Walking among the Giant Sequoias

Have you walked among the giant sequoias? It’s always been a wish of mine, to wander among some of the world’s biggest trees. I’ve always admired big trees. I just moved into a house that is on a city park and my office windows face a soccer field that’s dotted with a few old growth trees. Trees with gnarled limbs and bark. Tree limbs that must span a hundred or more feet across. Trees that beg to be climbed with perches to rest on.

Seeing the sequoias has always been on my bucket list. I thought I would get up to Redwood National Forest actually first, but luck would have it that I found myself outside of LA.

While a lot of people save up vacation time or have enough to take a week and spend it inside a park, that’s not really what fits my life right now. I had two and a half days. With such a short time available, is it really worth it to try and cram as much of the park as possible into a list? After my visit, I would definitely say yes.

I spent two and a half days of exploring, camping and looking up in awe at trees that are over 2000 years old. Trees that have had generations of families and native Americans gather around them. Time marches on, but these giants stand tall.  But visiting Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon is so much more than just visiting the giant sequoia groves. And you can pack a lot into a couple days.

The first day was traveling into the park and setting up camp. I left about mid morning because I knew the drive would be close to six hours and I wanted to be able to get to my campsite with plenty of daylight time.

Driving in from Visalia and heading through Three Rivers, you’re going through a lot of foothills.  And believe me, I was anxiously anticipating the moment when I would finally see the tall trees.

I have to say the highway past Potwisha Campground was super curvy. Actually if you have a vehicle over 22 feet long or with trailers, it’s not recommended that you use the road from  . And once you drive it you’ll figure out why.

But as you crawl out of the foothills, you’ll begin to anticipate what’s to come.

Once I got to the Sequoia Park Boundary I picked up my map, entering through the Ash Mountain entrance . Make sure you take care of it because I had heard that to conserve resources, only one per car is given. It’s likely you won’t have cell service in the park, or will only get service in specific areas. However, there is complimentary wifi at the first visitor center you get which is the Foothills visitor center.

Besides a photo op of the National Park Sign, you might want to check in and ask questions. And for those people who want to visit Crystal Cave and didn’t get your tickets online – which is highly recommended – you can find out if there are spots open.

When you drive through Generals Highway, there’s this turn where all of a sudden you’re there – among the Giants. It’s the say out loud, “stop the car, I need to get out and walk among them”.  And then you realize, it’s just me on this trip.

Luckily there are pull offs along Generals Highway for people to get out and marvel at the ancient trees. To crane your neck and look up. And up. To wander on over 40 feet of trails in sequoia groves and see trees that are well over 200 feet tall and twenty feet or more at the base – like the worlds largest tree by volume. The General Sherman Tree.

But I drove past the turnouts for some of the most famous tourist spots for visitors – like Moro Rock, Tunnel Log, the Giant Forest Museum and General Sherman Tree. I was trying to make it to my campground to set up my tent and get situated before it was too late in the day.

I decided to stay my first night at Lodgepole Campground. It’s a great base for exploring the Giant Forest area of the park. It’s also pretty crowded. It’s like a small city. Over 200 campsites with full facilities such as a camp store, post office and even showers and laundry. However, I lucked out and secured this semi-private site where I truly did feel that I was on the edge of the wilderness. Also some great trails can be accessed from the location.

Setting up my tent was actually not so bad. If you listened to my Tips for Solo Camping episode, I go into more detail about the camping experience – including prepping for it.

After getting set up, I decided to head to the Sherman Tree Trail. This trail leads to the largest tree in the world by volume – The General Sherman Tree. While many people make a beeline to the General Sherman Tree and then head out, I’m going to give you a couple reasons to branch out a bit.  First, the trail is paved and it’s a half mile down to the trail. However there’s lots of exhibits along the way that explain the natural history of the giant sequoias. Since the walk back to the car is all uphill, you might want to save some of that for breaking up your return.  A quick tip. If you’re looking for a more serene route to the trail, use the Lodgepole Sherman Tree trail that you can get from the Lodgepole campground. It’s travels 2.8 miles from the trailhead to the Giant Forest and you’ll definitely have more solitude for part of the journey.  On the Sherman Tree Trail, there’s definitely more to see than just the General Sherman Tree.

One of my favorites was the Tough Twins with fire damage at the base of the trees.  One thing to also think about is acclimating to the elevation. This trail is at 7000 feet. I decided to leave the crowds behind and explore the adjoining Congress Trail which is also a paved loop. It’s a pretty quiet trail overall. And if you’re like me and seek out solitude in nature – I definitely look for any ways to get away from the crowds. And you’ll find that even in a busy park like Sequoia, there are ways to do this.

