It was very early in the morning as we left the Californian coast behind us, and headed for to the place that has been on my wish list since I was a little girl. When I was about 7 years old I saw the gigantic trees on a TV show and have been fascinated by them even since. That is why a trip to the Sequoia National Park could not miss from the itinerary of my first Californian road trip. As this is one of the few places in the world where you can see these extraordinary Sequoia trees.
If you have read more of my posts I am sure you know that I love the outdoors. I always feel energized when nature surrounds me and stunning mountainscapes that stretch out over the horizon. The Sequoia National Park was no exception. There certainly isn’t a lack of stunning sights or hiking trails, overlooking the mountains, deep canyons and of course the worlds largest trees. For me, this visit was enchanting and everything I hoped for. To be honest, I was almost sad to leave the park and head back to busy LA.
What to expect from a trip to the Sequoia National Park?
The Sequoia National Park lies in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the San Joaquin Valley. It is connected to the Kings Canyon National Park and your entrance ticket will let you visit both parks. Although the park does offer some shuttle services, the best way to explore the park is by car. Keep in mind though, that park roads are steep, narrow and winding. If you visit in winter time, snow chains will be required in certain area’s of the park.
There are about 14 campsites throughout the parks and about 5 lodges. I stayed outside of the park, as the campsites that were open, were fully booked. So my first recommendation is to make reservations in advance! Especially in summer time, when the tourist season starts.
Both parks have a lot to offer. Because of that, I would advise to take at least two days for your visit. To complete the experience, try to spend the night on one of the campsites if possible. It will save you a lot of driving back and forth, plus you get to wake up in nature!
I visited the parks in June, which felt like a perfect time. It was right before the tourist season attracts the big crowds, and the temperature was already very pleasant and not too hot.
Inside the park
In the park, you can decide for yourself how active you would like to be. If you want to take it easy there are a lot of sights that don’t require a big hike or climb to get there. In fact most trails to the ‘highlights’ are quite easy. It is well suited for folks that do not encounter the mountains on a weekly base.
The giant forrest, and my personal highlight, lies on a higher altitude, that is around 2.500m. If you are not used to a higher altitude, you might want to slow down your pace. At a high altitude, it is more difficult to undertake certain activities, as it will cost more of your energy.
What to see or do inside the parks?
I always love lookout points, where you can dream away whilst overlooking endless rolling hills, rugged foothills and lush green vegetation. The park offers several stunning scenic lookout points, some require a hike to get there, others are accessible by car.
Moro Rock was the lookout that impressed me the most. The big granite rock is visible for everybody who enters the park from the south. The view from the top is literally and figuratively breathtaking. You need to climb up for quite a bit (about 350 steps/800m up) to get from the parking to the lookout point at 2050m (6725 ft). The rocky stairs and sometimes narrow paths take you up this gigantic boulder from where you have a 360° view that overlooks the park, its winding roads and the endless rows of pine trees that cover most of the mountains.
When you follow the generals highway, at some point you will see the sign that mentions that you enter the Giant Forrest. From here on, you will see the iconic redwoods or Sequoia trees. You will recognize the Sequoia’s immediately by their size and red/brown color. At first you will see one here and there, but the higher you get, the more you will see and the bigger they get.
Close to the Giant Forrest Museum, that you will find if you follow the Generals Highway, you will have the opportunity to face the trees up close. A flat walking trail surrounds a green and lush swamp, this trail guides you through a small forrest of Sequoia’s. The walk itself is about 1,5 kilometer and is mostly in the shade, perfect for a hot and sunny day.
When I was walking along the trees, you can feel nothing less than astonishment. Walking past 60 or 70 meter high trees, makes you feel small. The whole surrounding, the silence, the many shades of green contrasting against the blue sky, just feels enchanting.
The Giant Forrest also houses the ‘famous’ General Sherman Tree, that is currently the biggest tree in the world. It is about 83 meters high and has an expansion of app. 31 meters.
The Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons within the US. From the road you can look deep into the Canyon. There is a car stop on a lookout point that looks over the entire canyon. Unfortunately there was not enough time to explore more of the canyon itself, in my schedule. But if you have the time, it is a great part to include in your journey as well.
I heard this is one of the highlights of the park. Unfortunately it was still closed when we visited. According to the National Park, you can expect a ” treasure of ornate marble polished by subterranean streams and decorated with curtains of icicle-like stalactites and mounds of stalagmites.” I hope to see it on my next visit.
Many other lookouts and hiking trails
I only had two days to explore the park while I was on a trip to the Sequoia National Park, so I did not nearly had enough time to see or do everything. If you want an active holiday, I think you could camp out here for a week and not see it all. We’ve had some luck to find some short hiking trails along the road, leading to stunning vista points. I’d suggest to get in explorer mode, try some things and be surprised, with what I’ve seen, it is hard to be disappointed.
Wild life in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Every time you enter a National Park, whether it is in Colorado or California, the signs will make you aware of the types of wildlife you could encounter whilst in the park. The same goes for a trip to the Sequoia National Park. Despite signs of bears, cougars or mountain lions, the chances of running into them are quite small. The main form of wildlife I’ve seen so far, are prairie hounds, squirrels, groundhogs or elks (which I also thought was pretty cool).
This time however, we came face to face with a different type of wildlife… As we had decided to call it a day and find our way back to our hotel, I suddenly saw something dark move in the corner of my eye. At first I figured that it was a dog, but as I turned my head, I saw that it did not look anything like a dog. It was a black bear.
In that moment I felt both lucky and a little bit frightened. Lucky because I saw a wild bear for the first time in my life, a bit frightened because, well it is a bear and I had no idea of what to expect. It was trying to open a waste bin, that, unfortunate for him, was bear-proof.
The wildlife warning signs tell you to make a lot of noise when you encounter a bear, however, we turned quiet and observed him for a little while. But in all fairness, we kept a safe distance and did not even consider of getting closer. At some point, he gave up and disappeared in the bushes, probably to find food the way nature intended.
What to do in you encounter a bear?
To be honest I don’t know how often people encounter bears in America, since I am still quite new to the area. But I did do some research on what to do when you encounter a bear. Because it is good to be prepared.
In general, bears rather avoid humans. In fact, he will probably be as frightened as you are upon an encounter. There are a couple of things you can do in order to prepare yourself for a possible encounter.
- Get a bear spray or bear alarm can, that you can use in case of a close encounter;
- Never travel alone through a bear habitat;
- Make noise, talk loud or sing when you are walking through bear territory;
- And always pay attention to your surroundings!
If you happen to spot a bear, first of all, keep your distance! Second, stay calm and don’t run! Assess the situation, to see what you are dealing with, are there cubs? Is the bear protecting a carcass of some sort?
Never get in between a bear and her cubs, as she will try to defend them. Always try to back away slowly in the direction you came from, whilst keeping an eye on the bear. Talk in a calm voice to the bear if necessary. If he is getting too close, prepare yourself slowly and calm, to use your spray or alarm. If you don’t have any of these things, make yourself as big as possible and start making a lot of noise, to scare him off.
Resource:Bear Smart on bear encounters
Further relevant information for a trip to the Sequoia National Park
Just like with any other outdoor adventure, I would advise to be prepared for a change of weather. Bring an extra layer of clothing, a hat to protect you from the sun and always provide yourself with enough sunscreen. The higher you get, the stronger the sun will be.
The trails are well accessible with normal trail (running) shoes. I did not find it necessary to wear my sturdy mountain boots, as the paths are not slippery, uneven or rocky. But it all depends on your own preference of course.
Make sure to bring your own food and store it away out of sight. There are two ‘restaurants’ but chances are big that you will have a nicer lunch when you bring your own. Also, it is wonderful to do a picnic. Right outside the south entrance of the park, there are several deli’s where you can buy a fresh prepared sandwich or salads.