Our visit to Sequoia National Park is definitely one of the most amazing and awe inspiring experiences I have ever had. Over the course of two full days we traversed dramatically different terrains after extremely careful planning.
To prepare for this trip, I started in the obvious place...the National Park Service website. Sequoia National Park is ENORMOUS, 404,064 acres, and this excludes Kings Canyon National Park. This is where I found planning to get complicated. With just two days to visit, we had to make sure to choose areas and attractions that were within realistic distances from each other, and no website I found provided any clear plan or guide. Even sites that appear close to each other on the map can be upwards of 45 minutes drive time due to the curvy roads (LodgePole to Crystal Caves for example). Additionally, we chose not to camp and instead we stayed in Visalia, adding about 3 hours of driving per day. So, here is our timeline for 2 days:
For those of you who enjoy being clearly scheduled, the TimeTree app is excellent!
Day 1: General Sherman Tree, Congress Trail, Tokopah Falls
On day one, which was the Friday before Memorial weekend, we decided to get an early start on the road as we were told this is their busiest weekend. We were not disappointed! We drove right into the park and parked in the General Sherman Tree parking lot around 7:40am. The General Sherman Tree is arguably the largest tree in the world. According to the national park site, it stands at 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter, but you cannot possibly appreciate this behemoth until you stand beside it. This is an excellent place to start your trip, and if you get there early enough, you will avoid any rush and have private time alone to take pictures and stand in awe of this giant.
Once you have spent some time with old General Sherman, a great place to continue on is the Congress Trail. This trail is also paved and about 2 miles in length, taking approximately 1-2 hours round trip to traverse. The signs are clear to follow, the scenery is gorgeous, and despite General Sherman's tourist popularity, the Congress Trail is quiet and largely private. Along the Congress Trail you will see the magnificence of the giant sequoias and redwoods, as well as the artistic natural work of the burning projects every 5-15 years to keep the giant sequoias healthy. This, and the decaying fallen trees offer an absolutely beautiful site.
At this point in the day, we were on track to have a picnic. For this trip we purchased a cooler backpack, which was an amazing investment as we were able to pack a day's worth of food that we could carry and not have to leave in the metal food boxes for fear of bears. We ate and even had time for a short nap before we headed over to Lodgepole Campgrounds for our next hike at around noon. From the General Sherman Tree parking lot you can take the Sequoia Shuttle for free! Route 1 will take you to Lodgepole campgrounds, where you will find many amenities including a well packed store and a lunch spot (we may have eaten a cheeseburger or two here). You can stop with the shuttle in front of the market or take it to the entrance to the Lodgepole camp site. From the Lodgepole camp site is the absolutely glorious Tokopah Falls hike.
The Tokopah Falls hike is approximately 4 miles round trip, or 2-3 hours in length. Because of the rain southern California has received this year, the river is raging and the caps of the mountains are full of snow. Despite being extremely popular, we found this hike to be quite private, seeing only a handful of people willing to make it to the end. We also had a chance to see deer and marmots, taking a nice long break at Tokopah Falls for lunch. I did not consider this a particularly difficult hike, but it's a long way to the falls...WELL WORTH THE HIKE! Due to a number of breaks and a nice lunch at the falls, we were behind schedule by about 1.5 hours! In the end, we spent probably 5 hours hiking and relaxing at this beautiful spot before returning home.
This was a long day 1 for us, about 10 hours in the park. We took plenty of time to get around and were ready for day 2. Tips?
1. GET THERE EARLY!!
2. Buy your parking pass ahead of time for your vehicle
3. Be prepared with LOTS of food. Water is readily available at the entrances of many locations as well as restrooms, but food was not. We brought plenty of snacks and found ourselves hungry literally every hour.
4. Use the shuttle to get to close spots as they are consistent and prevent re-parking on busy days (on Memorial weekend people were parked all along the curvy roads due to lack of parking), but remember they stop at 6pm! We almost missed the last shuttle.
5. TAKE YOUR TIME!
Credit to my friends Darius Parker and Mike Thompson, as well as my husband Chris for some of these absolutely stunning photos!