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.
9. Take a hike
There are so many places to walk in Sequoia from short strolls to overnight backcountry hikes. My favourite walk has to be the trail to Tokopah Falls from Lodgepole campground, at just over 4 miles there and back it’s such a scenic hike. Huge granite cliffs tower high above as you pass through forest along the Kaweah river and by alpine meadows. A steady climb up to the falls through a glacial valley, there’s a point where the trail turns into a short clamber around some giant boulders, but that just adds to the fun! The trail finishes at the falls, sit and just take it all in. The water cascades down a steep rock face, look back towards the trail and the whole valley opens up, just beautiful. Look out for bears too, Matt and I spotted one by the river on the walk back. If this is the only walk you do while in Sequoia then you won’t be disappointed, it ticks all the outdoor adventure boxes! Another nice walk is Dead Giant Loop which starts from the Grant Tree parking lot, it’s a nice walk to escape the General Grant Tree crowds and a short and straight forward one too. A 2.2 mile round trip through forest and along Lion Meadow leads to a viewpoint overlooking Sequoia Lake. It is a very peaceful place to stop for lunch and although not a long walk it had a nice feeling of remoteness.
After a 6 hour drive covering 223 miles from Los Angeles in our very cool Wicked campervan we arrived at Lodgepole campground in Sequoia National Park. Reaching the park we stopped at the ranger hut and paid the entrance fee. I was surprised to learn there was a 45 minute drive further to the campground, after such a long drive I thought we had arrived! The final part of the drive was beautiful though and made up for the fact that I was done with sitting still for so long. The road got smaller as it started to wind higher and higher up into the park. Driving through the Giant Forest we got our first sighting of the huge trees that Sequoia is famous for. At some points on the drive, if you looked down you could see tree trunks below and looking up the trees continued well above the road, just incredible. We continued driving higher up until we arrived at Lodgepole campground, here at 6720 feet above sea level the air felt fresh and clean.
Pulling up at the ranger hut to check in, I noticed a sign showing that there had been 5 bear break – ins in the campground during the past week. I had read about black bears in the area and the need to put all food and scented items in a bear proof box 24 hours a day…I was excited and apprehensive all at the same time about stumbling across a bear and this made it feel all the more real, but I still didn’t think that I would actually be lucky enough to have a bear encounter….
Sequoia works hard to make everybody aware of bears with notices in toilets about being careful with rubbish and stickers on bins reading ‘care for bear’. There is the possibility that if they break into cars they may have to be put down if they become aggressive, by knowing this it made me want to be very conscientious and look after the bears.
We found our pitch amongst the trees, complete with a bench, fire pit with a grate for cooking and a bear box, the rush of the nearby river could be heard in the distance, what a fantastic welcome. I wasted no time in putting most of my belongings into the bear box just to be on the safe side! As we settled into our surroundings the light began to fade and the smell of campfires filled the air encouraging us to set up our own. Lodgepole has a very handy shop within driving distance so we already had our firewood ready to go. All of a sudden we heard the sound of a car horn followed by banging and someone shouting, Matt and I both looked at each other and said at the same time ‘BEAR!’ Rushing over to where the commotion was happening we heard someone saying it was a mother and baby that had been nearby and we just caught a glimpse of them disappearing into the woodland high above the noisy campers. If you come across a bear the best thing to do is apparently stand your ground and make as much noise as you can to scare them off. This explains all the noise we had heard. I couldn’t believe we were only an hour into our stay and had already had a bear sighting, it finally started to sink in that they really were around us! Settling back around the campfire I felt a little uneasy peering into the darkness wondering what was watching us. With nothing but the light from the fire the star trail above was just stunning, laying back on the bench and looking skyward it looked 3D, almost like I could touch each star. Listening to the distant crackles of campfires made me sleepy and after cooking steak and veggies on the fire we retreated to our cosy van for the night.
The following morning we woke up early and sat planning our day with breakfast and coffee. Matt was having a look down towards the river when all of a sudden a bear appeared and strolled along very near to us. He or she didn’t seem to notice us, it was such a special moment as with no one else around we were the only ones to see this beautiful creature. I was not expecting that at breakfast time!
