Treadmill Rating (out of 10): 5 out of 10
Distance: 4 miles (round trip)
Max Elevation: 6800 feet
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
When the Dorst campground is not open, the hike begins at the Generals Highway and goes mostly downhill through the empty campground to the trail head. Plan to visit when the campground is open if you do not want the extra two miles of hiking (one mile each way). Once you find the trail head in the group camping area of the Dorst Campground, you are treated to two miles of wonderful plant and animal life as you wind your way along the trail.
Of course we were using an incorrect map and guidebook and ended up at the old trail head location scratching our heads along with three other hikers. We spent about 15 minutes looking over the map and descriptions only to start the hike in the old spot which is not marked. After about 150 yards we found the correct starting point in the group camp ground complete with a sign marking the trail head. Some of the others were frustrated but it was too nice a day to let this small set back ruin our time on the trail.
The trail winds along areas of Oak Trees and Manzanita bushes, grassy meadows, small creeks, and pine forests. It is interesting to travel between to different ecosystems that make up this hike and the variety of plant life in the different areas along the trail.
Most of the trail is in the shade and it crosses a few small creeks. The trail is mostly easy until you get to a hill before the one mile point. Then the trail begins a series of switch backs up a large hill where the trail gains most of the 500 feet of elevation. This is the most challenging portion of the trail but near the top there is a beautiful granite dome with a great view of the valley. This is great place to take a break and hydrate especially if you have children with you or others who may have found the hill physically demanding.
After stopping to enjoy the view, the trail continues for another mile or so and enters the Muir Grove of Redwoods. The Muir Grove does not get the crowds of the other groves of Redwoods. There are no fences to keep hikers away from the trees making for excellent photographs. Many of the Redwoods have fire scars from forest fires in the past. The fires carved openings in the trees allowing visitors to enter many of them. My children loved being able to peer inside the openings. Several were large enough to enter and one you can pass through the tree itself out to the other side which delighted the youngsters. I do not know anywhere else in the park where you can enter living Giant Sequoias like you can at this grove. It is like a Redwood playground. The only other time I saw my youngsters enjoy Redwood trees this much was at a city park in Eureka, CA that has the playground equipment built around, over, and through Redwood trees. At the Muir Grove it is all natural!
We chose to eat our sack lunch under the trees before exploring more of the grove. Then we returned along the trail for the first mile. We took another break at the granite dome and enjoyed the view. Temperatures were in the mid 80s with a nice breeze so we lingered making sure the kids drank some water and rested. They burned a lot of energy playing in the grove so our pace was slower going back with a few extra breaks along the trail.
We arrived back at the group campground a little later and took another break at one of the unused picnic tables in the campground. The hike back to the highway from the camp ground is nearly all uphill so it is a good idea to take a break or two especially if your group has children or others who tire easily. If you come when the campground is open it is only a few hundred yards from the trail head back to the amphitheater area and the public parking.
We stopped again on the camp ground road to look at one of the creeks where we had seen some fish swimming earlier. We also saw a deer eating grass near an empty camp site. Another hiker slightly ahead of us saw a mother bear and two cubs but we must have just missed them. We finally made it to the road and everyone was ready for the return home. Our entire adventure took around four hours which included playing in the grove, frequent breaks along the trail, and lunch. Other hikers probably could complete this hike in half that time, especially if the campground is open.
Be aware that there are no restroom facilities or potable water sources available when the campground is closed. The buildings are locked up. Plan accordingly. No matter how many times I told my kids they were locked they still wanted to used the restrooms before using the more austere outdoor facilities that nature provided.
LOCATION OF THE HIKE
The trail head is located in the Dorst Campground of Sequoia National Park right off The Generals Highway or Highway 198. You can take Highway 180 from Fresno, CA into Kings Canyon National Park and then take Highway 198 at the junction just inside the park. Or you can take Highway 198 all the way to the Dorst Campground from the Sequoia National Park Entrance side. I prefer taking Highway 180 because the road is not as curvy and there is a lot of construction on that Sequoia/198 side during 2012 with lots of delays. Check road conditions before traveling to save yourself time and frustration.
The trail head is located in the Group Camp Ground area of the Dorst Campground. Be warned that the trail head changed its location sometime in the past few years. Some online and print guides and maps show it starting closer to the amphitheater for Dorst Camp Ground. I had one map of the campground I downloaded from the internet that showed the trail head starting in the wrong spot. My guide book I purchased a few months ago from the Sequoia National Park visitor center also showed it being located on the road between the Amphitheater and the Group Campground. There were three other “lost” hikers when we got there because of this change.
The remains of the old trail head are where the guidebook and online map said to find it but the old footbridge across the creek is gone with only the stone footers remaining and there is no sign identifying the trail. The trail also looks like it has not been used much. You can take this older, unmarked trail 150 yards or so and connect up to the actual trail head that is marked with a sign clearly listing it as the trail for Muir Grove in the Group Camp Ground area. According to the lost hikers we found, one hiker was so frustrated trying to find the trail head using the old information that he gave up and left before I arrived.
