GIANT FOREST, SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK — Even amidst an entire grove of giant sequoias, the General Sherman Tree is massive. It is the largest tree in the world and the most visited attraction in Sequoia National Park.
The tree is 274.9 feet tall and has a circumference at the ground of 102.6 feet. The volume of wood contained in its trunk is 52,500 cubic feet.
Although estimated to be between 1,800 and 2,700 years old, the General Sherman Tree is still growing and continues to bear cones. It adds about 40 cubic feet of wood each year, which is about the size of a 50-foot tree that is one foot in diameter.
The General Sherman is located just off the Generals Highway 19 miles from the Ash Mountain entrance station and 2.25 miles past the Giant Forest Museum. It is at the northern-most edge of the Giant Forest. There is an easy-in/easy-out parking area via Wolverton Road and many signs directing visitors to the tree and other points of interest.
The General Sherman Tree was named Aug. 7, 1879, by James Wolverton, pioneer cattleman and trapper, in honor of General William
Tecumseh Sherman, under whom he served as first lieutenant in the 9th Indiana Cavalry. In fact, many of the giant sequoias that received names during this era are in honor of military leaders who were prominent during the Civil War.
During the latter part of the 19th century, the nation was still attempting to heal its wounds caused by the violent conflict that took place among its citizens. A walk on the Congress Trail, which begins near the Sherman Tree, is a hands-on history lesson in the forming of the United States government and those who were important in the founding of this country.
Since the General Sherman has been around since long before the dawn of civilization, it is to be expected that it has represented more than one group of peoples. Its prehistoric significance is unknown, but within mere years of the white man named Wolverton bestowing the honor of Sherman on this landmark, another group gave it a name representing what they, too, perceived was a great honor.
The Kaweah Colony, a group of idealists who formed a cooperative colony and hoped to build a utopian center of culture and equality, named the tree after their inspiration, Karl Marx. The colony, which was based in the Three Rivers area on the upper portions of what is now North Fork Drive, was in existence from 1886 to 1890.
This group is, in part and quite unintentionally, responsible for the creation of Sequoia National Park and the preservation of the Big Trees. It was because they filed claims for timber lands in a section of forest that contained giant sequoias and built an access road and lumber mill that local conservationists were spurred into action to protect the ancient groves.
So the largest tree in the world is the first stop in this that will visit many more of the massive trees. The Sherman Tree is admired by millions each year.
Take time to visit this tree. View it in the early morning without the crowds. Then visit it at sunset, when its rich reddish-brown bark is accentuated by the sun’s rays.
Examine it up close. Notice its furrowed bark, its generations of burn scars. Walk all the way around it and see it from all sides.
Lie down and look up at its ragged, yet regal, crown. Look at its uppermost branches, many of which are larger than most trees.
Climb the hill behind where it stands, and see it from this perspective. Make time to visit the area in late spring, when the dogwood are in bloom. Visit it with the summer crowds and be proud of this well-loved national treasure.
Come back in the fall and commune with it during the quiet time. Ski to it in the winter and revel in the stillness of a forest sleeping, yet so alive.