Sequoia-Kings National Park, California

By: Manuel M. Saavedra

Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas

ES 767, Quaternary Geology

Fall Semester 2006


The glacial events of the Pleistocene left impressive geological evidence of the great continental ice sheets that existed in North America in the north and midwest areas of the United States. However, the ice ages also left astonishing geological evidence in California's Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. The Sierra Nevada extends for approximately 640 kilometers from the Cascade Range Province in the north and to the south ending at the Tehachapi Mountains (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Geomorphic Provinces of California (California Dept. of Mines and Geology).

The Sequoia-Kings National Park has abundant evidence of the glacial history associated with Pleistocene glacial cycles. The park is located in the foothills and mountains of the south central section of the Sierra Nevada range. Sequoia-Kings National Park is famous for some of the largest trees in the world and some of the highest mountains peaks in the U.S., such as Mt. Whitney, which at 4419 meters makes it the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states. Also at Sequoia-Kings National Park, the largest living glacier in the Sierra Nevada and the southernmost true glacier in the United States named Palisade Glacier is located here. Figure 2 shows a map of the parks.

Figure 2. Map of Sequoia-Kings National Park (California Dept. of Mines and Geology).

Glacial History

The glaciation of the southern Sierra Nevada during the Pleistocene was Alpine, and not part of the Continental glaciation as was the case for the northern portion of the country. At one time glaciers covered most of the terrain above 2744 meters, these glaciers scoured the park's canyons enlarging and deepening the valleys given them the broad glacial profile.

Figure 3. View of King Canyon, Deepest Canyon in North America.

The Sierran glaciation sequence as listed in Table 1 are commonly recognized with the Tenaya and Tioga of 20-26,000 years before present found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, and the Tahoe is best displayed on the eastern slopes (Howard, 1979). At present there are still on going studies on the glacial sequences, and it has been postulated that possibly seven interglacial events occured during the Pleistocene (Norris, 2000).

Table 1. Sierran Glacial Sequence (modified from Norris, 1990.).
Epoch Sierra Tills Mid-Continent Stage
Pleistocene Tioga Wisconsin
Pleistocene Tahoe Illinoian
Pleistocene Sherwin Nebraskan
Pleistocene McGee


The glaciers of the ice ages did not only leave behind the beautiful landmarks of today such as Sequoia-Kings and Yosemite parks, but along with tectonic factors and climatic fluctuations associated with the Pleistocene defined the geomorphic and stratigraphic character of the Central Valley.


Hill, M. 1975. Geology of the Sierra Nevada.Berkeley: University of California Press.

Howard, A. 1979. Geologic History of Middle California.Berkeley: University of California Press.

Matthes, F.E.. 1950. Sequoia National Park, a geological album. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Miller, J.W. 1957. California Through The Ages, Westernlore Press, Los Angeles, California.

Related Links

Emporia State University Earth Science at ESU
US National Parks U.S. Geological Survey