We left the splendor of Yosemite to head down to two adjoining national parks, Kings Canyon and Sequoia. We ween’t quite sure what to expect from either park, other than big trees and royal canyons.
We headed towards a campsite in between the two parks where we felt we could leave our trailer for the day and visit both parks safely. It was an informal campsite in Sequoia National Forest, in a great location to visit both parks.
The spot we found was beautiful, and similar to the spot we stayed at outside Yosemite, save for the merciless clouds of mosquitoes. This spot only had a few.
We were apprehensive about leaving our nice, expensive trailer in the middle of the woods, with no one to look out for it, but we had a big, heavy cable we could thread through the tire to lock it and keep anyone from stealing it. Plus, it has a unique coupler that doesn’t use a ball hitch. making it harder to tow. And the spot we were at was very secluded. We elected to risk it, so that we didn’t have to tow the heavy, cumbersome thing around for the day.
Kings Canyon National Park is an odd park. It has two sections: Grant Grove, and the canyon. Grant Grove is disconnected from the rest of the park, but does share a border with Sequoia NP. And Grant Grove is only famous for the huge sequoias within. Basically, it has no business being part of Kings Canyon NP. It should be part of Sequoia. But I don’t make these calls, like I should.
Odd borders aside, Grant Grove is awesome. It’s named after the General Grant tree, the third largest tree in the world. It is surrounded by a grove of other massive sequoias, each as jaw-dropping as the last. The short trail through the grove also includes the hollowed-out remains of a giant, fallen sequoia, which was once used as a house. The kids loved frolicking around inside.
General Grant was impossibly big. Its branches are the size of most large trees. Its height is that of a skyscraper. And it all is made more picturesque by the fact that there is very little, if any, underbrush around the sequoias. It is all naturally cleared by the occasional fires that sequoias need to thrive. You get to see a full, unobstructed view of the tree. And again, I did a great job of hyping it up for the young ‘uns. They were fascinated. I can’t say for sure if they still would have been fascinated had I not hyped it, but my gut says no, I did a great job.
From there, it was a steep, winding road down into the canyon part of Kings Canyon. This canyon was definitely not as impressive as Yosemite, but it did hold some appeal. There were a few giant cliffs around to suitably impress someone like me. It’s no Yosemite, but it is beautiful nonetheless.
We drove to near the end of the road and had our eye on a short hike around a meadow. We picnicked at the trailhead, and set off down the short trail to the field.
And sure enough, it was quite beautiful. The long grasses framed by conical pines and giant granite cliffs made for some national park-worthy scenery for sure. The short walk we took was well worth it. We even managed to keep the kids from complaining with offers of playing in the river later.
And play they did. We found a nice spot next to a rather still section of the fast-moving mountain river and let them wade around an throw rocks and such for a while. Trish and I were quite content to watch them play while we just watched them and the nature around.
Eventually we were joined by a huge group of people who came here together. It was a group of five families that visit this same spot every year. Every year they drive from Orange County and have a picnic lunch at the same place we did, and then make their way to the same riverside clearing we did, and just spend the day hanging out in and around the frigid mountain waters. It looked like they all had a great time. And our kids loved playing with their kids.
The next day was Sequoia. We were expecting more giant trees, but we just weren’t prepared for the number of behemoths we encountered.
As soon as we entered the park, they were everywhere. These colossal red columns were astounding. It was nearly impossible to see the tops from the car, because they were so tall. They didn’t even seem like trees. It all looked like some advances sic-fi alien landscape. The roads weaved in between trees so big our whole family would not be able to link hands around even half of one.
The main thing to see there is the General Sherman tree, so off we went. The trail down from the parking lot is short but steep, and has small placards indicating how far up the tree you are, from its base at the bottom of the slope. When you see a sign that says you’re halfway up, and you still see an incredibly long descent ahead of you, it gives you some hard-to-believe perspective on how big it really is.
We had to wait in line to get the iconic picture at the base of the tree, a task which is not easy with high-energy kids that suddenly become low-energy kids the moment you want them to do something. They didn’t cooperate much on the whole trail, but we got our picture.
The rest of the grove is filled with red hued colossi nearly as big as the Good General himself. It’s not as if General Sherman towers over its puny sapling relatives, demanding obedience, the whole grove is wall-to-wall giants, most approaching Sherman size, waiting in line for the king to fall, so that they may ascend to the Throne of Gargantuity. It’s all nearly too much to take in. These trees are almost beyond the scale of human understanding.
Sufficiently astounded, we made our way through the classic fallen tree that you can drive through. We could have made it with our trailer just fine, but they made us leave it in the parking lot anyway, robbing us of a surely iconic photo op. Cool nonetheless though.
But the real fun we had that day was at a happy little place called Moro Rock. Moro Rock is a bare-faced stone dome that offers sweeping views of the Sierras in all directions. It’s a short hike, but nearly the whole thing is stairs. The sheer drop-offs on either side of the stairs, coupled with the sheer laziness and uncooperativeness of the kids meant one thing: I carried them. All the way up.
Trish strapped up Norah in the carrier, and I loaded up Shiloh in the toddler carrier hiking backpack, and I just carried Judah in my arms. Sixty five extra pounds weighing me down didn’t stop Hiking Daddy. I needed to see the vista, and no amount of weighty kids were going to keep me from it.
I got more than my fair share of bemused stares and comments from other hikers as I huffed and slogged my way up, clutching Judah to my chest as we skirted rail-free drops of hundreds of feet all the way to the top. “You training for American Ninja Warrior?” “Look at this crazy dad!” Trish didn’t even make it to the top.
But the masochism was totally worth it. Views in all directions were breathtaking. I just stood there for a while, taking it all in, while still clutching Judah like a baby chimpanzee, to keep him from frolicking his way right on down the mountainside.
I rode my jelly legs back down to the parking lot, never having put either child down the whole time. Apparently I was training for Ninja Warrior, whether I intended to or not.
There was road construction on the road leading out of the south side of the park, which meant we had to add over an hour to our route further south and around to the back side of the Sierras, to a fun little corner of our country called Death Valley. We would be crossing through the hottest place on earth in July.