Day 2 started with another intense drive from Visalia into Sequoia National Park. The drive is about 45 minutes to Ash Mountain entrance on the 198, and a good 40 minutes or more traveling the winding roads (the worst of which isn't even pictures above). It's a tough drive, so keep this in mind when deciding where to stay!
We had recovered well from day 1 in Sequoia National Park and decided again to arrive to the park early. Day 2 is a Saturday on Memorial weekend, we left Visalia at 7am, arriving to the park around 7:45am. This half hour difference from the day before left us sitting in a line to gain entrance and a much slower move through the park as there was more traffic. Tip? Leave early!
In order to avoid intense tourist traffic, we headed right to Moro Rock, a very popular site that is NOT for the faint of heart and nothing I would ever do with hundreds of other tourists. Again, get here early on any weekend! Not only did we avoid the crowds, but the sun is punishing on the climb and I can't have imagined doing the 350 steps any later in the day.
Moro Rock is about a 35 minute drive from the Ash Mountain entrance. On weekends you are forced to park in the General Sherman Tree Museum parking lot and take Route 2 to the Moro Rock Parking area. You can also do a 2 mile hike, but we chose the bus! Once you arrive there is a concrete stairway that takes you 350 steps to the top and THE most magnificent views of the weekend.
Regardless of me not making it all the way to the top, the views were breathtaking! Well worth the fear. Since we went early enough, we were able to pull off to the right and have a small snack while meeting some fun people.
The next stop of Route 2 is Crescent Meadows. Despite my intensive planning, I had overlooked this segment and since we had a reservation for Crystal Caves, we did not have a chance to visit the full hike. However, I would plan to fit this into your schedule. Crescent Meadows is a 1.8 mile loop that takes around 2 hours round trip. This brings you to valleys of flowers and a lot of animal life, many people had a chance to see bears...the one thing we didn't get to see!
We made a reservation for Crystal Caves at 1pm on this Saturday. At 11am after we had finished with the Moro area we took Route 1 up to Lodgepole (10 minute ride) so that we could get lunch there. Please note that your REALLY should make reservations ahead of time, several days ahead in fact. Crystal Caves was booked for all of Memorial weekend when we arrived. It will also take you a good 45-60 minutes to arrive to the parking lot at Crystal Caves, so make sure to give yourself plenty of drive time and prepare for another windy trip!
Crystal Caves is a must do on your trip. When we arrived, we packed our food into the bear proof containers (required) and got in line. To get to the cave entrance, there is a .5 mile hike down a steep hill. The hike has clear signs and was not difficult (on the way down), and had some pleasant surprises. Due to the immense rainfall in California this year, the waterfalls are raging. The water was even flowing through tunnels inside the cave!
A half a mile down and two waterfalls later, we reached the entrance of the caves. Each tour hosts about 50 people total, which can actually be overwhelming. Everyone piled into the entrance of the cave to hear more details and rules. Then a creepy spider web gate was opened for us to enter.
Once inside the caves you take a very direct route (complete with paved walking paths and handrails). Let me issue a WARNING that there are a few tight spaces, and while the cave is generally a larger space, with 50 people inside it is easy to become claustrophobic. Luckily, you can test it out and turn right back around if you don't want to continue forward.
While the Crystal Caves website says the tour is 50 minutes, we spent nearly 2 hours including the 1 mile round trip hike and a brief respite at a waterfall for pictures. The hike up is steep and somewhat rough, so the waterfalls are a nice place to pull over to cool off! Make sure to give yourself enough time for the complete process.
We finished up our day at Sequoia National park here at Crystal Caves. At around 3:30pm we left to head back to Visalia where we had a wonderful dinner at Crawdaddy's downtown. Do yourself a favor and sit on the balcony and order Cajun style food. In the picture below I am very obviously enjoying the BEST clam chowder I have ever had in my life, followed by gumbo and various other dishes that were extremely good.
Lessons learned to pass on?
1. The drive from Visalia to Sequoia National Park is no joke. Keep this in mind when deciding where to stay. Even if you stay in Three Rivers, traveling through Sequoia National Park is nauseating, I suggest bringing some Dramamine!
2. Make sure to bring food for lunch and snacks as options are limited, but DON'T OVER PACK! On day one we brought a little too much food and the bags remained heavy and tedious. Also, make sure to bring your own trash bag! There are NO garbage cans on the hikes themselves.
3. Make sure to bring an array of clothing. Obviously this depends on the time of the year, but at 7:30am when we arrived on day 1 it was about 45 degrees and worthy of my full winter coat and 3 other layers. By 11am that day it was hot enough to wear just a tank top.
Credit to my friends Darius Parker and Mike Thompson, as well as my husband Chris for some of these absolutely stunning photos!