Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks: Sequoia Version.
This amazing park showcases just how large and diverse mother nature can be. With rugged foothills, giant mountains, caverns, deep canyons and the worlds largest trees, it’s no wonder this park is a family favorite. I am going to focus on the Sequoia section of this park on this page; Kings Canyon information will be here soon.
We arrived at Sequoia National Park mid-day, on a Monday in early August. The park had clearly been bustling for hours but we were lucky to snag a campsite at Lodgepole Campground. Our site was PERFECT; nestled right up into a quiet corner we had a beautiful, shady patch of land that backed right up to a wooded hillside. While at this site we were able to experience, from a distance, a mama bear and her two cubs as well as a number of deer and chipmunks from much less of a distance; they came right on into camp without a second thought. At $22 per night, we had the 5-star accommodations any outdoors lover dreams about (aside from maybe being seculded in the back country). Serenity and seclusion, with running water and toilets a mere 200 feet away and only a short drive from Lodgepole Village where you can find the market, showers, a deli and the visitor center. We enjoyed being able to stop at the market after a long day to grab a snack or adult beverage!
Situated along the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River, Lodgepole is an exceptional location on hot days seeing as there are plenty of swimming holes only a few hundred feet away. Also, the Tokopah Falls trailhead begins within the campground as well; this hike is not strenuous but certainly requires good footwear and a bathing suit to ensure utmost enjoyment. The trail will carry you along the river and through fields of Black-eyed Susans, tall Lodgepole Pines, and jagged glacial rock formations all the way to the 1200 foot cascading Tokopah Falls. The trail is relatively flat and painless, however, I would still suggest good footwear because the rocky footing near the falls can be tricky! There is a beautiful swimming hole at the lower tier that I WISH I had brought my bathing suit for (I brought a bathing suit along on every single hike after this one, you know, just in case) and a lovely boulder to jump from if the water is high enough. Certainly, a beautiful hike that shouldn’t take you more than a third of your day unless you chose to stay, swim and picnic for an extended period of time.
Lodgepole is a pretty central location to a number of must-see sites. It is a short 5-minute drive to general parking for Sherman Tree; there are multiple paved routes you can take around the Giant Forest area to explore. The Big Trees Trail is just under a mile and level if you begin your stroll from the Giant Forest Museum. This trail houses trailside exhibits about sequoias for you to learn as you walk if you please. The General Sherman Tree is the main attraction of Giant Forest and can be accessed from the main parking lot on a half-mile hike that is paved but includes quite a few stairs. The wheelchair accessible route takes off from the Giant Forest Museum. The 2-mile Congress loop will take you off the main trail and away from the hoards of visitors and begins at the Sherman Tree as well. Be sure to revel in the beauty of just how massive these trees are! And also, be ready to share these beauties with hundreds of park visitors.
Just beyond the Sherman Tree turn-off you will come upon the Giant Forest Museum. This adorable building will tell you everything you might want and/or need to know about Sequoias and the surrounding area. I found it incredibly educational and it’s quite interactive for the little ones! Across the road from the museum is the Beetle Rock Family Nature Center. Although the nature center was closed upon our arrival, walking beyond it allows for a stunning view from Beetle Rock itself. From the northernmost end of the parking area, you can find the trail for Sunset Rock. This 2-mile out and back is neither strenuous nor crowded. We had this vast, granite clearing looking out about a deep canyon picturesquely carved by the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River to ourselves for sunset before hiking back to our parked vehicle. Don’t forget to bring a light source for your hike back and remember that dusk is the time when wildlife is most alive! We did come across a bear on our hike back; the beauty looked right at us and kept on walking as we slowly backed away and made light noise.
About 15 minutes from Lodgepole you will make a left onto the road with parking for Moro Rock, the drive through Sequoia (Tunnel Log) and Crescent Meadow. If I could make any suggestion to you it is to GET UP EARLY, and by early I mean we woke up at 4:30AM, and head to Moro Rock. Dress in layers, bring breakfast and headlamp and you won’t be upset about the time. The experience on top of Moro Rock in the twilight of dawn is simply otherworldly. As the moon sets to the coast, the sun rising up over the Sierras is simply breathtaking. We spent close to two hours up on top of Moro Rock with only two other visitors until the sun rose and crowds began. It was amazing to have the entire granite dome pretty much to ourselves as the of nature of Sequoia National Park awoke around us with the rising sun. Head back to camp for a quick nap before adding to the days adventures!
Approximately 15 minutes north, in the opposite direction from the above-mentioned activities, you can find a pull-off area for Little Baldy. This mountain is a fairly quick hike for those who generally hike at a moderate pace. Switchbacks were a welcomed difference to the straight-up-huge-boulders I’m used to hiking on the east coast and this was our first experience with them. Easy on the knees and the eyes, we managed to experience quite a bit a wildlife while traversing the multiple switchbacks of Little Baldy; marmots, deer mamas and their fawns, as well as many chipmunks and birds, made their presence known along the trail. After about a dozen switchbacks the trail evens out through some new growth before reaching the final uphill of the granite dome. 360 degrees of stunning views for you to take in alongside you fellow hikers! Not a very busy spot in our experience; we arrived in late afternoon and had the entire dome to ourselves passing two small groups on our ascent and one group on our descent.
We did not spend any time in the Foothills of Sequoia National Park, although there are many beautiful trails and exciting excursions one could experience here! For starters, the drive alone from Three Rivers up and into the park is breathtaking and also slightly nauseating. Multiple hairpin turns open to greet you with stunning views along the way; drive slowly and take it all in!
Also, Crystal Cave Tours (tours of Crystal Cave) have a number of tours for varying interests; it is suggested that tickets be reserved in advance at www.recreation.gov at least 48 hours in advance, however, you can check at the Lodgepole and/or Foothills Visitor center for availability day of. Get gas from Three Rivers before entering the park and remember to always carry water (& means of purification) and an adequate map that you know how to use in order to have the best experience!