After this, I went back to camp and decided to scout out a couple of the trailheads that are located centrally at Lodgepole campground. There’s Twin Lakes and Topokah Falls trails. Twin lakes is about 7 miles one way hike and Topokah Falls about 2 miles one way. Given that I wanted to have some opportunity to explore a few other places the next day, I settled on Topokah Falls. I lingered for a moment at the beautiful Marble Fork Kaweah River at golden hour and then walked back to my campsite to settle in for the night. I planned for an early wake up, to hit the trailhead right at the morning light.

I didn’t sleep too well. At 7000 feet, it was pretty chilly. But I slept in my hat, base layers and even my puffy. It was my first time ever camping on my own. Morning was coffee and oatmeal with a few snacks in my backpack for along the way.

I realized that even with a lack of good sleep, I felt more well rested than I had in a very long time. There weren’t many other campers stirring at 6 in the morning, but I loved the idea of having the trail to myself on this crisp June morning in the Sierra Nevada.

A little bit about Topokah Falls. So the trailhead sign says it’s a 1.7 mile trek one way. Online I’ve read that it’s 4.2 mile roundtrip. My Garmin InReach Mini tracked close to 5. Topokah Falls is actually the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park at 1200 feet. But it’s not a free falling waterfall, it’s a series of cascades.

The trail follows the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River for a bit. You’ll see some campsites along the other side.  The trail goes through a forest of tall pines and some pretty meadows. There were gorgeous pink wildflowers that carpet the floor of the forest. And the river flows over large rocks and boulders. A little less than half hour into the trail, the Watchtower Peak rises up over 1600 feet above the valley and it’s a striking view.  I have links to my photo album in the show notes.  Prepare for some small stream crossings and before you get to the Falls, you’ll exit the woods and come into an exposed and jagged boulder filled section of the trail which leads up to near the base of the falls. You’ll also commonly see marmots along this section of the trail. There’s close to 600 feet of elevation gain through the hike.

During Spring and early Summer, there will be a lot more water flow than later in the year.

There‚Äôs a huge contrast between the huge sequoias that I just visited the night before and this trail. But the glacier carved granite canyon, alpine meadows and pine woods. It actually gave me a taste of what was yet to come in Kings Canyon. 

While this isn’t as busy as General Sherman Tree trail, this is a very busy trail since its not too difficult.

I enjoyed the views and solitude. It’s an Out and Back trail, so I headed back to camp to break down my tent and hit the Generals Highway to find my way to Kings Canyon. Actually to the very end of Kings Canyon National Park.

The drive to Kings Canyon from Lodgepole will take you first into Sequoia National Forest, then into Kings Canyon, back into the National Forest and then into Kings Canyon again. Along the way there are vistas, beautiful meadows, trails and campgrounds and a whole bunch of change in elevation. On my agenda for the day was checking out Grant Grove Village and the General Grant Tree. It took me a couple of hours to get to General Grant grove where the third largest tree is.

The trail itself is less than a mile and unlike the General Sherman Trail, there’s little change in elevation. Take note to pick up a trail guide for a buck fifty at the trailhead. It will lead you through a guided hike with information on fifteen numbered stops. What’s pretty cool about this hike is that you actually get to walk through a Fallen Monarch.  Be sure to take the entire loop around The General Grant Tree so you can see the fire scars. Also as part of this trail you can view a reconstructed cabin originally built in 1872 by the Gamlin family. I think the most poignant part of the hike was viewing the Centennial Stump which was cut and a 16 foot section reconstructed for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.  Another cool feature of the trail is the Twin Sisters where two trees are fused together.  This trail isn’t difficult but it is popular. Prepare to be among the crowds.

The drive from Grant Grove village to Sentinal Campground had to be one of the most beautiful and scenic I have ever been on. It took me an hour and a half to get back to the Kings Canyon National Park border and signage, dropping over 3000 elevation along the way.

The mighty South Fork of the Kings River is one of the most awe inspiring and powerful rivers I have seen. Sheer cliffs and jagged mountains rising up, made this a jaw dropping drive and a little nerve wracking. Keep your eye on the road. You might just see a mule deer and also have to avoid some fallen rocks – like I did. I made a few stops for photos but finally got to Sentinal Campground a bit after 4. Camping here was definitely not as private as the Lodgepole site, but nonetheless a decent spot.

