This beautiful loop through a quiet corner of Giant Forest offers a bit of park history, beautiful meadows, giant sequoias, and some phenomenal sunset viewing spots at Moro Rock and Hanging Rock. Set aside a cool June evening to get the best out of the hike so that you can enjoy the late evening views west over the Sierra Foothills.
While hordes of people cluster around Giant Forest’s four main trailheads, the trails in the middle, and especially on the west side of the forest, lie blissfully silent. Hikers within Giant Forest can obtain a remarkable degree of solitude even when hiking on a trail that is never more than a mile away from a road. The looping route created by the Moro Trail and the lightly-traveled Soldier Trail is one such example.
Hikers can take this route either clockwise or counter-clockwise. The clockwise route presented here starts out with a short, but severe bit of climbing up and over a steep ridge. You’re going to have to climb this ridge either way, so you might as well get it over with. This climb alone probably filters out most people who might consider this hike, but if you want to have gorgeous portion of Giant Forest all to yourself, you’re gonna have to give a little something up in return.
Starting from the Giant Forest Museum (perhaps after exploring the museum’s exhibits), strike out east from the “Trail Center” on a paved path. You’ll quickly come to a signed junction with the Big Trees Trail around Round Meadow and the combined Hazelwood and Alta Trails. Keep right here to enter a verdant ravine. Little Deer Creek runs through this ravine, providing adequate hydration for a lush meadow and gorgeous thickets of Pacific dogwood.
The dogwoods alone on this route are almost enough of a reason to take this hike. Pacific dogwood is beautiful at any time, but especially so during May/June and October/November. During the spring, the dogwood puts out gorgeous white flowers, while in fall, the leaves turn a vivid crimson. Giant Forest is not known for its fall color, but on the lower elevations of the west side of the forest, you may encounter impressive splashes if you time your visit just right.
Right around the time that the pavement ends, you’ll encounter a quick succession of junctions. You will stay straight until you reach the signed junction for the Soldiers Trail. Over the next .3 mile, you’ll gain about 270′ of elevation before mercifully arriving at the top of the ridge. From here, it’s mostly a gentle downhill or mildly undulating trip, so congratulate yourself for not procrastinating on your uphills.
For the next .6 mile, you’ll pass through a sublime stretch of open, sunny sequoia forest with a few curiosities scattered among strands of the world’s largest tree. First, you’ll encounter Broken Arrow. This charred stump of a sequoia stands supported by a thin pillar of wood that has been eaten away by repeated fires.
Next, you’ll come upon a beautiful, narrow meadow marking the headwaters for a tributary of nearby Crescent Creek. Just beyond that, you’ll come to a sequoia tree that appears to be standing precariously on stilts. Repeated fires burned through a significant part of the base of this tree, leaving a room-sized opening and a thing strip of wood holding the massive tree up.
Just beyond that, you’ll pass the site of Soldiers Camp, from which this trail derives its name. On this site in 1911, the army set up a camp from which they patrolled the forest to protect the Sequoias. Since most visitors at the time camped near Round Meadow, the army was frequently passing between the camp and what is now the Giant Forest Museum. At first, the soldiers followed the road, but they soon cut their own trail, shaving nearly a mile off of the route. This trail is the one you’ve been following since leaving the Alta Trail.
At 1.7 miles, the trail reaches and crosses Crescent Meadow Road just a few dozen yards away from Tunnel Log. Most people visit Tunnel Log by car, but you can stop by to admire it if you like. If you turn right on the road, you can make a quick diversion to the Parker Group, a pure stand of sequoias. You can continue by crossing the road and picking up the continuation trail, which will loop around generally to the west through a pair of ravines. The Sugar Pine Trail, which you will parallel over to Moro Rock, lies about 50-100′ below you.
At 2 miles, you’ll cross the Moro Rock loop road before climbing up a knoll toward the Roosevelt Tree. After cresting this knoll, you’ll drop down to a junction with an access trail leading to the Moro Rock Trailhead. If you’ve got time and energy to spare, the trip up to Moro Rock is a worthy diversion. If you simply want to continue, turn right and follow the Moro Trail as it parallels the road.
If you find yourself regretting the chance to see the views from Moro Rock, don’t despair. At 2.5 miles, you’ll cross the road once more and come to a junction to Hanging Rock. This short, steep climb leads you to a stunning reveal of a view over the Sierra foothills, Moro Rock, Kaweah Canyon, and Castle Crags. Hanging Rock perches precariously over a precipitous precipice. Hikers seeking the fullest view can scramble up the rocks to the left to find yourself standing on an outcrop with a commanding view. The sunsets here can be world-class if you come at the right time.
After enjoying the view from Hanging Rock, return back to the road and take the trail that leads to the museum. This trail will parallel Crescent Meadow Road, sometimes closely and sometimes a few hundred yards away, as it makes its way along the western edge of Giant Forest. You’ll encounter a few small meadows and sequoia stands here and there, as well as a section of burned forest that allows some good views west.
After 1.3 miles, the trail will spit you out at the junction with Crescent Meadow Road. Follow the road over to the museum and then across General’s Highway to your car to finish the hike.
The trail is in good condition and easy to follow. The cluster of junctions in the first mile is fairly well-marked and easy to follow, provided you have a good sense of where you are going. However, given that it's fairly easy to get disoriented within Giant Forest, having a map, or better yet a GPS unit with the track for this route loaded up, will keep you from making a wrong turn. There is one really steep section at the outset.
There are a number of camping options in the Giant Forest area, including Lodgepole, Dorst Creek, Buckeye Flat, and Potwisha. Lodgepole, which is the largest campground and the hub of visitor activity in the park, is probably the best place to stage your explorations in Giant Forest.
From Visalia, take Highway 198 east through Three Rivers to the Sequoia National Park entrance. Follow General's Highway for 15.5 miles to a junction with Crescent Meadow Road. Almost directly across from Crescent Meadow Road, you can turn right to park in the large lot that services the Giant Forest Museum and its trail hub.