Anyone else out there dreaming big on one day experiencing #allthenationalparks in the good ‘ol U.S.of A.? Its been a goal of ours for awhile now, and one day we hope to take the time to do them all Grizwold style in a big year long road trip…#oneday. Until that time, however, we are content to just keep picking them off one by one. Sequoia and Kings Canyon have been near the top of our list for awhile. So, here we go! Off to the nation’s second oldest national park, Sequoia! (Don’t worry, Kings Canyon coming soon!)
The combination of big mountains, fresh snow, and (of course) the biggest most beautiful trees in the world make for an incredible experience. There is nothing like spending time with organisms that have been alive and growing for 2000+ years to make you ponder your own mortality and see how small you are in comparison. Get off your butt and go explore while you still can!
[ D A Y • 1 ] Yucca Valley → Sequoia National Park: Wuksachi Lodge, Twin Lakes Trail
Sequoia National Park isn’t too terribly far for us, however it’s probably on the far end of adventures we would want to tackle on an average weekend. We waited for a long holiday weekend before tackling the trip to make sure we had as much time as possible to spend in the park (although is there really ever enough time to fully explore our national parks?). The following itinerary is a great and active way to fill 48 hours in one of the nation’s most beloved parks.
5 hours in the car and boom! we entered the park and headed up the long winding road towards Giant Forest. When you enter the park you’ll be at only 800 feet of elevation, however don’t let that fool you. The environment and weather are very different where you’re soon headed. By the time you reach the forest you will be 7,000+ feet above sea level which seems lofty until you think about the fact that there are portions of the park that peak near 10,000 feet (WOW!).
PSA (yup, we just gotta throw this in there): As always, when you head into the mountains during winter you need to be prepared, weather can change quickly and conditions can hugely vary between altitudes. Make sure to check the most recent road conditions and always have warm clothes, spare water, food, and tire chains with you. Also note, that there is zero fuel in the National Park, so make sure that tank of yours is full!
Like Japan, when it comes to National Parks in the U.S., accommodations tend to fill up fast (heck we will even include State Parks in that, too). However, somehow the stars aligned for this adventure and we got lucky and scored a room at the The Wuksachi Lodge right in the middle of the park. Booyah!
Wuksachi, has an awesome mountain lodge feel and serves as the perfect “base camp” to maximize your time in the park. As a sidenote, on your drive to the lodge (if you choose to stay there that is) we recommend resisting the temptation to stop and see General Sherman – yes, I realize this sounds absurd. But honestly, the parking lot will (most likely) be crowded with cars waiting for a space. Thus we suggest making General Sherman your first stop on your first full-day in the park. If you arrive before 0900 chances are you’ll be able to grab a parking spot easily and enjoy the tree (mostly) to yourself. *If you visit during the week this may not be as much of an issue as the crowds are thinner.
So yes, we fought the urge hard to stop and drove straight up to the main lodge first (note: don’t unload your bags here, the actual rooms are located just up hill in a different area which although close has more convenient parking).
In the main lodge, there is a restaurant (which is quite good), small store with some souvenirs, as well as a bar which has some local beers on tap. Can we make a suggestion, too? While you’re here checking in make a reservation for dinner at The Peaks (the restaurant inside the lodge), as it can get pretty busy on weekends and during holidays. During the winter season this is also the only restaurant inside Sequoia National Park that is open, so yes…even if you end up cancelling making a reservation is always a good idea.
After checking in, drive on over to your lodge and unload. We loved the rooms here for their spaciousness, and overall renovated feel. Our room had a nice fold out sofa and the king bed was really comfortable! Although we got very accustomed to firmer beds in Asia we generally prefer western beds and this bed fit the bill especially after a long day of snowshoeing!
Since we arrived Saturday later in the day + it was winter we didn’t have as much time to explore as we would like. The natural tendency is to head to the Giant Forest because #sequoia! However, we suggest trying to maximize your time enjoying one of the trails just outside the lodge. Thus, our tribe walked to the main lodge from the room and donned our ice spikes for a walk along the Twin Lakes Trail. It didn’t take long for the snow to get deep enough that we opted to ditch the spikes and don snowshoes as the trails were mostly untouched and the snow was three to four feet deep.
