. Take this hike at the right time of year and it will likely yield a wildflower bonanza.

After driving south toward the Lodgepole campground and Visitor Center area we lucked into a picnic table in a nice spot next to a creek and stopped for lunch. Although the three little jaunts had only totaled a bit over four miles so far, I was feeling the effects. Food, and various medications, couldn't come too soon. The original plan had been for us to spend part of our Saturday trying to ferret out a campsite for the night so that we could spend another day in the park. It quickly became apparent, though, that we wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of multiple no-vacancy rejections. The party in my head was turning into a full-blown microbial Mardi Gras. We spend as much time as we can essentially sleeping on the ground, but this day it was hard for me to imagine conking out anywhere but in my own bed.

So we headed for the Big Trees Museum in the Giant Forest region (which is basically on the way out the south end of the park). It's a small but really nice museum with interesting and well-designed exhibits, and it's guarded by a huge sequoia out front. This tends to be a particularly congested area, and we'd almost always passed through on our way elsewhere. But today we wanted to take the Big Trees Trail. This is another short, paved, and fairly level path that departs from the front porch of the museum, crosses the General's Highway, and circumnavigates a beautiful meadow surrounded by Giant Sequoias. The walk is well worth the time. It's got all sorts of interesting interpretive signs and ambles past many of the huge trees. It was also quite crowded, as we knew it would be. It's best to expect plenty of noise and activity, tour groups, and all ages and sizes. One diminutive but sturdy toddler seemed obsessed with slowing down traffic behind his family, and stopped and held his hand up to us as we somewhat bemusedly walked past. At least this little thing was cute (if a tad Napoleonic) and he didn't make me woozy. 


As we returned to the parking lot from the Big Trees Trail we doffed our gear and got ready for the drive home. I wasn't passing out yet, but I was pretty sure I'd eventually need Laura to take the wheel (I usually have to be dying for this to become an option). We slowly wound our way out of the Giant Forest, in due course passing a signed turnoff for Crystal Cave, a popular walking tour that we'd always thought might be fun, but had never gotten around to taking. 

Laura raised an eyebrow and looked over at me, "Next time you're sick?"

Something to look forward to...I guess.


  • Panoramic Point: Distance - 0.6 miles, Elevation range - 7349' - 7456', Rating - Easy
  • North Grove Loop: Distance - 1.7 miles, Elevation range - 5910' - 6285, Rating - Easy-Moderate 
  • Buena Vista Peak: Distance - 2 miles, Elevation range - 7127' - 7564', Rating - Easy-Moderate
  • Big Trees Trail: Distance - 1.3 miles, Elevation range - 6274' - 6402', Rating - Easy

More photos:

  • 01 Trailhead sign
  • 02 Arctostaphylos patula or Greenleaf Manzanita
  • 03 Chrysolepis sempervirens or Bush Chinquapin
  • 04 Sequoiadendron giganteum or Giant Sequoia
  • 05 Platanthera dilatata var leucostachys or White Rein Orchid
  • 06 Laura looking west
  • 07 Bob looking east
  • 08 Huge pine little Laura
  • 09 Giant Sequoia next to Visitor Center
  • 10 Goldenrod and trees
  • 11 Meadow panorama
  • 12 More giants
Even more photos: Flickr - Panoramic Point, North Grove Loop, Buena Vista Trail, Big Trees Trail

Video: Youtube

All photos and video by Laura or Bob Camp unless otherwise indicated. Use without permission is not cool.