If you’ve never been to California’s Sequoia National Park, you’re missing out. While it’s often overlooked for Yosemite National Park, it’s spectacular neighbor to the North, skipping Sequoia is skipping something truly spectacular and unique in this world.
Growing up in Southern California, I’ve actually had a lot of opportunities to visit Sequoia in my lifetime. It’s only about a 4 hour drive from Los Angeles and a 6 hour drive from San Diego (and about 4.5 hours from San Francisco). As such, I have many happy memories of camping there in my childhood, hiking, and visiting the mighty towering Sequoia trees in my youth.
Recently, I went back. My husband and I were looking for an escape for a long weekend and when Sequoia was suggested I discovered that he had never been there despite having grown up in L.A. His parents were big fans of Yosemite (and for good reason, it’s awesome) so they went there instead. Still, his lack of having seen Sequoia made it an obvious choice.
One thing I should mention is that if you’re planning on camping in Sequoia National Park, you better book your campsite early in the year because it can fill up pretty fast. They do have a few sites that you can grab on a first come, first served basis, but with it being a 5+ hour drive, we didn’t want to take our chances. If you’re going to camp in Sequoia, I recommend the Lodgepole campground. It’s the best campground in the park and has great amenities available such as a store, showers, cafe, groceries, and more. Plus, it’s the most centrally located campsite in the park and there are great hiking trails you can check out right there from the campground. This is where my family always camped when I was growing up and it’s a great place to camp.
Since our little weekend getaway was a little more last minute, we ended up staying at the Best Western in Three Rivers, which did come with some pros and cons. Pros: we had a warm, real bed to sleep in, and free breakfast in the hotel every morning. Cons: It was a long drive up the mountain and into the park each day, so that was a bit inconvenient, but not unbearable. We would just pack all our snacks and things for the day and not come back until we had finished exploring the park in late afternoon and still had a great time. Still, next time I would like to plan farther ahead of time and get a campsite.
Things to See and Do
If you’re planning on visiting Sequoia National Park, don’t miss these awesome things:
Technically, Grant Grove is a part of King’s Canyon National Park (the two are connected, see below). With that little technicality aside, you should definitely visit this area. Grant Grove is named for the second largest tree on the planet, the General Grant Tree.
While the General Grant tree might be the second largest tree on the planet, the award for the largest goes to the General Sherman Tree. This massive natural wonder really does have to be seen in order to be believed, but trust me when I say it’s an awe-inspiring sight. The Sherman Tree Trail is also a really great little hike where you’ll see a lot of beautiful trees and get a little exercise as well, so don’t just park in the parking lot and stare at the tree for a moment unless you’re running short on time.
There are so many trails in Sequoia, I can’t even begin to list them all, but you’ve got options. If you’re looking for something that’s not strenuous, I recommend the Big Trees Trail, which has a wooden boardwalk and is just a big loop with flat terrain. This is good for families and people who are just looking to relax and see some nature. The trail circles a marsh and will take you though some spectacularly large and beautiful sequoia trees. Personally, I’m a fan of the Tokopah Falls hike, which is a little more challenging (but not too much). The trailhead is at the Lodgepole campground and will take you through some awesome rock formations, past a creek, and ends at a spectacular waterfall.
I know I mentioned it before, but Lodgepole is a great place to stop even if you’re not staying at the campground. There is an awesome hiking trail you can check out and the trailhead is at Lodgepole. There’s also a shop, a cafe to get lunch, and it’s a good place to generally rest and relax. We ended up stopping at Lodgepole at least once every day of our trip.
Besides the towering trees, Crystal Cave is the most awesome attraction in the park. It is an underground cave that you can visit, which features spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. Make sure you make reservations online ahead of time, because you have to go on a tour in order to enter Crystal Cave, and tours do fill up fast during busy times of year.
King’s Canyon National Park
Sequoia borders King’s Canyon National Park. Although the two are connected, it’s actually an entirely different park with a vastly different landscape from Sequoia. Don’t miss it. The best thing to do is to pick a day that you are going to visit King’s Canyon and get up early. You’re going to want to have all day to explore. Take the drive through Sequoia until you get to King’s Canyon and keep going all the way until the end. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular, jaw-dropping views of a deep, beautiful canyon. Make sure to stop along the way to check out waterfalls and awesome opportunities for hikes.
I hope I’ve inspired you to make Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks a part of your next vacation. If you’re local to California or Las Vegas, it really is an easy long weekend. If you’re from farther afield, I hope you take the time to check it out on your next adventure to California.