We are true weekend warriors, willing to travel really far distances for very short amounts of time. This time we drove 6.5 hours from San Diego to celebrate the National Park's centennial anniversary at King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks for a mere 36 hours of time in the parks.
The National Parks actually celebrate their anniversary every year for the weekend of August 25th with free entry to the parks, but this year was especially important because it was celebrating the 100 year anniversary! #NPS100
We stayed at Sunset Campground in Hume, California smack dab between the two parks. Leaving straight from work and braving the LA rush hour traffic, it took closer to 7.5 hours to arrive in the pitch black night. Our camp site was unfortunately not very private, nor level, and happened to also be set on a bed of stone just below the soil. So we slept on a complete slant, slipping down through the night, without our tent anchored in - the things we do. On to the positive...
Kings Canyon National Park
We really enjoyed this underrated and less crowded National Park. The landscape of King's Canyon felt similar to Yosemite, but without all the people, so we affectionately called it Yosemite Jr. Huge granite rocks towered above our heads, spiking out in to pinnacles and enveloping you with the magnitude of their size. Boulders were strewn across the canyon floor, and King's River rushed by us as we traversed through the forest of pines, redwoods and sequoias surrounding us. It was silent and peaceful, and the portion of the trail we were on was basically flat the entire time as it followed the river through the canyon.
Things to see & do:
- General Grant Tree: One of the largest giant sequoia trees in the world (we'll get to the largest one in a minute...), this tree is set in a forest of sequoias with plenty big trees to take in.
- Road's End trail towards Misty Falls trail: This trail was great because it was so undisturbed. No cars, bikes or shuttles, just a few people enjoying the wilderness. This trail also leads to a 4-5 day backpacking loop which connects to the PCT. If you come to the trail more prepared than we did, you can make your way to the waterfall at Misty Falls.
- Wildlife: We (luckily) didn't see any bears, but this area is much more wild and an active black bear zone. We saw tons of lizards, insects, and even a rattle snake (he slithered away unbothered).
- Swimming: We skinny dipped in King's River (we forgot our suits). The water is really cold, but it is relaxing and refreshing even just to dip your toes in.
Sequoia National Park
Giant sequoias are the world's largest single trees and largest living thing by volume. The trees are ancient, the oldest known one being 3,500 years old. Being amongst them knowing they were here long before us, and will still be there long after us is amazing. Their bark's evolutionary resiliency is also impressive. It it not only fire resistant, but actually depends on and thrives in forest fires, eliminating competing vegetation, and setting the stage for their cones to open.
In addition to housing the largest sequoia trees in the world, Sequoia National Park also boasts the largest mountain in the lower 48: Mt. Whitney, making the park's designation extend vertically nearly 13,000 feet.
Things to do & see:
- General Sherman Tree: The largest living organism on earth and the biggest tree in the entire world in terms of density. There are other taller or wider tress, but none with as dense of wood in the trunk. Beware: this area is very touristy and crowded.
- Crystal Cave: This drive was off the cut and quite out of the way. Entrance to the actual cave requires an $18, 1 hour guided tour. We opted just for the lush hike down along a waterfall that dipped down each layer of rock deviating directions ever so slightly. The walk back up from the bottom was definitely a work out!
- Big Tree Trail: A peaceful walk amongst the giant sequoias overlooking a vast meadow. Learn about the trees, climb through hollowed out fallen soldiers, and admire how small and young you feel next to these thousand year old warriors.
- Moro Rock: This was definitely the highlight of the trip! The trail leading up to the rock is 1.6 miles each way, and the majority of the hike is through a shaded forest area that is serene and easy to traverse without much elevation gain. Then for the last quarter mile you head straight up Moro Rock to an unexpectedly breathtaking view of the high Sierra Mountains. The last portion of the hike felt a lot like a safer, easier Angel's Landing. There is a shuttle at the bottom of the rock that can take you back, but it is super crowded, so we just headed back the way we came on foot.
All in all these parks are great to visit. It's nice that they are both right next to each other, making for so much to do over your stay. The views are stunning, the magnitude of the canyon is immense, and the resiliency of the giant sequoia trees is inspiring. And since 84% of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is designated wilderness, meaning accessibility is available only by foot or horseback, it makes for a very private encounter with nature and smaller crowds (even on a free entry weekend).
Have you been to these parks? We'd love to hear about your favorite sights in the comments.
'Til next time, stay wild!