With a plan decided we put on our walking boots and jumped into the van. The first stop was to see General Grant Tree at Grant Grove. This beauty is the second tallest Sequoia tree in the world at 268 feet high by 108 feet in circumference, it is huge and very difficult to get a photo of the whole thing! The tallest by the way is the General Sherman Tree also in Sequoia, standing at 274.9 feet. My advice would be to get to Grant Grove early, we arrived mid morning and it was very busy. The General Grant Tree Trail is a short paved trail leading past the Fallen Monarch, a giant hollow Sequoia you can walk through from one end to the other and then continues past General Grant. Interestingly in the 1800s it was used in many different ways from a hotel to a stable for US Cavalry horses.
Next we decided to drive to Buck Rock lookout a fire lookout tower sat up high at 8500 feet. From what I had read in the Lonely Planet Guide to California it has fantastic views but we didn’t quite make it there….we got to an unpaved road which became very dusty and full of potholes, although it was only a couple of miles to the lookout the potholes were never-ending. So, Matt and I decided to leave the van and attempt to walk the final few miles, but in the midday sun it was just too hot and for some reason I had an uneasy feeling; there was no one else around and I had a bit of paranoia about bears! We got round a corner and did spot the tower in the distance, it looked incredible perched high up on a rocky outcrop but was just too far in the heat. There were also huge plumes of smoke from wildfires that were just incredible to witness. Feeling defeated we reluctantly gave up and missioned back to the van, we hadn’t been walking for that long maybe 45 minutes or so but I was really pleased to see our van! We found a shady spot for lunch and drove back to Lodgepole where after checking back in to a new pitch (it was so busy I had to reserve two separate sites) we strolled along the gorgeous alpine stream within the campground and had a chilly but refreshing paddle.
The following day it was my birthday, what a novelty it was to wake up in Sequoia, I had bought a few presents and cards with me from home to open too. With a 5 hour journey ahead of us to San Francisco we were keen to get back on the road but also wanted to make the most of this beautiful National Park, so a birthday hike to Tokopah Falls was on the cards. Setting off early on the 1.7 mile trail to avoid the heat of the sun the walk started just a stones through from where we had been camping. Following the river along through the trees watching out for bears, the walk was very varied. We strolled past alpine meadows, scrambled over rocks and marveled at the huge granite rock formations high above us until we arrived at the falls. We didn’t see another soul on the journey and were pleased to see the falls that marked the end of the trail and still no one else around. It really felt quite magical to be the only ones there. We reached the end of the path and clambered down the huge rock face to sit right by the falls, although not as powerful as probably during the winter months it was beautiful to see and sitting back to take in the view from where we had just walked, the valley between the canyon was clear to see. It was such a birthday treat! The day got even better as we were walking back we stopped for a glug of water and peered down to the river where we spotted a bear….we watched in silence as it crossed the river and started to walk up the embankment towards the path we had just walked along. Holding our breath we took a few steps back as it crossed right over the track and into the undergrowth on the other side. We continued to watch it as it snuffled and foraged. If it had smelt us it didn’t let on. Such an awesome sight!
Tips and tricks:
The $35 entrance pass into Sequoia lasts for 7 days.
I made an online reservation for Lodgepole campground before arriving which was $22 a night.
Fuel up when you can as fuel stations can be few and far between, Stony Creek Village had fuel pumps.
There was pretty much no phone service in the park, if you are desperate Stony Creek Lodge had free WiFi.
Lodgepole has a well-equipped shop, make sure you buy your firewood there and don’t bring it in from somewhere else, this helps to prevent the spread of disease.
There are coin operated showers at the visitor centre in Lodgepole, make sure you’ve got some quarters handy!
I loved everything about camping in Sequoia, the sights, the smells, and the sounds. Sequoia National Park is perhaps overlooked compared to others such as Yosemite, I had not heard of it until I started researching. I also read how busy Yosemite can get during the summer so I opted for Sequoia instead. Give it a go, believe me you won’t be disappointed.
Ad: Matt and I were given a discount by Wicked on our campervan in exchange for this blog post.
