The largest tree in the world stands at the north end of Giant Forest, where evergreens reach for the sky just a four-hour drive across the valley, over the river and through the woods from San Luis Obispo.
It’s found in Sequoia National Park, a majestic and rugged landscape that’s currently covered in snow.
The tree is General Sherman. At 275 feet high, It’s not the tallest of the trillions of trees in the world — that title belongs to a redwood named Hyperion that in 2011 stood at 380 feet — and it’s not the oldest either.
While other sequoias in the Giant Forest are thought to be more than 3,000 years old, General Sherman is merely slightly older than 2,000 years.
Still, it was just a sapling when the Roman Empire dominated the Mediterranean, when China was ruled by Emperor Wang Mang of the Xin Dynasty and when Native American people had begun carving petroglyphs reflecting the high-elevation seasonal hunting in what is now called the Sierra Nevada.
It is the largest tree in the world by volume, about 52,500 cubic feet. The base is 36 feet around, and Sequoia trunks remain wide high up the tree as opposed to other species’ trunks that taper.
The tree is massive. Go there. Its magnitude will dwarf your life’s troubles.
Why go now? The bustling crowds of summer are absent. Snow blankets the forest floor. Branches of ancient, towering evergreens are often heavy with fresh powder. If the sky isn’t bright blue, fog rolls down the mountainsides into river valleys. And the air is crisp and clean. Beware: road closures are possible.
What to bring? The park is high in elevation, and weather can change quickly. Chains are required. Bring snow toys, a map of the area, warm clothes, waterproof boots, food and water. Dogs are not allowed on trails in Sequoia National Park, they are allowed outside the park boundaries in Sequoia National Forest.
Where to eat and stay? The town of Three Rivers near the park’s southern Ash Mountain Entrance is quirky. Hotels range from $60 to $200 a night (even with last-minute availability). Restaurants, a museum and shops dot the highway adjacent to the beautiful — but nearly inaccessible — Kaweah River. Buckaroo Diner is a gem for brunch or dinner.
What to see? Not everything is open this time of year, and flexibility is key to a pleasurable trip. Aside from General Sherman (an absolute must) and a nearby fallen tree that you can walk through, snow-play area Wolverton offers sledding 2 miles north. Three visitor centers are open this time of year: Foothills Visitor Center, Giant Forest Museum and Kings Canyon Visitor Center.