With limited time and a plethora of trails to choose from in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, I get up early to squeeze in a hike up to Big Baldy on our south-west US road trip. With this region containing most of the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the 8,209 foot (2,502m) Big Baldy in the Grant Grove area is more of a hill than a mountain! It’s dark when I start my initially steep ascent up the signposted trail, and my first photo is of the pre-dawn lights of Fresno and the surrounding area to the east.
The sun still isn’t up when I reach the rocky peak, which is at the start of the very long Big Baldy ridge. (The trail starts in Sequoia National Forest before entering Kings Canyon National Park.)
I continue along the ridge beyond the highest point, with the trail dropping a little into a saddle before ascending to a second rocky outcrop. From here there are magnificent views south along the end of the ridge to the Sierra foothills above the Kaweah River watershed.
To the west is the Great Western Divide, a Sierra Nevada mountain range which is also located (largely) in Sequoia National Park.
There are almost 360-degrees views from the rocky outcrop at the end of the ridge – as well as the Great Western Divide and the Sierra foothills, you can see Kings Canyon, Little Baldy, Mount Silliman and Alta Mountain.
I spend half an hour enjoying the view and waiting for sunrise, before heading back along the ridge. I can now see the landscape I’m hiking through, as I drop back down the saddle in the middle of the long ridge. A major fire devastated the area in late 2021, and two years later most of the trees are still blackened: “the KNP Complex was ignited by a lightning storm on September 9. Two fires that were spotted the next day eventually merged and scorched 138 square miles (357 square kilometers)”.
I’m back at the “real” Big Baldy summit as the sun finally breaks over Centennial Peak.
The trail starts descending from here, around the granite peak and back into the pine woodland.
Although it’s nice that I can now where I’m walking, it’s a pretty bleak outlook with almost no green to be seen in the burnt-out pine forest.
There’s a few more nice views as the trail continues to gradually descend.
I take a slightly different route back down, which follows the edge of a rock platform at the northern end of the ridge. Looking back you can just see the Big Baldy peak through the trees.
To the west is a nice view towards Fresno, over Redwood Mountain and the foothills of the Sierra.
The trail now enters the pine forest, descending past the junction with a trail that finishes at the Montecito Sequoia Lodge to provide an alternate route down. (Although I’m staying at this lodge, I didn’t start here as I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find the trailhead in the dark.)
The Big Baldy trail continues to descend, but not very steeply, with more of the trees on the lower slopes seeming to have survived the 2021 fire.
Looking back along the track, there’s a last view of the granite Big Baldy dome, poking up above the pine forest.
The trail then traverses the side of the ridge (from which there are some clear views to the west) before the final descent to the trailhead (this is the steepest section).
It’s definitely a Sequoia & Kings Canyon peak worth doing – while there are many higher peaks you can do (including Mount Whitney, the highest US mountain outside Hawaii and Alaska), Big Baldy gives you some pretty spectacular views for relatively little effort! Although the trail is often described as a being 2.2 miles (3.4km) to the summit, you need to continue along the ridge beyond the summit to get the best views, making it about 2.9 miles (4.7km) each way.
Getting to Big Baldy
The Big Baldy trailhead is in the Grant Grove area of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park along the Generals Highway. It’s 8 miles (13km) south of Grant Grove Village and 6.6 miles (10.6km) south of the Hwy 180 junction. The trail is well signposted and has a small carpark. (An alternate access trail starts from the Montecito Sequoia Lodge (it’s a similar distance and elevation to the main trail.)
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Parks have been managed by the National Parks Service (NPS) as a single park since 1943, and are often referred to as “SEKI”.
- National Parks Service (NPS) – Big Baldy Trailhead
- National Parks Service (NPS) – Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks – Grant Grove Trails