Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: A Chronology

The Sequoia National Park boundary in the Mount Whitney zone. This mountain, the highest in the U.S. outside of Alaska, was first climbed in 1873.

1858- Hale Tharp entered the Giant Forest with an Indian guide. That same year, an Indian guided J.H. Johnson into Kings Canyon.

1861- The first ascent of Moro Rock made by Hale Tharp and his stepsons, George and John Swanson.

1864- Under the field direction of William Brewer of the California Geological Survey, the first scientific exploration of the region was conducted. Commemorating these pioneer scientists are Mt. Whitney, Mt. Brewer, Mt. Clarence King, and Mt. Cotter.

1865- The last of the Potwisha Indians leave Hospital Rock area due to the growing number of white settlers.

1867- In August, the General Grant Tree was named.

1873- The first ascent of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

1875- John Muir (1838-1914), naturalist and author, named the Giant Forest during his Sierra travels.

1879- In August, the General Sherman Tree was named by James Wolverton.

1886-1891- The Kaweah Colony, a socialist utopian group, settled on the upper North Fork of the Kaweah River near Three Rivers and planned to cut timber in the Giant Forest. They called the General Sherman Tree the “Karl Marx Tree.” (See Kaweah Colony page also on this site.)

Sequoia National Park was created September 25, 1890, and is the second oldest national park in the U.S.

1890- The efforts of Tulare County residents, headed by George Stewart (1857-1931), editor of the Visalia Delta and attorney, resulted in Congress establishing Sequoia, the nations’s second national park, on Sept. 25. One week later, another bill was signed expanding the new park and creating General Grant and Yosemite national parks.

1891- U.S. Cavalry troops were assigned to protect the newly created national parks, headed by Captain J.H. Dorst, Fourth U.S. Cavalry, with the first headquarters at Mineral King.

1898- The grazing of sheep banned from park land.

1900- First appropriation for park operations was received in the amount of $10,000. Ernest Britten of Three Rivers appointed “winter park ranger,” Sequoia’s first ranger. First stage line into the park was started by Ralph Hopping and John Broder, who also provided a week’s camp accommodations at Giant Forest, all for $35.

1903- In August, the first wagon road to Giant Forest was completed under Army supervision. This was an extension of the 20 miles of road built up the North Fork to the Colony Mill by the Kaweah colonists. Park visitation totaled 450.

1904- First automobile driven into Sequoia National Park by Mr. and Mrs. W.G. Luper of Vallejo.

1913- There were 3,823 visitors from March 1 to Oct. 1. This year marked the end of military administration and Chief Ranger Walter Fry of Three Rivers was named the first civilian superintendent.

1914- The War Department discontinued its park-protection program at Sequoia and General Grant national parks. Walter Fry of Three Rivers became first civilian superintendent of Sequoia National Park.

1915- Atwell Mill, in the Mineral King area, was purchased by a Seattle resident, a representative of the National Geographic Society, who donated the property to Sequoia National Park. The Mather Mountain Party toured Sequoia National Park from Giant Forest to Mount Whitney to convince Congress to pass a national park service act.

1916- The National Park Service was created. Congress appropriated $50,000 for the purchase of private lands in the Giant Forest; the National Geographic Society contributed $20,000.

The original stairs to the summit of Moro Rock were made of wood and installed in 1917. The stone stairway was installed in 1931.

1917- Wooden stairs were built on Moro Rock.

1918- Crystal Cave was discovered by two off-duty park employees while fishing.

1920- Colonel John R. White was appointed superintendent. The last private inholdings in Giant Forest were acquired by the Park Service. Bear Hill, the park garbage dump at Giant Forest, became a regular evening attraction and bleachers were erected for visitors to congregate and watch black bears forage through the trash.

1921- Winter sports debuted in Sequoia with the development of the Wolverton Ski Bowl.

1922- Work on the Generals Highway began. Walter Fry, now U.S. Magistrate, initiated the Sequoia Nature Guide Service, offering the park’s first guided nature walk in June.

1924- “Winter headquarters” were built for park administration at Ash Mountain.

1926- In July, the Generals Highway opened from Ash Mountain through the Giant Forest to the General Sherman Tree. Concessions, including stores and dining facilities, moved from Round Meadow to the opposite side of the highway from Beetle Rock and became known as Giant Forest Village. The popularity of Walter Fry’s nature guide program resulted in the hiring of three new park naturalists, and park visitors were treated to walks, nightly campfire programs and a series of pamphlets called “Nature Notes.” Sequoia was more than doubled in size to include the Kern Canyon and Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. The General Grant Tree was designated as the Nation’s Christmas Tree by President Coolidge.

1928- Lodgepole Campground, five miles east of Giant Forest, was made the primary camping area for the park to ease congestion in the Giant Forest. Construction began on the High Sierra Trail.

1930- Livestock was no longer allowed to graze on park land.

1931- Moro Rock’s wooden staircase was replaced with a stone stairway. A fallen sequoia along the Crescent Meadow/Moro Rock Road became the Auto Log, a major visitor attraction made accessible for automobiles.

1932- The High Sierra Trail from Giant Forest over Kaweah Gap was completed, a 21-mile project that took five summer seasons. This was the first Sierra trail built solely for recreational purposes.