After setting up camp, which I might add was getting quicker for me, I decided to head down to Zumwalt Meadow. I found that when I went to the trailhead, an alternate route was suggested. Because half of the loop trail was closed due to flooding. A sign instructed me to go to Roads End and take the River Trail to the red bridge and turn right then follow the river downstream and at the loop junction keep left for some great views. And then turn around when you hit water.  Even more so than Topekah Falls, I truly felt that I was in the wild. While the trailhead was packed, I found out those cars were likely for Roads End – where you can go to Mist Falls and also get backcountry permits.

For much of my hike, I was alone – maybe seeing less than a dozen others. And the views were absolutely incredible. Strewn boulders, rocky outcrops and rising granite all around. And then a gorgeous meadow right smack in the middle. I finally came to the Trail closed sign and turned around, still taking my time to marvel at the views of the Sierra front country. The hike itself was around 2 and a half miles and took me less than 90 minutes – with a lot of stops for photos and taking in the view. The skies were strikingly blue that day and it was gorgeous weather.  This is a pretty easy hike except for some rocky parts – watch your footing.

I decided after to do another drive from Cedar Grove area to Grants Grove – to get some cell service and a few souvenirs. Along the way I pulled off at Grizzly Falls. Grizzly Falls has a little picnic area and a very short walk to the falls.  If you come during peak snow melt, you’re going to have a thunderous wall of water and mist coming off of it. It was pretty spectacular.

The mist was refreshing and cool on my skin and a nice spot to take a break before the long drive through the canyon and into Grant Grove Village. Following the South Fork of Kings River for a ways, there are a couple of spots along the river to pull off and camp in the national forest. On my way out, I stopped for a photo with the Kings Canyon National Park sign.

The next morning I was up early and ready to hit a trail. I stopped to marvel at Horseshoe bend. There are numerous pull offs along Kings Canyon byway. I rarely saw many others on the road. The Kings Canyon section of the park is much less populated than Sequoia. So if being away from the crowds is important to you, you’ll want to focus your time on this area of the parks.

Take some time to read the placards and informational signage along the pullouts where you can learn more about the geology of how Kings Canyon was formed. Also you’ll see some beautiful wildflowers hugging the roadside and even sprouting from the cliffside walls of rock.

I decided to do another short hike to Buena Vista Peak. There were just a couple other cars at the trailhead when I arrived around 9am.  Buena Vista Trail is a two mile out and back and gives you incredible panoramic views from the summit.

The short hike through a mixed conifer forest is not too difficult and rewards you with views of Redwood Canyon, Sierra crest summits and Kings Canyon high country. Wildflowers are abundant. Vibrant hues of pink and orange dotted the way as I rose from lush green to granite summit. After a little break at the summit to have a snack and appreciate the solitude of having it to myself, I came back to the car and then drove out of Kings Canyon and back to Sequoia National Park…and the crowds.

A couple hours later and I was in the very crowded vicinity of the Giant Forest Museum. From that location though. You can drive up to Crescent Meadow though a narrow paved Crescent Meadow road that also takes you to Moro Rock. Along the way, I stopped at the Auto Log which fell in 1917 and was a tourist attraction where cars drove on it. It’s not safe for cars now, but you can walk along it. However, this afternoon my destination was Crescent Meadow which John Muir once called a Gem of the Sierras. Crescent Meadow is also the starting point for the High Sierra Trail, a route from the Giant Forest to Mount Whitney and one of the most striking backcountry trails in the country. The trail was built between 1928 and 1932, and joins the Pacific Crest and John Muir trails along the way. If you want to hike the High Sierra trail and do an overnight, you’ll need to get a wilderness permit.

So at that point I took a photo of the trail marker and made a mental note that this trail is going on my hiking bucket list.

I meandered along the trail circling Crescent Meadow, Log Meadow and also made a stop at Tharp’s Log. Tharp’s log was a fallen sequoia that became a home to Hale Tharp. You can peer into it and see the table, bed and the rest of his living quarters. As you make your way through the forest, there are plenty of giant sequoias to explore – including the hollowed out Chimney Tree. Crescent Meadow itself isn’t open to hikers, but you can sit along the edge and take in the lush green grasses. You can also do a longer 5 mile round trip hike from the Crescent Meadow Trailhead to the General Sherman Tree.

After leaving, I decided to definitely do the tourist thing and drive my car through the Tunnel Log.

A tunnel was cut through a fallen sequoia in 1937 and I got to admit I felt the glee of a little kid going through it.

