Big Baldy a rewarding hike

While driving the General's Highway between Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks, Big Baldy is nearly impossible to miss. Just look for the granite dome that sticks out of the heavily forested ridge like a swollen thumb.

Despite its proximity to a well-traveled road, the rocky 8,209-foot summit receives few visitors -- which means you'll probably have the 360-degree vista all to yourself.

Marked by a wooden sign on the south side of the highway, the trail follows the crest of a ridge that curves in a southerly direction. Most of the total elevation gain (about 975 feet) comes in the first half-mile, where a break in the trees provides a nice view into Redwood Canyon.

After about a mile, the trail reaches another open area where Big Baldy can be seen rising above the surrounding forest. Except for the short summit climb, which passes near a TV tower and cement building, the rest of the hike is pretty gradual. Just don't stray too near the ridge; it's a long way down.

The view from the top never disappoints. To the southeast sits Little Baldy, Big Baldy's little brother. Beyond that and moving further east, partially obscured by treetops, are the serrated summits of the Great Western and Kings-Kaweah divides. To the north lies Kings Canyon and the Monarch Divide. To the west and northwest sits Redwood Mountain, perhaps the world's largest grove of giant sequoias, while the San Joaquin Valley looms in the background.

Most hikers will turn around here and head back to the trailhead. Adventurous types can continue following the trail in a southerly direction for even better views of Little Baldy and Chimney Rock. Some scrambling skills are required to reach the top of unnamed Peak 8,169.

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