One minute we’re cruising along Generals Highway in Kings Canyon National Park and then presto, we’ve crossed over to Sequoia National Park. Two parks for the price of one! Always love a good bargain. These two parks are managed as one, but they feel like completely different parks with different Visitor Centers, and overall feel of the place. Our introduction to Sequoia National Park (in California) was on this 45 minute drive from Kings Canyon Visitor Center to Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia. Having just spent the day exploring Kings Canyon National Park (part 1, part 2) you would think that we had our fill of amazing views, but Sequoia even just on this drive alone impressed us to no end. Our main goal was to get to Lodgepole Campground in time to cook dinner when it was still light out, so we didn’t have time to make our customary gazillion stops. I do remember seeing far away mountain ranges that went on and on, beautiful lush green meadows, giant sequoia trees, waterfalls and cascading streams/rivers. The elevation of Lodgepole campground is 6,700 ft, so the temperatures during our visit were thankfully much cooler, quite comfortable in fact.
Lodgepole campground had it all. With a Visitor Center, a market, cafeteria (albeit small), laundry facilities, showers (not the cleanest, but to be expected from a campground shower), dump stations and water fill stations. Also, shuttles were available to take you to most of the main areas. The Marble Fork Kaweah River flows through the campground and many people were enjoying the water in some of the calm areas when we were there late July.
When I make campground reservations, I look for sites that are on the edges of loops and that seem a bit more private with space between sites (the river front sites looked nice, but didn’t have much in the way of privacy). Then I go to campsitephotos.com and look at any available pictures. Site # 184 turned out to be a very nice site. We sleep in our campervan, but if you tent camp, there is a great flat and private area in the boulder section that would be perfect for a tent. I loved that there was just woods and boulders for our “backyard.” The only small thing is that the site next to us had a very small footprint, so our neighbors set up their tent on a flat section close to our fire pit and right next to the water spigot (smack dab in our fire pit smoke path). We didn’t end up hanging out at the fire pit too long anyway, because of our bear incident…
When you check-in to the campgrounds at both Sunset and Lodgepole, the rangers let you know that there are active black bears in the area and that you have to leave all of your food in the bear locker. Also, if you happen to encounter a bear, you’re supposed to scare away the bear by making loud noises, and if necessary throw something in its direction (don’t hit it) so that it will move away from your campsite and not get into your food (you don’t want it to get a taste for human food). So, I listened, nodded my head at the rangers advice and made a mental note.
So, getting back to the bear incident. As I was roasting marshmallows at the campfire with my back to the “backyard” area of our campsite, my daughter told me, kind of matter-of-factly, that there was a bear coming towards our campsite. I laughed and made a comment like “that would be crazy.” About half a minute later my daughter says to me with a little more urgency, “Mom, seriously, there’s a bear at our campsite.” At which point, I turned around and actually saw a black bear about 5 feet behind our picnic table eyeing the contents of what was on the table, which was a closed wine bottle and a box of graham crackers (with an unopened sleeve of crackers). All rational thought left my mind as I proceeded to grab the bag of marshmallows on the ground, all the while not letting go of the roasting stick with the perfectly roasted marshmallows on it (must…save…marshmallows). It’s good to know in life and death situations I will protect my marshmallows. I yelled, “Get in the van!” to my daughter, who was taking her sweet time gathering her stuff. She had been carefully watching the bear who had immediately started moving back with my bustling around and yelling. So, inadvertently, I scared off the bear with my fear and panic. How about that!?! The bear stuck around for a bit and disappeared, but I couldn’t help think that every noise I heard that night was because of that bear… who was after my perfectly roasted marshmallows. Since I don’t like sitting in the dark not knowing if every sound I heard was the bear coming back, I enjoyed the rest of the evening inside the campervan. Besides, I already roasted my marshmallows…
Moro Rock and Crescent Meadows hike
The following morning found us at the Giant Forest Museum parking lot eager to get hiking on the Moro Rock Trail. Make sure to bring plenty of water, which we did NOT and regretted because there are many opportunities to add to your hike (although things worked out just fine in the end). Fill up your water bottles at the Giant Forest Museum area, since there will be no water at either Moro Rock or Crescent Meadow. Most people waited for a shuttle to take them up to Moro Rock, but the hike up was a wonderful way to see more of the terrain, walk through nature and most importantly avoid the crowds. After navigating the parking lot and the crowd of people milling around the Visitor Center, we crossed the street and jumped on the Moro Rock Trail. Aaaah, the world got peaceful again, we could just relax and let our senses focus on the nature around us. This is what it’s about for us, being active and enjoying our surroundings! On the 1.4 mile hike up to Moro Rock, we only came across two families on this trail.
