National Park Road Trip Day 3: Sequoia National Park

When I woke up on Day 3 of our road trip and opened the living room curtains, I was blown away. Our little Airbnb had an epic view down the mountains, into the Central Valley, and across to the mountains on the other side of the valley. We were at about 4,000 feet elevation, and had no snow — nor rain, at least at 7:30 in the morning. But these were the last days of 2022, and we knew a big winter storm was on its way in.

We had originally thought we’d drive to Kings Canyon National Park on Day 3, since we were staying practically right outside its gates. But consulting the weather, we realized it would probably be raining all day in King’s Canyon, whereas it might be snowing in Sequoia. Snow sounded like more fun than rain.

I have no idea why King’s Canyon and Sequoia are considered two parks. They are continguous. In summer, you can drive from one to another without exiting. In winter, though, the road connecting them — General’s Highway — is often (always?) closed due to snow. We could have driven a still-relatively-direct route to Sequoia from our house in Dunlap on what looked like a small, windy mountain road, through Pinehurst and Badger. That would have taken about 1.5 hours, each way.

However, we are wimps. And some of our kids get car sick (as do I). So we opted to drive down from the Sierra and take the very straight roads amongst the valley vinyards, then back up to the Sierra around Lake Kaweah. Surprisingly, going around only took about 10 minutes longer. I would have liked to see the other route, but I didn’t want to drive it, especially since it might be getting slippery in the mountains as they day went on.

With an eye on the weather forecast, we go the earliest start we could. It would have been earlier, if our idiot GSD hadn’t slipped out under the gate and run up and down the deserted mountain road we were staying on. Eventually I caught her, which was a great relief, since most of the properties around us were gated. If she had slipped under one of those gates, I would have hated to have to barge onto strangers’ property to chase my dog. Besides, we heard other dogs barking — that’s what inspired her to escape to begin with — and we weren’t in the mood to get our butts kicked by strange ranch dogs.

This was a pretty long drive, for a park we were supposedly staying “near.” I had originally booked a place in Badger, Calif., which is in between King’s Canyon and Sequoia. However, I decided I didn’t like the long dirt road we’d have to navigate to get to the place, in case it snowed. I also got a bad vibe from the property owner or manager, based on her replies to some other reviews on the property. So I switched to the house we got, which was close to King’s Canyon but not so close to Sequoia.

At least we enjoyed driving past all the vinyards. At one farm, two German Shepherds that looked just like our dog lounged in the yard, then took off like rockets to chase us the length of their fence. Their dedication and zeal for their Very Important Job charmed us. We were sad when, on our way home hours later, the dogs weren’t out any more.

We were a little surprised by how many businesses there are outside the Sequoia entrance — old inns and restaurants that look like they would be fun to visit. However, given our limited available time, we brought a packed lunch.

When you enter most national parks, you see people pulled over to take selfies with the entrance sign. For some reason, no one was pulled over to take a self with this very special piece of art. A historical placard helped explain WTF was up with it:

At the entrance booth, we asked what roads we would need to use chains on. They assured us that we could drive pretty far into the park without putting them on. They did require people to carry chains, though, or have 4WD and all weather tires. We had all of the above.

There was no snow on the ground outside the Foothills Visitor Center, near the entrance. There, I learned that Crystal Cave was closed for the season. We decided to drive as far as cars are currently allowed, to the Giant Forest Museum, and then take the shuttle to see the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree by volume!

The view from the road of the foothills and valley, covered with a new coat of green near the bottom and speckled with white snow at the tops, was spectacular. Clouds hung low over the hills, reminding me of southern China. Far down below us, the Kaweah River crashed along, seemingly feeling its oats with all its new water. (With the series of atmospheric rivers that have hit California since then, it’s definitely even fuller now.)

Unfortunately, by the time we reached the Giant Forest Museum, an hour from the park entrance, the younger kids had had it with driving on mountain roads. They didn’t want to ride the shuttle. So Erik and Nutmeg took the shuttle to the grove of giant sequoias, and I stayed with the younger kids to check out the museum, which was pretty small. After that, we walked a short loop trail of packed snow. It rained lightly, so we had to keep our raincoat hoods up, but we weren’t terribly cold once we got moving.

The trail was … fine. After all the gorgeous views from the car, I’d been hoping we’d end up on a trail where we could look down the mountain, but instead we were winding among sequoias, which are of course amazing. And it’s the name of the park and all. But, living in Northern California, I’ve seen plenty of them over the years. Yes, I am extremely spoiled. Besides, looking up at them inevitably involved rain dripping into our eyes.

After we hiked the loop — about a mile and a half — the kids went to sit in the car and eat lunch. I decided to try out my new snowshoes, even though the trail was packed enough not to need them. They did make a difference, though: With snowshoes on, I was confident enough to try hiking up Bear Hill. Up and back down again, not a single slip. My conclusion: Snowshoes are handy, but a bit cumbersome. You definitely get tired faster when wearing them.

Meanwhile, Erik and Nutmeg were checking out the Sherman Tree and Congress Trail.

Well! That is a big tree! I was sad I didn’t have time to hop on the shuttle and see it. But, I’d hiked 2.7 miles, combining the loop with the kids and the snowshoeing. And now, with 2.5 hours of driving ahead — plus we wanted to stop at a grocery store for a couple things we hadn’t gotten at Costco — we needed to get going. It was 2 p.m. That’s the downside of a winter road trip. The days are soooo short.

On the drive out, we stopped at a scenic overlook at my request.

Then we stopped again just outside the entrance to look at the river.

Looks like today would not be a good day for swimming!

On the way home, we got our groceries at the so-so State Foods in Woodlake. And, we made it home as dark was falling! As the wind picked up outside and it rained, we appreciated the cozy evening very much.

This day was OK but not as great as our visits to Pinnacles. Not so much because of the weather — it only rained lightly — but because with the distance we had to drive, we just didn’t get to stay in Sequoia long enough. Ah well! We hoped we would make up for it tomorrow in King’s Canyon, maybe by going on the ranger-led snowshoeing hike on their calendar.

Roadtrip Day 3 Destination: Sequoia National Park

Miles traveled today: 180 (shortest so far!)

Total roadtrip distance so far: 562

Cost: $213 (one night at Hummingbird Hill, Dunlap)

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