I stand in the middle of a small group of very large trees. I am tiny. The trees are impossibly wide and incredibly tall. I feel small and insignificant and totally in awe of the power and majesty of nature. These are the biggest trees on the planet and I feel so lucky to be walking among them.
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Hiking the Congress Trail, Sequoia National Park
Whilst Redwood trees are the tallest trees in the world, sequoias are the largest, and they are very impressive. I love hiking, but when choosing which of the Sequoia National Park hikes to do, I was looking for an easy trail, since Kevin had dislocated his shoulder and wasn’t up for anything too strenuous. I also wanted to see the best and biggest trees, of course.
The Congress Loop Trail is one of the best hikes in Sequoia National Park. It’s an easy trail along a mostly paved path through some of Sequoia National Park’s most magnificent trees.
It is one of the most interesting of the Sequoia National Park trails because the main trees along the trail are named after important American historic and political figures. It’s in the heart of the Giant Forest and goes past most of the major named trees in the park, especially if you take small side trips along other out and back trails.
Congress Trail Details
Congress Trail distance/ elevation change
The Congress Loop is two miles/ 3.2 km in total (230 feet/ 70 meters elevation change). Combined with the General Sherman Tree trail, it is 3 miles/ 4.8 km (250 feet/ 76 m elevation change).
Congress Trail difficulty
The Congress Trail is easy. The main trail is paved and can even be done with small kids and a stroller. The elevation change is gradual.
Congress Trail trailhead
To get to the trail head, head north on the Generals Highway from the Giant Forest Museum. You will pass the General Sherman Tree handicapped parking after about two miles. Another mile down the road, turn right on Wolverton Road then another right to the Sherman Tree Trail. The road ends at the General Sherman Tree parking lot.
Although the Congress Trail is an easy hike, if you are a beginner hiker, check out my additional hiking resources:
- Hiking Guide for Beginners
- Hiking trail etiquette
- Day Hike packing list
- Essential gear for beginner hikers
Sequoia National Park Hiking Trail Map: Congress Trail Map
For more detailed trail maps, pick up the National Geographic topographic trail maps for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Sherman Tree Trail, Sequoia National Park
To get to the Sequoia National Park Congress Trail, start at the General Sherman Tree Trail in the Sherman Tree parking lot. This first section, the General Sherman Tree hike, is about a mile to the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world.
After walking through a tunnel through the trunk of a fallen giant, you soon get to an intersection with a short spur to the right to the General Sherman tree.
It’s a 200-foot/ 61-meter descent on the final section of the General Sherman Trail to the tree. It’s hard to miss, because there are crowds of people. The enormous sequoia, Sherman Tree, is awe-inspiring.
And crowded. In fact, the Sequoia National Park General Sherman Trail is one of the most crowded trails in the park.
However, opposite the spur off the Sherman Tree is the start to the Congress Loop Trail, which is much less crowded, but no less impressive. This is my favorite big trees trail in Sequoia National Park.
The Start of the Congress Loop Trail
Near the start of the Congress Trail, Sequoia NP, there are several giant sequoias.
The forest then thins out and it is mostly pine forest, with a few sequoias scattered around.
The Congress Trail is clearly marked (so you won’t need to know how to read trail markers), and perfect for beginner hikers. It’s not that long, but you should always be prepared, so be sure to check out some useful hiking information.
0.7 miles/ 1.1 km along the path, there is the poorly marked (and unpaved) Alta Trail on the left with the General Lee tree nearby. This is the start of a long path to Alta Peak, but 0.4 mile/ 640 m along this path, past a small creek, there is a small field surrounded by sequoias, which makes this a nice side trip.
Back on the main trail, 0.1 miles/ 160 m further along is a path to the right. If you want to cut the hike short, this is a shortcut to the other side of the loop, but if you do this, you will miss some of the top attractions along the Congress Trail.
The President Tree
Go another 0.2 miles/ 320 m and take the paved path to your left to the enormous Chief Sequoyah Tree and President Tree.
The President sequoia tree is the fourth largest giant sequoia in the world.
The Senate and the House
Soon after is the Senate, which is a group of six slightly smaller trees, but seeing them clustered together is impressive. This really is one of the best day hikes in Sequoia National Park.
Back on the main trail, soon after is another path off the left. If you take this, you will end up at Circle Meadow and on the Huckleberry trail, where the Washington Tree is.
Back on the main trail, another 0.2 miles/ 320 m or so takes you to The House, another group of enormous trees growing close together. Some of the trees in this area of the Giant Forest are fire damaged, but still growing.
Another 0.1 miles/ 160 m takes you to the McKinley Tree. There is a four-way junction here (with a sign) with a couple of unpaved paths. The first on your left takes you to the Room Tree, which you can climb inside.
A little further along is the Founders Group and further still is the Cattle Cabin.
The other path takes you past the Cloister to the Lincoln Tree (the world’s fifth largest).
The return loop
Back on the main loop trail, it is another 0.6 miles/ 1 km past an enormous fire-damaged tree stump back to the start of the loop trail, then another 0.4 miles/ 320 m back the parking lot.
This last section of the loop trail is again through mostly pine forest, with an occasional smaller sequoia dotted around.
The Verdict: Hiking the Congress Trail, Sequoia National Park
This is definitely one of the best trails in Sequoia National Park. It’s an easy walk, not crowded, and yet passes many of the largest trees in the park (the world).
Read More: Closest airports to Sequoia National Park
Do you have any other favorite hikes in Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks? I’d love to hear them. Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know.
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Are you planning a visit to Sequoia National Park? Read my Sequoia National Park Guide.
If you are also visiting Yosemite, check out my Yosemite Guide too.
James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.
He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and all of the main national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks.
Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.
As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.
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