Giant trees. Deep canyons. A raging river. Snow capped peaks. Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks did not disappoint. Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks were the first parks we’ve visited as complete newcomers. Even though they are sister parks, sharing a border, they are totally distinct for their natural features. Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the United States and Sequoia has some of the world’s largest trees.
Now into the nitty gritty…
Our plan to drive out Wednesday evening around bedtime worked great. We got into Selma at 11:30pm and tried to go to bed. There were no cribs available at the hotel, so we each had a child with us in a full sized bed. Well, you guessed it, someone fell out of the bed. Sean’s bed. Not Sean. Quincy. She cried for a bit, but then calmed down and finally went to sleep.
We woke up, ate breakfast, did some laps around the parking lot to expel some energy, and hit the road into Kings Canyon National Park. The plan was to head to Cedar Grove to find a first come, first serve campsite. We entered the park and meandered through the windy road as we entered the top of Kings Canyon. We started to drop in elevation as the mountains got taller and we got closer to the Kings River. Then we came up right alongside a roaring Kings River. Rapids were crashing up alongside rocks and felled trees. The river was moving so fast, there was a park-wide alert to not go within five feet of the river, for fear it might sweep you away into a current that was very powerful. The reason for this powerful river was a combination of a massive snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (163% of the normal snowfall) and temperatures 15-20 degrees above normal highs. This created a giant pile of snow that was melting at a fast rate. So much snow melt in fact, that a waterfall developed alongside the highway that was unfamiliar to all the rangers who have worked there in the past. Scroll down to the end to see “No Name Falls.”
We found a campsite at Sentinel campground, right in the middle of the campground so we could hopefully get a warning from fellow campers on the perimeter sites if any bears decided to come through camp. Luckily, we saw no bears. Our site came with a giant bear box that required us to put all food and scented items inside. This included the car seats because bears typically associate car seats with having lots of crumbs in the crevices and will tear open a car to get those crumbs. Sentinel had its pros and cons. The pros were that they have a ranger station with evening programming (“Stargazing” and “The Park after Dark”) and a nearby general store with showers. The con was that it was at the far end of the park and required us to drive more to see some other sites.
Camp setup was quick and easy as the girls found sticks and rocks to keep themselves occupied after an hour in the car. In fact, all weekend, they were quite content with sticks or their plastic beach toys or a few camp cooking tools.
Knowing we were in the car a bunch on Wednesday evening and Thursday, we thought it was wise to venture to the closest destination to our campsite, which was Road’s End where we could visit Muir’s Rock and Zumwalt Meadow. Muir’s Rock is a huge rock along the Kings River where John Muir gave impassioned speeches about the importance of protecting the natural environment. We left Muir’s Rock to hike on the River Trail to Zumwalt Meadow. While hiking we heard some thunder and couldn’t see what the sky looked like over the mountains. We ended up going back to the car and driving to Zumwalt Meadow, where we hiked around some more and saw a flooded meadow due to the river overflowing, and then on to Roaring River Falls.
Just to compare the volume of water here is a picture of Roaring River Falls from our trip vs. a picture I found in a Google image search. Notice the two dimples in that big boulder in the bottom right and how high the water is in the photo we took.
Friday had us take our longest drive to the Giant Forest and the General Sherman tree, the world’s largest tree by volume. We found a parking spot near the Giant Forest Museum and explored around there, learning about the giant sequoia trees and taking a short bus ride up to the Moro Rock, a lookout with a 400 step climb to see the Great Western Divide with snow-capped mountains. We got lots of cheers and positive vibes from many people once they realized we had babies and not camp gear in our baby carriers.
Instead of taking the shuttle back to the museum, we decided to hike the 1.5 miles back. It was an incredibly peaceful hike back where we saw some small deer and lots of giant sequoias, all in an incredibly serene environment.
We then ventured on another short bus ride to see General Sherman. This was a great spot with the kids because they had wide paved paths for them to run around. There were a decent amount of people around, but many were excited to see two tiny humans “sprinting” around making all sorts of noise.
Saturday had us venture to see the General Grant sequoia, dubbed America’s Christmas Tree, as recognized by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926. We also had a great time exploring around Grant and the rest of Grant Grove. Lots and lots of sequoia and ponderosa pine trees stretching high into the air. The girls again stretched their legs and ran around exploring the trees and the streams. In fact, what might be the highlight of their trip was when we came across a small trickle of water across a path, similar to when water is running out of a hose down your driveway. Both girls sat right next to it and played with little sticks and rocks for a solid five minutes. It was a great reminder that even the smallest things can amuse a child when they are literally surrounded by giants.
While in the Grant Grove, we attempted a hike and about 20 minutes in, we realized we weren’t on the right trail so doubled back. The scenery was still nice and it was amazing how quickly you can get into the woods at Sequoia and Kings Canyon with no other people around. It was incredibly relaxing. Lesson learned- buy a map.
Other fun things that we learned along the way:
-We were lucky to get a first come, first serve campsite, but we learned about the free camping options within the Sequoia National Forest. They offer free camping throughout the forest, but there are no amenities such as bathrooms and running water. You also need a permit for a fire, even using your camp stove. I believe this is true of any national forest.
-The girls slept really well….once they fell asleep. We went on the longest weekend of the year and the sky was bright until 8:45pm. They played in the tent with books and stuffed animals and even played peek-a-boo with each other. We figured it out when we heard laughing inside the tent and I peeked in to see what was going on. We also had to make sure they stayed warm enough at night so we bundled them with a onesie and their pajamas plus their sleepsack and extra blankets.
-There were tons of butterflies everywhere we went. All different kinds fluttering around on the trails and in the campsite.
FUN FACT: The sequoia tree only releases its seeds from its cones under intense heat, like that of a forest fire. The reason is that the seeds would fall onto ground that is clear and full of fresh nutrients from the forest fire. The national park system realized this when they were reducing forest fires around these giant sequoia groves and there was no new growth. They were able to make the connection and realized the important role that forest fires play in the ecosystem. We already knew this information before we made this trip, but we found out that the research was done in Sequoia National Park, which is very cool. We found a neat video about sequoia trees here.
Another fun fact- you can take a shower and wash your whole body in under six minutes. We know because that’s how long the timer was for one shower coin. Sean can also drink a Coors Light during that six minute window. And baby baths in a tupperware is a fun game for both parent and child.
Here are some other pictures from the trip.
A recap video is here on YouTube.
The quintessence of the trip according to…
Quincy & Leona: They didn’t tell us outright, but we think it was the small trickle of water at the Grant Grove that captured their attention.
Sean: There were some giant trees. I mean giant trees, but the most memorable thing was the rush of the Kings River. We could hear it when we were sleeping and almost everywhere we were. The unique thing is that the river isn’t always like that, so it will be a great memory for me and something we most likely won’t get the next time we go.
Mary: I loved the experience of walking among giants, knowing that some of these trees have been around for 3000 years. It can make you feel really small but in the best way possible. It never ceases to amaze me how these parks can give you perspective. I also loved how dark the sky was and how many stars we were able to see, even though it wasn’t even a new moon. Another fun fact – Kings Canyon is a certified dark sky so if you’re looking for stars, this is your jam.
Something we didn’t expect was seeing so many butterflies. They were everywhere on every hike and expedition we had. They were beautiful to see.
All in all, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are amazing parks.
If you want to look at the pictures in a higher resolution, check out the album on our Flickr page here.