California is blessed with abundant spots for hiking, nature trails and trekking. Whether you are an amateur or expert in outdoor activities, you will find something that caters to your needs. Picturesque hikes through beautiful meadows or panoramic views from mountain tops: California has it all. One of the most popular and famous places in the region, that attracts thousands of tourists every year and must not be missed, is Moro Rock.
The entire Southern Sierra has exciting destinations for tourists and adventure lovers, such as the Sequoia National Forest and Kings National Park. These are located about halfway between Los Angeles and California and are approximately a 5 to 6 hour drive from either direction. But Moro Rock may be the most important of these amazing destinations to put on your bucket list.
What Is Moro Rock?
Moro Rock is a granite dome rock formation located in the Sequoia National Park, and is a remarkable geologic feature that can be scaled using the staircase, ramps, and handrails put in for tourists. You can spot this towering granite boulder if you are driving on the General’s Highway into Sequoia National Park.
This massive dome overlooks the huge canyon of Middle Fork on the Kaweah River and provides a perfect view of the peaks of the Great Western Divide. The summits you can spot from the top include Triple Divide Peak, Loin Rock, Mount Stewart, Lawson Peak, Kaweah Queen, Black Kaweah, Lippincott Mountain, and Mount Eisen (from north to south) and even Alta Peak and Mount Silliman further north of the Giant Forest.
Facts and Figures
Moro Rock is situated in between Giant Forest and Crescent Meadow. It is 6,719 feet in altitude and about 4,000 feet above the Middle Fork valley floor. Its summit offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain range and valley, if you are game enough to scale the last 300 feet of this elevation by climbing 400 steps to the top. ‘Hanging Rock’ can also be spotted from there, balancing on the edge of the canyon to the west. Moro Rock is also home to the local Peregrine falcon population.
The trail is about half a mile and steep. People afraid of heights might find it intimidating, but the view from the top makes up for any fear or breathlessness one may encounter on the way up.
Moro Rock was first climbed by cattleman Hale Tharp and his family in the 1860s. It had no staircase back then and it was quite a scramble getting to the peak. This granite dome gained popularity among tourists when the Giant Forest became a part of the Sequoia National Park in 1890. In 1930, a wagon road was built for people to reach the northern base of Moro Rock, but the final climb was still arduous.
Origins and History
Moro Rock was formed due to exfoliation- casting off of rock layers due to the outward expansion of the granite which caused by load relief. Corners get cut due to fractures that form in the process of exfoliation. This has given the rock its rounded, dome-like form.
Information panels on the trail explain that the rock began forming 100 million years ago when molten rock rose upward and cooled into granite. The movement of the rock caused earthquakes and erosion in the adjoining areas, exposing the rock. These informational panels also help you identify the landmarks you can see all around.
Wooden steps were built for the first time in 1917, to make it easier to climb the narrow ridge that went up to the summit. Although this helped greatly in avoiding the earlier scramble, it was still a difficult climb due to its height and almost vertical angle. These steps eventually became unusable due to the heavy snowfall the Giant Forest area received during winters.
In the late 1920s, the National Park service searched for a viable solution for the tough climb up Moro Rock. They wanted something that would blend in with the natural surroundings; a philosophy they called ‘rustic architecture.’
Construction of a new staircase designed by engineer Frank Diehl and landscape architect Merel Sager began in 1931. Instead of following the rock ridge straight up, they designed the staircase to follow the natural ledges and fissures of the rock. They thus constructed a circuitous route to the top by linking the natural paths.
When it was completed, the staircase provided an easier, sturdier, and safer way to ascend Moro Rock. The designers also managed to disguise the trail so that it didn’t look like an artificial addition to the geological structure. Seen from afar, the trail wasn’t even visible against the backdrop of the rock. Even the concrete surface of the trail was painted to make it look like natural granite. Owing to its superior design, the Moro Rock Stairway gained a place in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, for being a rustic yet natural addition to the rock.
How this dome earned its name is an interesting piece of history. A “Mr. Swanson” from the nearby city of Three Rivers had a Mustang called Moro, which in the Western jargon of the 1860s meant a bluish-colored horse. Moro was known to scramble up, down, and around the great granite dome, and so the dome became known as Moro’s Rock.
Planning an Adventure to Moro Rock
Looking for an adrenaline rush, a beautiful sunset, or a great trekking route? No matter what your purpose is, Moro Rock serves as the ultimate outdoor experience. Some parts of Ang Lee’s 2003 film Hulk were even filmed in this part of the Sequoia National Park. The park also boasts a 3.4 mile long Crystal Cave with icicle like stalactites and stalagmites that are worth seeing as part of your Moro Rock adventure.
The address for the Moro Rock trailhead is Crescent Meadow Road, Sequoia National Park, CA 93262, while the geographical co-ordinates are 36.5469, -118.7656 (36° 32′ 48.8″N 118° 45′ 56.2″W) Get off the General’s Highway south of the Giant Forest Museum and head east on Crescent Meadow Road. Continue for about 1.5 miles and then turn right to reach the parking area at the base of Moro Rock.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to be at Moro Rock is from April to October. The weather in spring, summer, and fall is perfect for the hike and the view. Late afternoons are a good time to hike so you can reach the top by sunset. You can also go there early in the morning. Some tourists prefer a moonlit hike for star gazing.
In summer, free shuttles operate from Giant Forest Museum to the Moro Rock parking area. The road is closed to private vehicles on weekends and in winters, so shuttles are the only way to get there. The shuttles are not available in winters. Trailers and RVs are not recommended. Although ski trails are open, the stairway is closed in winter due to heavy snow.
Things to Remember
Though the summit to Moro Rock is now quite easy and safe, owing to the sturdy steps and handrails around them, it is important to keep an eye on the kids as there are sheer drops on either side.
Wear footwear that has a good grip so you don’t slip or lose your footing.
You do not need a map for the Moro Rock Trail. It is just one way up and the same way down. But you will need a map to roam the Giant Forest. Trail maps are not free and have to be purchased from the Sequoia Conservancy.
Visit to the Sequoia National Park and Giant Forest has an entry fee, but the Moro Rock Trail is free.
Climbing closures for technical rock climbers are also present. These do not in any way affect people using the stairway. Professional climbers can find extra information about routes online.
If you do not feel fit enough to reach the top, you can get to the first landing which will also offer you a good panoramic view of the area. Taking your time as you go up will help your body adjust to the thinner air at the higher altitude. Certain areas of the trail are only wide enough for one person, so be considerate of other tourists going up or down.
Do not miss any opportunity to take photos when you reach the peak, but do so carefully as the summit is narrow. This hike is suitable for lone trekkers, couples, and families, as well as big groups. Dogs and mountain bikes are not allowed on the trail. Go when the weather is good as you can see farther when the sky is clear.
Today, the skies around Moro Rock are not as clear as they were in the 1900s. But though the view may be slightly hazy at the bottom, the sight from the summit of this granite dome is absolutely breath-taking. Everyone visiting Sequoia National Park must take the 400-step climb to the peak of Moro Rock that has stood towering over all for centuries.