And by mid afternoon,  I was leaving Sequoia National Park and headed back to Los Angeles. A little wistful, a little tired from trying to pack so much into so little time but a good tired. After all, this had been my first time seeing a giant sequoia and my first time camping solo. While I didn’t get to do long mileage hikes, I got a taste of both parks and truly enjoyed my experiences. I also made some mental notes of what I wanted to explore on my next visit. Sequoia and Kings Canyon, I will be back and hopefully my boots will be on the High Sierra Trail next year.

Thanks for reading about my experiences. Have you  walked through the Giant Forest or laughed like a kid driving through the Tunnel log? What did you enjoy about these two national parks? Drop me a comment about your own adventure.












Ten Tips for Your First Time Solo Camping

Lodgepole Campground – Site 172

Whether you are new to camping or just new to camping alone, today I’m going to share my tips and what to consider based on my recent experience at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

When I was little I didn’t get a lot of time out camping in the woods. In fact, I’ve probably only gone a handful of times. And most of those I was too young to remember.  One of the most memorable was the summer between junior and senior year. A bunch of us high school friends decided to go camping. Let’s just say the boys got kicked out of the campground, there was one couple who spent most of it fighting and I’m not even sure we got to make s’mores. I might try to dig up a photo or two and post it on my Instagram.

So why go camping alone? I think part of my desire to get out there on my own was to build my outdoor confidence. Sure I feel very confident as a day hiker, but what would be like to be on my own and be self reliant from setting up a tent to making breakfast – which I had never done on my own.

Also I want to work towards spending some nights on my own in the backcountry. Next year I am planning to spend a week on the High Sierra Trail or something similar.

Here are ten tips to consider as you determine if you’re ready to get out into the woods on your own.

1. Do your research.

Talk to some friends or experts about camping. Don’t be afraid to hit up your local outfitter, a message board or reach out to a friend.

I spent some time researching blogs and articles about what to do and not to do when you’re a first time solo camper.  I can say that I found lots of great tips out there. Some are just common sense. I also found a lot of tips that didn’t quite apply to my situation – and that’s the important thing to consider if you are thinking about first time solo camping or have a friend who might be. Each person has a different skill set and background – what works for me might not work for them. One tip said not to do your first solo experience far from home. I was thousands of miles away from home and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I thought I would share how I prepped for my camping, what gear I actually took, what went wrong and all the things I would recommend to anyone thinking of going out alone.  For those of you listening who are experienced campers – I want to hear what you think about solo camping. What are your tips – whether it’s car camping or the backcountry.

First of all, I needed to identify where I was going. Since I knew I’d be in Southern California, on my short list was Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree and Death Valley. Given the time of year I decided I wanted to hit up higher elevations – and hopefully avoid some crowds. I had read that Kings Canyon had a lot of the feel in places of a Yosemite without the crowds. So Kings Canyon became my focal point. I was lucky enough to get a reservation pretty late in Sentinal Campground at the last minute. And at the very last minute I decided to add another day in my stay at Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia when a spot opened up. And once you know where you are staying, you’ll want to assess whether you need to pack all your water in, what the amenities are and so on.

Some additional items you’ll want to make sure you’re aware of are basic wilderness safety and camping etiquette. I’ve referenced some great resources in my show notes. The main thing to remember is that you should know how to properly store your food and anything scented like tooth paste, deodorant and so on – if you’re in bear country you might be required to use a bear canister, hang a food bag or store all your food and scented items in a secure locker. Additionally never leave food in your tent. Even when you’re not in bear country there are lots of critters that will destroy your tent in the search for food. Also a key thing is to practice leave no trace. Leave your campsite better than how you found it.

Choose your location based on what you might want to do. Try to research enough so you have a sketch of a plan, as in what trails you might want to hike or what points of interest are in the area. For me, I chose Lodgepole to be near the Giant Sequoias and General Sherman tree and then Sentinel so I could have time in the canyon.

2. Stay flexible – whether it’s about where you are pitching your tent or the trip itself.

I wanted to have a reservation but there are walk up campgrounds. Being flexible and not having to stay at the same site allowed me the opportunity to see two vastly different areas and I had entirely different camping experiences as well.

So now that I had reservations, This trip was becoming more real. Real enough that I started to panic a bit. Would I be able to set up my tent all by myself? That tent which has been in my closet unopened for a year?

On this trip, the hike I anticipated doing was partly flooded and half of the trail was closed. So keeping a mindset of staying flexible was important for me to not get too stressed. Remember, not everything is going to go according to plan but that’s why its an adventure.