*Note: If visiting during the winter and snowshoeing isn’t really your jam there is a snowplay area at Wolverton that isn’t too far (starts just two miles north of the Sherman Tree). There is also an area where you can rent snowshoes if you want to give it a go.
We got a little carried away watching the sun fade behind the mountains and had to get out our headlights for the way back (whoops!). When we purchased them, Britt totally made fun of me, but they truly are a HUGE help. Being able to experience the forest and snow after dark is a completely different experience – so why not (assuming you’re prepared, of course)?v
Okay, enough about the gear…now back to the trail…
The first part of the Twin Peaks Trail is fairly easy with little elevation gain, however, because it is not nearly as trafficked as others and is buried in snow during the winter months, it can be a bit confusing navigating the turns. Thankfully there are markers high on the trees so keep an eye out for them if snow buries the normal signs as it had for us. Still the peace of being so close to the lodge, but completely alone was wonderful. Despite a couple confusing turns, releasing some energy and family bonding after being stuck in the car for hours was just what the four of us needed.
We came back from the hike in the dark doffed our headlamps and snowshoes and headed straight to dinner at Peaks. The restaurant provided crayons and coloring sheets for the kids which kept them occupied and Dom & I each ordered a well-deserved local craft brew. Overall, the menu is fairly extensive but, it does air on the pricey side, however, the convenience of not having to leave the park definitely made up for some of the extra cost.
From dinner it was an easy walk back to the room for bath + bed. The wifi isn’t the best and there aren’t many television channels to choose from here, so do yourself a solid and download any park maps prior to visiting as well as a family board game or movie for evening entertainment. Any AllTrails app lovers? Get your maps downloaded before you get here! Big day tomorrow as Dom planned a full day of snowshoeing through the beautiful sequoia for our tribe!
- The Peaks Restaurant:
- Breakfast: 0700 – 1000
- Lunch: 1130 – 1500
- Dinner 1700 – 2100
- Peaks Bar:
- Hours: 1430 – 2100
- Gift Shop:
- Hours: 0800 – 1800
[ D A Y • 2 ] Sequoia National Park: General Sherman → Congress Trail → Three Rivers: Buckaroo Restaurant → Three Rivers Brewery
Generally we make it a habit not to set an alarm clock on vacay (although there are a few notable exceptions like experiencing sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia), but then again if you saw the line of cars wasting time waiting for a parking space in the General Sherman lot you’d probably do the same. So as good gentlemen do, Dom and Miles got up a smidge earlier than us ladies and prepped breakfast. We don’t always pack our own food, but we do try to minimize costs and meals out as the more we have in our travel fund the more we get to do. Camping stove pancakes + coffee in the room got us more than ready to tackle a full day out with several thousand of the biggest trees in the world.
Thankfully both kids cooperated, and everyone was dressed and ready for adventure by 0800. We all piled in the car and drove a few miles down Generals Highway to the Giant Forest to scope out the 275 foot tall General Sherman Tree. NPS clocks this tree’s trunk in at an approximate weight of 1,385 tons! It’s not the tallest, but by volume no tree in the world is bigger, with a base circumference of 103 feet! It’s largest branch is 7 feet in diameter! If Sherman is the main attraction, the early bird really does get the worm, as there were just a few cars in the parking lot.
The General Sherman Loop is short, however it can be icey/slippery so it’s a good idea to have microspikes or some other kind of traction aid if you go during the winter. I can’t emphasize the piece of mind these little suckers give this momma. Nothing can ruin a good time like a broken hip or distal radius fracture!
Even when looking at the numbers, it’s really hard to really comprehend how huge and how old these beautiful trees are. Standing in front of a living object that has been there, slowly growing for 2,200 years is an amazing experience. However, it’s easy to get to the General by a short walk from the parking lot. That’s great, but it also means that it can get quite crowded. We’ve often found that putting a little extra work in can improve your experience 1000 fold…a rule that definitely held true for us for the rest of the day.
After visiting with the General, we set out for our main task of the day… losing ourselves in a winter wonderland surrounded by the biggest trees in the world (but, of course we had to do a bit of belly sledding first because why not? Ha!). We began our hike on the well trafficked Congress Trail which is a two mile loop that cuts through some of the most gorgeous trees on the planet. Though covered with several feet of snow, the path was compacted enough to make for fairly easy going. Hoping for a much longer hike, we soon peeled off from the Congress Trail planning on a bigger loop through the heart of the forest.
