This hike combines both the Hart Tree Trail
and the Sugar Bowl Trail
loops, and encircles the largest intact grove of giant sequoias in the world. Although you'd think this would draw large crowds, the lack of a paved road to the trailhead dissuades many visitors, and so you're left in relative seclusion. You'll find yourself crossing tributaries and streams which are lined with lush vegetation, and coming across a picturesque meadow, several fallen giants, and wonderful views of the surrounding mountains.
The season for this trail is anywhere from late April to November. A wilderness permit is required for overnight stays. Campfires are prohibited, although you'll find and be tempted to use rock rings other absentminded campers have used before. Camping is limited to two nights only and not within 1.5 miles of the trailhead. No more than groups of 10 are permitted. Use General Grant Grove USGS topographic map or the Hiking Project mobile app
To get to the trailhead, take the General's Highway towards Quail Flat and turn south onto the single-lane dirt road which is about 3.5 miles from the intersection of Highway 180 and opposite of Tenmile Road. You'll be on this dirt road for about 1.7 miles, where you'll bear left at the Y and enter a large parking area at Redwood Saddle.
From the trailhead, follow the left hand trail north until you reach the junction with the Redwood Mountain Trail (about 0.3 miles from the trailhead). Continue left (north) and proceed into the shade of the forest, and boulder hop across the first tributary which feeds the Redwood Creek and hike another 0.3 miles to the next tributary. Just across the stream is your first landmark: Redwood Cabin
, a hollowed out fallen sequoia that once was bookended with two rock fireplaces.
From the Cabin, it's another quarter mile to the next stream crossing, before you start ascending out of the sequoias and towards your next destination: Hart Meadow
(1.9 miles from trailhead). Make sure you keep your eyes pealed, as great views of Redwood Mountain peak through the trees to the west, and soon you'll climb up a granite outcrop where you'll find unobstructed views of Redwood Mountain and Big Baldy peak to the west and southeast.
is stunningly backdropped by the western face of Buena Vista peak and is a great place to stop for lunch or a snack and hear the trickling of Buena Vista creek and look out on the soft vantages of the meadow. Be careful when trying to get pictures, as your presence in the meadow can damage the soft grounds and delicate flora.
After taking in the meadow scenes, continue on and descend back into the cover of the redwoods, and reach your next landmark: Fallen Tunnel Tree. You'll find this is aptly named, as the trail heads right through the core of the fallen sequoia. From here you'll continue your easy descent until you reach the East Fork of the Redwood Creek (3 miles from trailhead) where the trail will soon turn sharply, and you'll come to one of the 20 largest sequoias: Hart Tree
Make sure to check out just how high up the char marks are which reassure you of these trees ability to withstand many wildfires. Continuing along, you'll find yourself in a bit of a drier clearing before reentering the forest and facing a more moderate descent on the way to Fallen Goliath. After about a half mile more, you'll hit Redwood Creek.
This route can make a great intro backpacking trip, and if you aren't planning to hike the loop in a day, this is a great time to consider setting up camp. If you choose not to continue for the day and set camp, cross Redwood Creek and head south along the Redwood Creek Trail
to find amazing campsites for the backpacker. Please observe leave no trace principles, although it can be tempting as you'll see rocks which served as illegal fire rings (open fires are NOT permitted) and other human traces.
Continuing from here, you can abridge the trip and hike the mile and a quarter along the Redwood Creek Trail
north to the saddle, or continue to the Sugar Bowl Trail
loop. After a series of short-legged switchbacks, you'll keep ascending past a grove of young and old sequoias, and enjoy increasingly better views of Big Baldy Peak over the tops of the young trees. You'll be excited once you hit the stream crossing as shade will improve in the dense forest.
From the stream, you'll head back out of cover, and start your major ascent: a series of switchbacks up a hillside. You'll find much drier manzanita and ponderosa pine vegetation here and bettering views of Big Baldy and Buena Vista Peaks. Once you reach the crest of Redwood Mountain, the grade eases and the trail turns north and follows the ridge to the cover of the sequoias again. From here it's an easy climb to the high point of the loop, followed by 1.75 mile descent back to the Saddle.
You will find all sorts of mountain shrubbery, mixed pine forests, giant sequoias, ponderosa pines, manzanita, and oaks. Be sure to watch where the sequoia groves disappear which will remind you that these giants definitely require very specific conditions to grow and survive.