The trail takes you to the Moro Rock parking lot and you arrive back in the world of cars and crowds. Moro Rock is a giant granite dome with stairs that allows people to get to the very top for an incredible 360º view. The hike up to the top of Moro Rock seems innocuous enough, just 0.3 miles to the top of the rock, but it’s a bit of a climb. When you have to maneuver around people going in both directions while on a (at times) very narrow rock trail/steps, it can get tricky. Everyone seemed to play nice and was courteous about sharing the steps. This was one of the main reasons for our visit to Sequoia and it didn’t disappoint in the least. The views at the top were absolutely breathtaking, and it made the effort to get up there so worth it. Everyone up there had big smiles on their faces between deep breaths.
Our next destination was Crescent Meadow, so upon descending the stairs we found the trailhead to Sugar Pine Trail to Crescent Meadows immediately on the right (if you’re facing the parking lot).
Sure enough, we saw an actual “Indian Mortars” sign shortly after and an area that had similar carved out rocks.
By the time we made it to Crescent Meadow we had run out of water and decided to take the shuttle back to the parking lot instead of continuing on. So, if you do this hike, bring plenty of water so that you don’t have to stop here and can continue on to Tharp’s Log (and then if you’re so inclined, finish the loop).
To Moro Rock (via Moro Rock Trail): 1.4 miles
Moro Rock: 0.6 miles (round trip)
To Crescent Meadow (via Sugar Pine Trail): 1.5 miles
Total hiked: 3.5 miles (moderate terrain, hilly)
Crescent Meadow loop trail: 1.3 miles
Tharp’s Log (a hollowed out log used as the main part of a cabin) from Crescent Meadow: 0.5 miles
Entire Loop back to the Giant Forest Museum: 7.3 miles
General Sherman Tree
The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world. That’s an impressive title to have! Needless to say, The General Sherman tree is a big draw in the park, so be prepared for crowds. We stopped by here on the way out of the park mid morning on our last day and already there were many people and cars here. However, if you don’t time the start of your hike to coincide with the groups getting off the shuttles, you should be just fine. Although I was impressed with this giant sequoia, I think it would have made more of an impact on me if I saw this at the beginning of the trip (like the General Grant Tree). The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree, but there are many, many impressive and just as beautiful giant sequoia redwoods in the park. I’m glad we walked down to the grove and took a look at the well-preserved grove of giant sequoias, I would have regretted not seeing the largest tree in the world.
We filled up our campervan’s gas tank in Fresno and had plenty of gas to get us around both Kings Canyon and Sequoia NPs. There was one open gas station at Stony Creek, but I think this gas station is seasonal because we have been cautioned about there being no gas in the parks. So, it’s probably smart to fill up your tanks before getting to the parks, but if you do run low, there is an open and working gas station at Stony Creek at least when we were there at the end of July 2017.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks have so much to offer and I really could envision spending more than the 3 days we had there. The backcountry area as well as Hume Lake and Boyden Caves in Kings Canyon (hopefully the caves will open soon) are places I would like to return to visit. We left Sequoia vowing to come back to see Crystal Caves and explore the numerous other hiking opportunities. For now, we will treasure our time there and be grateful for our wonderful national parks. Hope you have the opportunity to visit these parks soon!