The easiest way to find the current trail head is to park in the public parking near the amphitheater, walk down the hill to the group campground and a hundred yards or so on the road going into the group campground you will see the sign marking the trail head on your left. There are clear road signs on the main road giving the direction to the amphitheater. If the camp ground is closed follow the road signs on foot to the group camp ground area and as you enter it after a hundred yards or so the sign marking the trail will be on your left. The camp ground is only open during the summer months. It closes after Labor Day. To do the hike after Labor Day or before the camp ground opens earlier in the year you will have to park at the Generals Highway and walk through the campground to get to the trail head because the entrance gate will be locked. This will had an extra two miles total to your hike.
It is permitted to walk through the closed camp ground. The Park Service does not want visitors camping there during certain times of the year but hiking is approved. The benefit of going when the campground is closed is that few people will be on the trail. I do not like lots of people when I hike so it was worth walking the two extra miles. We saw a total of six other people on the trail that day and only two others at Muir Grove when we were there. When the campground is closed the restrooms are closed so plan accordingly.
The National Park charges $20 per car load or $10 per person as of 2012. The park sells an annual pass good for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for only $30. If you go more than once a year this is a good deal and I highly recommend it. On two occasions because I had the annual pass a Ranger allowed me to go around the line of cars waiting to pay the park entrance fees which was also a nice benefit of the two park annual pass.
HOW TECHNICAL IS THE HIKE?
This is not a technical hike. Due to the short distance some of the hikers we saw had only a bottle of water. I suggest taking more. I took a day pack with food, ponchos, sun screen, insect repellent, etc. I also took a Camelbak and so did my 9 year old son. I like to be able to drink as much water as I want on a hike and hate to be forced to conserve. Also, a good slug of water every so often and some snacks can keep smaller hikers going. A good pair of shoes is also helpful. I had my hiking boots but the kids wore tennis shoes and had no problems. The trail is not overly steep and is only rocky in a few short areas. The rating on this hike is 5 treadmills when the campground is open and 6 to 7 when the campground is closed because of the extra mile each way. The most challenging parts are the hill with the switchbacks that gains most of the 500 feet of elevation on this hike. The hike uphill through the campground back to the highway (if the campground is closed when you visit) also adds to the challenge. Decide for yourself whether you want to hike four or six miles and plan your visit accordingly.
WHO CAN DO THIS HIKE?
The shorter hike with parking inside the campground can be done by just about anyone who can spend an afternoon walking around the mall. The longer hike from the highway is a bit more challenging but even my five year old was able to complete it with only a minor amount of complaining as he got tired towards the end. Snacks and lots of water are key to keeping the younger hikers going. My nine year old had no problems. A few of the hikers on the trail were more seasoned citizens and they had no problems. Anyone with a basic fitness level should be able to complete this hike. If you have medical issues you should consult a physician before attempting any hiking or physical exercise.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
To avoid people, I recommend doing the longer hike from the highway after Labor Day when the campground closes or in the spring prior to it opening. If you do not mind more people on the trail then the summer months when the campground is open will work for you. It can get warm in the summer and the highway is closed during the winter due to the snow. The trail can be accessed in the spring to late fall period. Check the weather and road conditions before going. Tire chains are usually required during the winter months in the other areas of the park but this section of the road connecting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is usually closed when the snows come in winter.
Make sure you can walk a few miles and have comfortable shoes. This is a fun hike that is not very physically taxing. It is a hike that allows you to get out of the heavily visited areas but still enjoy the Redwoods of the park. Walking a few miles near your home a few times a week will allow you to get through this hike easily. Bring water, check the weather, and make sure you have a current guidebook or map if you bring one.
My guidebook is a second edition with a 2011 copy write date and it lists the trail head in the wrong place. When the campground is open there are park employees to ask where the trail head is. During the periods when the campground is closed there is no one to ask. Look over your map or guidebook before hand and be familiar in your mind with the trail. The lost hikers I came across had no map, no guidebook, and had only briefly looked over the trail information before attempting the hike. As the Boy Scouts say, Be Prepared!!
Bring basic gear for a day hike including water carrier (canteen, Camelbak, etc), snacks, food, basic first aid kit, rain poncho, and day pack. Toilet paper and trowel is nice if you need to go on the trail. Keep in mind the restrooms at the trail head will be locked up if the campground is closed. I always carry in my pack a small flashlight, fire starting aids, some Para cord, a knife, space blanket, and a map in addition to the above items.
I know a guy that got lost overnight on a hike in Yosemite while taking pictures. He had nothing with him other than the camera and spent a miserable night before being found by rescuers. He probably would have paid thousands of dollars for a couple of the items in my day pack when he was lost.
A compass to orient your map is also nice. We used our compass to show the lost hikers where we were on the map I had brought. It is hard to read a map if you cannot find north!
I also recommend sunscreen and insect repellent. The Sierra Nevada range is an interesting place for insects. In some places you will not see any and in others you will find lots of mosquitoes. I’ve even seen them show up part way through a hike. I always carry insect repellent. A wide brimmed hat and sunglasses can also make the day more comfortable. Early in the spring and late fall the weather can get cold fast. You may want to bring a sweat shirt or fleece. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.