*If short on time, you can also opted to just follow Congress Loop their entire way around. It’s a paved 2 mile easy trail that will take you past both General Lee Tree, as well as McKinley. Plan on +/- 1.5 hours to tackle.
It wasn’t long before we were once again alone with the forest. Before hand, we had downloaded the topographic maps of the area on the AllTrails app and marked out a planned route. Be warned, there is NO cell signal up in the park, so come prepared with everything you need downloaded beforehand. Even in the lodge, Internet was spotty at best. We split from Congress trail and headed South West on Alta Trail. The hard pack snow soon loosened up and we had to put on the snowshoes to stay on top of the deep snow.
We stayed on Alta all the way to Huckleberry Trail where we headed back east until it met up with Tharp Log’s Trail, we then turned north onto Washington Tree Trail to Circle Meadow Trail following all the way back up to Congress to finish our loop. Penny was snuggled warm in the Deuter carrier for pretty much the entire time, and Miles lead the way, proud to show off the MSR Snowshoes he got for Christmas this year.
It ended up being about an 11 mile route, and took us about 5 and a half hours with a stop nestled in between giant sequoias for lunch (hot chocolate, ramen, and mac n’ cheese to warm us up). There is nothing like a little macaroni and cheese to keep the kids (and us) motivated to keep trucking for another several miles!
Sequoia are truly super special as they are usually only found between 5,000 – 7,000 feet elevation and only naturally along the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada range. Chemicals found in the wood and bark protect them from so many of the natural elements allowing them to live for many years compared to other trees: insects, fungi, fires seem unable to bring them down. Instead of being brought down by the typical elements, toppling seems to be the major way these trees meet their demise. Sequoias have a shallow root system and no tap root therefore wind, or too much moisture in the soil can all lead to a topple.
Just look at these trees! If you’re like us you’re over there wondering how do these gentle giants measure up to their neighbors, the Redwoods, found on the Northern California coast. In general, Sequoias are a little shorter and a little older, but much wider at the base. Most of the time they weigh more as well and their bark is double the thickness.
After about 5.5 hours deep in the forest we finally arrived back at the car and loaded up. As promised, both kids got their reward cookie…well earned for so many miles with snowshoes in deep snow. Unfortunately, our next stop was the Giant Forest Museum and whelp, by the time we would hit it it would be closed…ahhh…tabling that for tomorrow, I suppose.
We decided to take the remainder of daylight and go for a little drive down the mountain and into Three Rivers, a little town of 2,182, for some dinner and maybe a craft brew. As we drove into town and neared our destination the kids spotted the cutest little candy & ice-cream shop. Seeing as they had done a great job on the trails today we opted to pop out and let them indulge (well, they split one scoop) of ice-cream!
Reimer’s Candies+ Gifts was just about a quarter mile from here to Buckaroo Diner where we decided to have dinner. We enjoyed the food and the laidback atmosphere. The kid’s portions here are pretty generous, so possibly think about having your kids split a kid’s meal if you have little littles. Our food was good, but honestly similarly priced and not as good as the restaurant up at the Lodge.
We thanked our server and then walked out of Buckaroos for a 5 min walk over to Three Rivers Brewery. This place is small, but they’ve got some great local brews served in mason jars which (of course) makes them wayyyy better. The beer was good, but the courtyard out back complete with fire pit and a sand pit with toys for the kids to play in really won the show. The elevation change made for much warmer temperatures down there, so sitting by the fire was really nice. Not pictured are our cute kiddos to the right of the fire pit self-entertaining in the neighboring sandbox with all of the toys! Good times were had by all.
- Daily, 1000 – 1800
- Thurs and Friday 1700-2100
- Sat and Sunday 0930-1330, 1700-2100
- Mon 1000 – 1500
- Tues and Wed – Closed
- Thurs – Sat: 1100 – 2300
- Sun: 1100 – 2200
- Mon: 1200 – 2200
[ D A Y • 3 ] Sequoia National Park: Big Trees Trail, Giant Forest Museum, Hospital Rock, Tunnel Rock → Morongo Basin
Although we all slept surprisingly well, the kids, like clockwork woke up at 0700. Like most wee ones, they just don’t get the whole “sleep-in thing” that we had tabled Sunday, but had good intentions of observing Monday.
