Sequoia and Kings Canyon are separate national parks, but they are so near each other and offer completely different experiences; that it is only proper that we include the two of them in a visit. It’s a twofor! So, grab your hiking boots, some Dramamine if you need it for the windy roads and let’s explore both!
Sequoia National Park
Chris and I are continuously mindful of appreciating each moment of our life on the road. While the constant change can be so much fun, it can also wear on us a bit. Add to that the fact that we are consistently seeing things that we had only dreamed about, with each new thing topping the last new thing; life on the road can lead to a burnout of sorts if we are not mindful. For example, in the past two weeks, we have visited Hollywood, Santa Monica, Malibu, Seqouia NP, Kings Canyon NP and Yosemite. Week after week, the list continues to grow. We don’t want to feel as though we are on a never ending carousel and unable to appreciate where we are because of where we just came from or what is coming next. It can be a difficult balance at times, yet one of the ways we have found to be sure we are not becoming desensitized to the greatness of what we see is being thankful. Each day, we thank God, the Creator of all things, for what He has shared with us. There was an order to Creation, and with each step, God saw that it was good. And with each step on our road trip, so do we.
The main highlight of Sequoia National Park is its namesake…the mighty sequoia tree. Sequoias are considered the largest living trees on earth, calculated by volume of wood. While Redwoods can grow taller than Sequoias, Redwoods have much skinnier trunks, so they can not compete with the overall girth of the sequoias. Sequoias only grow in the Sierra Nevada on the west slope at between 5,000 and 7,000 feet elevation. There are only 75 groves of sequoias denoting where the soil conditions are just right for these gentle giants. Other than their large size, sequoias are also known for their resistance to disease and insects due to their high tannin levels and other factors. In contrast to their above ground height, their root system as actually very shallow; which is why their main cause of death is toppling.
Now that we know a little bit more about sequoias, it is time to find some. We stayed at Three Rivers outside of the southern entrance to the park’s Generals Highway. This entrance was wicked. There were seemingly endless switchbacks, and it is not recommended to take a vehicle longer than 22 feet through this portion of the park (sorry Aunt Glady). As we made the steep climb, we were inspired by our first real glimpses of the Sierra Nevada, with its snowy peaks.
As we continued, we were met by a pine forest, beautiful and fragrant. We enjoyed the green, refreshing presence of woods after our travels across a very dry California. As we wound through the forest floor drinking in the pine-scent, we continued our climb. Finally, we came to it. A glimpse of a trunk, much larger than its surrounding pine tree neighbors. Just a glimpse through the woods, if we blinked we would have missed it. As we continued among the pines, we began to see a few more gargantuan trunks rising from the forest floor. Their reddish tinted bark protecting huge masses of trunks amidst the friendly pines. The tantalizing quick glances make us feel as though the giant trees are playing hide & seek with us. But, we recognize these trees. These are sequoias. This is the Giant Forest.
Those first glimpses are always the most memorable, so take it all in…
We hopped out of the truck at some of the first few trees to get a closer look. Amidst the pines, the sequoias have a distinct earthy smell that is very warm and inviting.
Then, we hiked down to the General Sherman tree, the largest sequoia, standing at 275 feet tall and weighing an estimated 1,385 tons for the trunk alone. It is a steep hike down to the General Sherman tree, and they do offer a shuttle service to and from the main parking lot. We hiked down and then did the Congress trail. We were shocked to find our bodies completely exhausted after such a short hike. We couldn’t believe it. Then, we realized that we were above 7,000 feet. After months in the desert and near sea level, this was a huge jump for our bodies. A year prior, we had gradually made elevation changes as we traveled farther West, so we did not have any noticeable effects. This more drastic jump left us feeling overly tired, so keep that in mind when planning a visit.
Seeing the largest tree in the world was definitely the highlight for us in Sequoia National Park. Now, we were ready to continue on to Kings Canyon. Here is a video to better illustrate our visit to Sequoia N.P.
Kings Canyon National Park
Now that we have been completely enchanted by the sequoias, it is time to turn our sights deeper in to the Sierra Nevada. From Sequoia N.P., we decided to continue on the main road (Generals Highway) North to the Kings Canyon Visitor Center. To get to Kings Canyon National Park from the visitor center, one must drive through Sequoia National Forest (North of Sequoia N.P.). Here is a map to better show our route…
The drive in to Kings Canyon is one of the most breathtaking drives we have made, and that is saying something after almost a full year on the road. It begins at the visitor center around 6500 feet in elevation with distant views of snowy peaks and continues as a gradual descent to the Kings River and eventually in to Kings Canyon. There are many overlooks along the way, and I think we stopped at just about each one.
Finally, we entered Kings Canyon. I now have the advantage of writing this after also visiting Yosemite, and my mind naturally makes a comparison of the two. Kings Canyon’s granite cliffs are very similar to Yosemite, but it is much more remote to venture to, and therefore, is much less crowded.
This is as far as the road goes, from here, only trails traverse this part of the Sierra Nevada. In fact, John Muir trail is accessible from here and continues on to Yosemite. Hiking the High Sierra is serious business. However, there are some shorter hikes embarking from Kings Canyon that are manageable for average visitors, like us. We unfortunately stayed all the way at Three Rivers, south of the parks; so by the time we made it to Kings Canyon, it was time to start the drive back to camp. We turned around at Kings Canyon and headed back through Sequoia National Forest to the General Grant Grove and Grant Grove Village. Here we grabbed dinner and watched the sun set on the sequoias in this grove. While we did not get to hike as much as the area warranted, in just one day we were able to cover a lot of ground and spend plenty of time with the sequoias.
Chris ordered the Giant Sequoia Burger of course…
These photos are from the General Grant Grove. At this grove, the visitor may actually walk through the shell of a trunk that fell many years ago.
After watching the sun set on the gentle giants, it was time to return to the campground. Here is a video to wrap-up our day and our trip back to the campground in which we get lost for the first time on this almost 1 year-long road trip!
Fun Facts & Tips:
- We stayed in Three Rivers at the Kaweah Park Resort ($51/night – California is crazy expensive). This resort lies along the river before it enters manmade Kaweah Lake. We did not book ahead so this was the best we could do; but I would recommend trying to find something in Grants Grove Village inside the Park instead. There were larger RVs there, and the road was much more accessible to that entrance. Plus, it is in the middle of the two parks, allowing for more time to explore each. This photo shows the day we arrived which was a Thursday, for the weekend the place packed out!