1933- Handrails were added to Moro Rock. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived in Kaweah Country and during the next nine years built many park improvements. Dozens of examples of their handiwork are still in use today, including the Pear Lake Ranger Station and Crystal Cave stairs and pathway.

1934- A High Sierra Camp was built at Bearpaw Meadow along the High Sierra Trail between Giant Forest and Kaweah Gap.

1935- The park-to-park (Sequoia to General Grant) extension of the Generals Highway was dedicated July 23, being called one of the most scenic mountain highways in America. The CCC built the Lodgepole ice-skating rink and Milk Ranch Peak fire lookout.

1938- Lookout Point Ranger Station on the Mineral King Road was built by the National Park Service.

1939- Kings Canyon Highway from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove was completed. Park visitation totaled 275,329.

Kings Canyon National Park was created in 1940, absorbing and enlarging General Grant National Park.

1940- On March 4, Kings Canyon National Park, originally proposed to be called John Muir-Kings Canyon National Park, was created by Congress, absorbing and enlarging General Grant National Park. Commercial downhill skiing started with the installation of rope tows at Wolverton in Sequoia National Park. Bear Hill was closed permanently. Sequoia Natural History Association, a park support group, was formed to support education and scientific research in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

1943- As a wartime economy measure, the administrations of Sequoia and Kings Canyon were merged and continue to be administered jointly.

1944- On Sept. 5, National Park Service Director Newton Drury ordered the imminent removal of all facilities in the Giant Forest sequoia grove.

1953- For the first time, visitation exceeded 1 million in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

1956- The Park Service presented Mission 66 to Congress, a proposal designed to reverse the decline of park services and natural resources by 1966, the Park Service’s 50th anniversary. President Eisenhower designated the General Grant Tree as a National Shrine to honor the nation’s war dead.

1960- Hunter and Jeri Crosby of Three Rivers hosted square dances at Beetle Rock Hall in Giant Forest during July and August.

1963- The Leopold Report, an appraisal of park ecosystem management nationwide, recommended maintaining or restoring park environments to natural conditions. Within three years, a research science program was established at Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Sequoia-Kings Canyon were on the forefront of introducing fire back into a natural landscape beginning in 1965.

1965- Cedar Grove and Tehipite Valley were added to Kings Canyon National Park.

1968- About 600,000 acres of Sequoia and Kings Canyon were designated as a “natural fire zone,” where fires are monitored and allowed to burn.

1969- On Aug. 9, in the Hazelwood Picnic Area, a giant sequoia tree toppled, killing a woman instantly. The picnic area was permanently closed.

1970- The Giant Forest gas station and post office were relocated to Lodgepole.

1971- The last campgrounds were removed from Giant Forest.

1975- New park concessioner, GSI, built a market, gift shop, and snack bar at Lodgepole. Issuance of wilderness permits established quotas for backcountry travel.

1976- Sequoia and Kings Canyon established the Division of Natural Resource Management to balance interaction between park visitors and natural resources, including the reintroduction of natural and manmade fire for fuel management and giant sequoia reproduction, wildlife management, and air quality.

The picturesque Mineral King valley was added to Sequoia National Park in 1978, squelching development plans by the Disney Corporation of building a world-class ski resort.

1978- Mineral King added to Sequoia National Park.

1979- Annual prescribed burn program began in Giant Forest.

1983- Kings Canyon was enlarged to include 1,500 more acres.

1984- Sequoia and Kings Canyon designated 736,980 acres of their combined 864,383 as wilderness, which ensures the highest legal protection from development.

1990- Sequoia National Park, California’s oldest national park, celebrated 100 years. Rope tows were removed from the Wolverton Ski Bowl.

1993- Giant Forest Village began closing concession facilities during the winter.

1995- Park gas stations closed permanently due to environmental legislation concerning underground storage tanks.

1996- Road construction begins to widen the Generals Highway from Ash Mountain to Giant Forest, a seasonal project that is estimated to take 10 years to complete.

1997- In January, the Kings River flooded and washed away a section of Highway 180 in Sequoia National Forest, temporarily leaving no access to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park.

1998- Giant Forest Village closed permanently.

1999- All buildings were removed from the Giant Forest except for the market, which was converted to house the Giant Forest Museum, and Beetle Rock Hall, which was developed into an educational center. In May, Wuksachi Village and Lodge officially opened, located three miles west of Lodgepole and providing year-round visitor services away from the Giant Forest. Park visitation for the year was 874,037 in Sequoia, up 1.4 percent from 1998; 601,752 in Kings Canyon, up 4.5 percent from the previous year.

2000- Construction on John Muir Lodge in Grant Grove Village, Kings Canyon National Park, completed.

2002- Giant Forest Museum, in the old concessions-owned Giant Forest Market building, was dedicated. Wolverton Pack Station closed permanently.

In 2015, the Rough Fire entered the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park, threatening giant sequoias, including the Grant Tree, the Nation’s Christmas Tree.

2015- Started July 31, 2015 from a lightning strike, the Rough Fire grew to be 151,623 acres and the second largest wildfire in modern Sierra Nevada history. On September 5 the fire reached Kings Canyon National Park as it crossed the 85,800-acre mark. On September 10, officials at Kings Canyon National Park began evacuating all visitors and employees from the Grant Grove and Wilsonia areas. 

2017- The number of visitors who entered Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was 2,026,063, setting a new all-time record.

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