What could be better than hitting the open road in your own campervan? Having a kitchen and bed right there on the road with you means you are totally independent and free to explore…
This is exactly what Matt and I got up to in August in California; a collaboration with Wicked Campers saw us pick up an awesome van ‘Mystery Machine’ from their depot in Los Angeles. With its eye-catching artwork it got a lot of attention! We chatted to so many people, families would ask for photos next to it and people would wave to us on highways, it felt like we were famous! Let me tell you a little bit more about our beauty of a camper, it was a GMC Safari two-seater and around 16ft in length so it wasn’t too intimidating to drive. The ‘kitchen’, found at the rear of the van came complete with a sink, cool box, storage units full of utensils, pans, crockery, cutlery and a gas burner. Initially I was a bit sceptical as to whether the cool box would keep all our food chilled. We bought ice every two days to put in it and it did the job brilliantly so there was no need to worry about warm beers and burgers! During the day the van could be used as a seating area with bench seats and with ample storage under the seats it allowed all our gear to be hidden away. There was a table for indoor and outdoor use and two outdoor chairs, perfect for sitting next to the campfire. At night the seats turned into a large comfy bed. Bedding isn’t provided (something worth remembering if you have a travel budget) having said that at the depot there was a free shelf to help yourself to with all sorts of left over goodies. We found a kettle, perfect for making cups of tea. There was also bedding and pillows from previous owners, although we chose to stop off at a Target to buy pillows, a sheet and a sleeping bag which we unzipped to make into a duvet for two. Cosy.
At the time of picking up the van we chose to hire a Sat Nav as an extra add-on. I had bought a massive map but for an extra $5 a day it seemed like a no brainer, and we were right as getting out of LA proved a bit of a challenge…we were very grateful for it.
In my previous blog Planning for a Californian Road Trip I mentioned how much I was looking forward to cooking on a campfire. This lived up to my expectations and much more, it chilled down a bit in the evenings so a fire was the perfect way to keep warm and such a great way to experience our surroundings.
We drove just under 1000 miles in eight days and stayed at five different campgrounds with lots of stops in between. Starting with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by two nights near San Francisco and finished up with three nights along the Big Sur.
This lovely campground is right in Sequoia National Park. Facilities included a shop, cafe and coin operated showers within driving distance from our pitch. Some tent pitches are right by the Kaweah River and there is a great walk to Tokopah Falls within the campground. Lodgepole is in a great location to see all the sites of Sequoia. Each pitch had a bench, fire pit and bear box.
Here’s some more on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park:
In the seaside town of Pacifica, within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants and very easy to get into San Francisco; 30 minute bus journey to Daly City followed by 20 minutes on the train. As it sounds, this is a big RV park and we were the smallest RV by about 20ft! It isn’t that pretty to look at but is situated on a bluff with ocean views, free showers, laundry facilities and a pool.
Hidden behind sand dunes we weren’t too sure about this campground when we first arrived, the pitches were a bit close together and dusty but we learnt to love it. The beach was a steep hike over the sand dunes but worth the trek, it felt pretty wild and watching dolphins gracefully play in the waves was brilliant! The family next door to us were lovely offering us firewood and inviting us to join them on the beach for a sunset barbecue. Our pitch had a bench and fire pit, there were coin operated showers and plug sockets.
Found at the southern end of Big Sur, at the time of staying this campground only portaloos as the toilets weren’t in use! I don’t know for definite but I am assuming this was because of the drought, which was going on at the time of our trip. It wasn’t great but by that point we were pretty used to living out of our van so didn’t let it effect us, you can either be positive about these things and just get on with it or choose to ruin your trip by being miserable about it! We took the positive slant and had a great stay here. Each pitch had a bench and fire pit. Just over the road is the beautiful Sand Dollar Beach.
Here’s my favourite things to see and do along the Big Sur:
Lovely, clean and right on the beach, we could step straight onto the sand from our pitch! The beach had coin operated showers and plug sockets. This was our last night in the van and it couldn’t have been in a better place to end it. We watched seals play in the ocean and had prosecco (we are such posh campers!) while watching the sunset. Waking up during the night to the sounds of the waves was wonderful too.