We quickly packed up, checked out of the Lodge (check out is 1100) and headed out to begin our slow descent towards the park’s entrance. First, stop? Big Trees Trail. This trail is perfect for littles as it’s a short, level, paved loop that’s easy to navigate as it literally just makes a big circle around Round Meadow (additionally its wheelchair accessible…in the summer). There is a parking lot right next to Round Meadow which we parked in (however during the busy season this lot may only be reserved for those with disabilities, so make super to check the signs in front of the spaces before parking if that isn’t you) or there is also the opportunity to park at the Giant Forest Museum walking to the trailhead from there (this will of course add on a few more steps to your stroll, but then again you’re strolling through Sequoias sooooo #worthit! Total is about 1 mile roundtrip from the museum).
Walking through the trees around the meadow is such a surreal experience. Sequoias exist in a very specific environment where there is just enough moisture, but not too much. As evidenced by the meadow, if there is too much water, they will not grow.
Along the path our kids loved finding some of the toppled down trees and climbing through the massive trunks. One they actually were able to climb all the way up into and then slide down due to its perfect incline!
At the very end or start (depending on how you look at it) there is a pretty rad tree, well, it’s really two trees that eventually grew into one. Meet Ed by Ned. Yup, sequoias are kinda cool.
From here we piled back in the car and headed to the Giant Forest Museum which is super neat and our kids really enjoyed it! We timed our visit so we could hear one of the ranger talks held in front of Sentential Tree and then ducked inside to explore the free museum. The staff here is really top notch and super helpful. I (of course) came with a list of questions and the ranger was able to help answer all of them.
What we loved most about the museum, however, was that it was really informative, but not overwhelming at the same time and goodness that’s a hard balance to achieve. It has plenty of space to walk around and things for kids to touch, but not too many nooks enabling us to keep track of the kids and also read as much as we wanted. Additionally, there is a small gift shop as well with some Christmas ornaments, books, shirts, stickers, etc.
We originally had planned to do a bit of snowshoeing this day as well post-museum exploration, but thanks to the ranger, we learned that the parking lot to Moro Rock was closed during the winter (they don’t plow it). Thus, we would have to snowshoe in from the museum adding on a significant amount of time. Seeing that we had to also drive home mid-afternoon, it just wasn’t feasible. We just didn’t have the time – major bummer. The idea is safely tucked away for another trip, as we will definitely be coming back at some point! In the meantime if you get the chance to explore Moro Rock we would love to hear about your experience!
A tad disappointed we loaded back up into the car and continued our descent down the mountain. Our next stop being Hospital Rock, a large rock formation by a stream/waterfall that used to be an important site for Native Americans. The running water nearby and large rocks made for a great food prep area. In the 1860s an explorer, Hale Tharp, injured his leg in the forest and was transported here for treatment by the local Indians (hence the name). To this day you can still see the pictographs on the rocks. Nowadays, right across the street there is a great picnic area with tables and restrooms for you to enjoy one last stop before leaving the park.
Not quite ready to say goodbye, we had one last stop in mind at Tunnel Rock before the drive home. The iconic table shaped rock is easy to see when you are driving in the park, but was super crowded when we went by and, really, who wants to stop when you are finally heading up into the sequoia? Climbing up for the iconic picture isn’t prohibited, but there is a warning sign to be careful. Dom scrambled up with the kids for one last photo before the drive home.
It’s impossible to explain the feeling you get when standing before the giant sequoias. Trees that you know have been there for thousands of years, slowly growing and overcoming (even embracing) the natural fires, drought, and other challenges that have come their way. It’s incredibly sad to learn about how many were cut down in the early 1900s, but it makes us so happy to know that these trees will be protected forever. When we first arrived at the Giant Forest Museum, the ranger was telling a story about how it took a team of men 4 or 5 days to cut down one of the giants. 5 days to cut down something that took 2000 years to grow. Think about that.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon (write up to come!) were the first national parks formed to protect a living organism: Sequoiadendron giganteum. No matter where you live or how old you are, this is a place you need to see before you die. Thanks to former president Harrison, the trees will be there, still waiting for you.
- Hours: 0900 – 1630
- Admission: Free!
- Sunrise to Sunset
- Sunrise to Sunset
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