Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in California is located high up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There are two entrances into the park, the 198 from the Ash Mountain entrance is my favourite. With 130 curves on the drive and 12 switchbacks it is quite an experience(!) and climbs quickly up in altitude (you can feel your ears popping) with some fantastic views of the mountains and further up the enormous trees. It’s probably not the best route to take if travelling in a large RV though. The other entrance, Big Stump is a slightly easier drive on the 180 from Fresno and a more direct route into Kings Canyon. Entrance to the park costs $30 for 7 days, fuel up on the drive in, on the 180 there’s a fuel station at Clinton’s Junction or at Three Rivers on the 198. Once in Sequoia there is no fuel except for Stony Creek Village in the summer. The only other option is Hume Lake a short drive outside the national park boundary, if in dia need John Muir lodge provides fuel but at a price of around $8 per gallon! Two parks in one Sequoia and Kings Canyon are famous for the huge trees which grace the high country forests here. Sequoias are the largest trees in the world and live for thousands of years, some of them are so big you can walk through them. Read on for my nine must do’s up in the High Sierra.
1. Climb Moro Rock
This huge dome-shaped rock has 400 steps carved into the rock face, climb them to reach the top at an elevation of 6725 feet. If that doesn’t sound hard enough, there’s also the altitude to contend with, everything feels a lot harder work at this height! The route up is an interesting one, the views are beautiful but I had to keep an eye on my feet! At one point it looks like the path ends, instead you take a sharp right and continue through a narrow passage way between the rock. With only a tiny metal hand rail guarding the edges at some points and sometimes nothing guarding the edge it feels a little scary at times so be sure to wear some decent footwear and don’t be put off the 0.25 mile climb is well worth it. There are plenty of spots to stop on the way up to admire the beautiful never-ending views and to catch your breath too. Once at the top the panoramic views are breathtaking, walking along to the end of the rock feels like you are on top of the world. The Great Western Divide, Mount Whitney, huge canyons and Highway 198, twisting and turning up the mountains side can all be seen. Don’t venture up Moro Rock during thunder storms, it can be extremely dangerous as being so exposed the rock is a magnet for lightning strikes.
2. Drive through a tree
Driving through a tree certainly isn’t something you get to do everyday, Tunnel Log near Moro Rock fell over the road in 1937 and a tunnel 17 feet high and 8 feet high was cut through it. Go early to avoid the crowds or slightly out of season to have the tree all to yourself.
3. Sleep in a cabin
A stay in a rustic cabin has to be the ultimate national park experience. Up at 6589 feet surrounded by ancient trees and waking up to crisp, fresh mountain air is wonderful. I loved staying in Grant Grove Cabins, located in Grant Grove village in Kings Canyon there’s a shop, post office and a brand new restaurant which is due to be completed in April/May 2017. No phone signal really makes you feel like you are in the wilderness, if you need to be connected to the world then a short stroll to John Muir Lodge for WiFi and a beer by a roaring fire-place is a nice way to warm up in the chillier months. Whilst charming the cabin was a little bit rough around the edges, I wouldn’t recommend them for their cleanliness as it urggled more on the shabby than the chic! Don’t get me wrong it didn’t ruin my stay, the cabins are in a fantastic location and I loved the quickness but a simple hoover, dust and scrub could have made our cabin feel a whole lot better. Matt, Emily and I stayed in a duplex cabin with two double beds and a bathroom, there are other cabins too with outdoor log burners. We would have loved to have stayed in one of these but with a baby decided it would be easier to have our own bathroom, as these ones have shared toilet and shower facilities. Seeing raccoons near our front door was such a novelty, one evening we were having drink on our porch when we were joined by a family of nine, you don’t see that in England!
Little to no light pollution in the skies above Sequoia make it an awesome place for stargazing, standing outside our cabin at night I would stare up at the sky for an age not wanting to take my eyes off it for a moment incase I missed something. Shooting stars and millions of twinkles in the fresh night sky with pretty much no light pollution is just incredible to witness.
5. Watch the sunset
Find a lookout out point and just take in the views of the Big Sierra as the colours change over the mountains and the sun goes down. We stopped at a viewpoint along Generals Highway to capture these beauties…
6. Walk amongst huge trees
There are so many spots to see big trees, they are hard to miss! General Sherman Tree in the Giant Forest is the worlds largest tree by volume, with a height of almost 275 feet and a circumference of 102.6 feet it’s a whooper! To put it into perspective this makes it nearly the same height as the Statue of Liberty. Grant Grove is home to the General Grant Tree, a short loop passes the tree which is known as ‘The Nation’s Christmas Tree’. The Fallen Monarch is also on the same loop, take a stroll through a huge length of this fallen tree. The tree trail can get quite busy but take a short stroll off the beaten track and admire these giants all by yourself.
7. Go bear spotting
I have visited Sequoia National Park twice, on the first trip in August 2015 Matt and I were lucky to have three black bear sightings. If camping be sure to keep all food and toiletries in a bear box provided to prevent them from being attracted to anything that is scented, not just food but also toiletries. Anyway back to the sightings…the first sighting was actually in our campground, we had just arrived and parked up our van for the evening when we heard a lot of commotion coming from some other campers, it turns out a mother and baby had wandered into the campground. One of the ways to get them to leave is by making a lot of noise; we just saw their backs as they disappeared. The second sighting was a bear casually strolling a short distance away from our van while we were having breakfast and the third was on my birthday. We were on our way back from a hike to Tokapah Falls when we spotted a bear along the river, we watched it cross over and pass the footpath we were on, it didn’t seem to notice us or if it did it luckily wasnt interested in us and foraged around in the undergrowth for a while before disappearing. It was incredible and something I will remember for a long time to come! For info on bear encounters and how to stay safe visit the Sequoia and Kings Canyon website: www.nps.gov
8. Admire the views
Apart from hiking another way to explore Sequoia is by car, spot huge trees to have selfies by and pull over for beautiful panoramic mountain and forest views. Make time to stop at viewpoints on Generals Highway, there are some great spots with beautiful views of the High Sierra. Panoramic Point at Grant Grove Village is the place to see Kings Canyon in all its glory at 7520ft it’s high up! Mountain peaks, valleys and Hume Lake can all be spotted and benches are conveniently placed to sit and admire the view. Hume lake in Sequoia National Forest is a 20 minute drive from Grant Grove Village its a nice area for lunch and a stroll. The drive is also a very scenic one, there are incredible lookout points over Kings Canyon and the twisting Scenic Byway to Cedar Grove below.