Useful things to know:
Firewood – Plaskett Creek and Sunset State beach campgrounds had a ‘camp host’ who lived on site, buy firewood from them instead of buying wood from elsewhere, this helps prevent the spread of disease.
Water – Most of the campgrounds we stayed at had potable water facilities, although we always made sure we had enough with us.
Site full – I mentioned in my previous blog post about booking campgrounds well in advance for the summer season as at peak times everywhere gets fully booked. I was so pleased I had reserved pitches, as each site we turned up at was already full. Definitely something to bear in mind when planning a camping trip in California during the summer season.
Fuel – Fuel up when you can as there were limited gas stations in Sequoia and along the Big Sur. A lot of the gas stations have a pay at pump machine, I found that my UK credit card would not always work in these but I quickly learnt that you can prepay in the gas station up to the amount you need. If you fill up under the amount then your card only charges to the amount you used.
We had a fantastic road trip and loved the quirkiness of our camper, it was so comfy to sleep in and the kitchen had everything we needed to be self-sufficient on the road. It’s not everyday you wake up to watching the sunrise over the ocean from your bed or have the ability to pull over on the side of the Big Sur for a 30 minute nap in your bed! (and get woken up by a Mexican family queuing up outside to have photos next to your van!!)
More California camping and road trip adventures coming up shortly…
Matt and I are jumping on a flight tomorrow to Los Angeles for a road trip and camping adventure in California. We are looking to get back to nature with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by some city adventures for two nights near San Francisco on my birthday and then onto the Pacific Coast Highway for some sun and surf. We are following the coastal road all the way back down to Los Angeles stopping off along the Big Sur on the way.
We are very excited to be collaborating with campervan hire company Wicked. You can’t miss their vans covered in cool artwork. I am looking forward to reporting back about the van and the adventures we have along the way!
While researching the trip I realised that we would be in California during high season and booking campsites well in advance was a good plan as I found that the popular sites especially beach front ones were fully booked a few months ago! Of course many sites don’t have reservations and operate on a first come first serve basis, but as we are only there for a short time I decided I would book in advance rather than worry about where we were going to stay on the day. We have done it this way before in Australia and New Zealand though and it was easy peasy to just turn up.
We are staying in a mixture of privately owned campsites, National Parks and State Beach campgrounds. Privately owned campsites are great for shower and laundry facilities. National park ones are perfect for going back to basics and being at one with nature, often with limited facilities and sometimes no showers. The bonus though is that many of them allow campfires, which I really can’t wait for. The type of van we are using has a ‘kitchen’ in the boot so cooking outside while the sunsets will feel like such a novelty, the weather looks set to be warm and sunny too.
For reserving National Park and State beach campsites I used Reserve America and Recreation.gov. Both are good for trip planning and show current alerts in the parks. One thing I was surprised to learn about was a black bear warning for the campground I booked in Sequoia National Park. Each pitch comes with a bear proof box and all food, toiletries and anything that has a scent or odour must be placed inside so as not to attract the bears! I am slightly apprehensive and excited at the same time! I would love to see a bear but not too close to our van! Back to the research, Nomadic Matt has some useful blogs on road tripping in America and a good old-fashioned map and Lonely Planet guide to California have also been vital in planning this trip.
From previous camping trips abroad I have discovered a few very useful items that are easy to pack and save a bit of hassle on arrival at your destination…
Anti-bac wipes – I’m a bit of a clean freak so these are perfect for campervan cleaning and also good for cheating on the washing up!
Head torch – A very useful camping tool, especially for finding your way to the toilet in the middle of the night…
Re-sealable bags – Good for storing opened food and anything else you might need to store.
Power pack or car charger – A necessity for charging camera batteries or phones on the road.
Tea bags – Being an English girl I need a good cuppa!
Washing tablets – I hate having to spend on things like this when I’m away!
We will be covering around 1000 miles in 8 days; Check back for my adventures, photos and van stories coming very soon…if anyone has any suggestions on places to stop and things to see I’d love to hear them…
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.