Cones are large, from about 12 to 18 inches, and sometimes even longer. They have a large stalk as well.
Needles are in bundles of five, about three or four inches long. Bark is reddish-brown and has shallow, vertical furrows.
Sugar pine is the tallest and largest of the California pines, indeed of all the world's more than 100 species of pines. Old trees may be six or seven feet in diameter, and over 200 feet tall. Sugar pine is a mid-elevation pine, usually growing from 4,500 to 7,500 feet throughout California, but near sea level in Oregon, and to over 9,000 feet in the Transverse Ranges and south into Mexico; it is abundant at mid-elevations in the Sierra. Sugar pine tolerates a wide variety of conditions and soils, with precipitation from 20 to 90 inches per year. It is generally replaced by western white pine at higher elevations.
Long branches extend more or less at right angles, and spread irregularly. The large, heavy cones are at the ends of the branches, causing them to droop considerably.
Sugar pine is long lived, often 300 to 500 years or more. However, in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks in 2018, a number of sugar pines and white fir are dying, due in part to the multi-year drought; the sequoias, by contrast, are fairly resilient.
Sugar pine on the left, growing with incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), in Kings Canyon National Park