3. Make sure you have the right gear and clothes for the trip.

Part of prep is also making sure that you have the essentials for the trip.

First I’ll go into what I did for prep.  I had my basic camping gear – tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag – and of course the 10 essentials. I’ll post a list of my gear in the show notes and of course, there are tons of resources out there. I’ll post a couple of the ones I found most valuable.

What I didn’t have…a stove and cookware. Not entirely essential for car camping in a national park that has a camp store and restaurant. However, I wanted to make sure this was good practice for the backcountry.  I picked up a GSI outdoors Glacier Camp Stove which worked out quite well besides me almost starting a fire in my backyard – make sure you don’t tip the fuel can and keep it on a level surface. I also purchased a very basic 1 person cookset from Coleman. And I can tell you that you definitely get what you pay for. The fry pan didn’t make it out alive. So now I am definitely on the hunt for some reliable cookware and perhaps something I can use both at a campground and in the backcountry.

You’ll want to bring layers and even if the weather forecast shows sunny skies, bring a pair of rain pants and rain jacket just in case. In a lot of my experiences when I’m changing elevations throughout the day, I’ve realized it’s critical to have layers. A good base layer and both my hiking boots and some camp shoes or sandals. Remember it also can get pretty chilly at higher elevations. I slept with my hat, jacket and base layer on underneath clothes.

4.  Set up your tent and check your gear ahead of time to make sure all are in good shape. 

Since I had never set up a tent all by myself, this was about to get interesting. I just moved into this new place, so I’m also just trying to figure out my bearings. Getting used to things. Well I went out to the side yard and proceeded to figure out how was this going to work. Thankfully no one was going to come to my rescue, because this was a struggle I needed to make me feel more confident. I have a 2 person Marmot Tungsten and putting the x bar together in those grommet holes. Bending them just right and then realizing that two just popped out. There is a trick to all of it. At least in setting it up alone and balancing things just right. Luckily I got it. And after that, everything was a snap. Attaching the fly, staking out the vestibule. So while I was nervous about what the actual moment would bring, I knew if I had done this at least once on my own – I would find a way.

So in checking out your other gear, make sure your sleeping pad inflates if its the kind that does. Make sure you have fresh batteries for headlamps and lanterns and that all work. If you’re bringing along an emergency communicator, make sure you have the right plan you need and you’re going to want to test it out. I did a practice run with mine in Sleeping Bear Dunes.

5. Write out your itinerary as best as you can.

Share with at least one person back home.

You may not know which hikes you’re going on and the exact time you’ll make it to camp, but at least give some of the basic info to someone who is expecting an all is okay call or message from you by a certain point in time.

Also if you are taking some hikes that require permits, you’ll want to check in with the ranger. For this camping experience, I didn’t do anything in the backcountry so I ended up just needed to check in at my campgrounds.

For my upcoming backcountry hiking trip that I’m starting to plan, I have tons of research to do. There’s permits, knowing where water is (water crossings, water resupplies, water purification) I’ll need to know how to pack lightly but enough to manage six nights out in the wilderness alone.  But that’s a different blog post!

6. Arrive to the campground or site early and plenty of time before sundown.

You don’t want your first time putting up the tent to be rushed or in the dark. Assess the site. Make sure you aren’t putting up a tent under a dead tree or dead limbs. And realize that your practice run is going to be different than the real thing. The soil composition is going to be different. What may have come easy in my backyard might not be so easy at the campground. One key thing for me was bringing along a rubber mallet to help drive the stakes in. However, that may not be a great idea for the backcountry – at least the bulky one I picked up. And that’s going to happen. You’ll realize that some gear worked well and some didn’t. And you’ll adjust for next time.

And here’s where I have to share a little bit about the campgrounds that I stayed in. First night I was at Lodgepole Campground. This is probably one of the most popular campgrounds in both national parks. I mean, there are shuttle buses and it feels for better or worse like a small city.  However, one cool thing about Lodgepole was the post office. I got to mail out a postcard from there.  I have to say though that site 172 felt like I had my own little piece of private wilderness. I would really recommend reserving it.  What I realized the next day at Sentinel is how lucky I was to get that camp site, because the Sentinel site was less private and therefore compared between the two – the lesser camp site experience. However, from a park perspective I enjoyed Kings Canyon more. So staying at Sentinel afforded me access to more of a remote feel for hiking and trails. As with everything, there are always tradeoffs.

7. Don’t stress the small stuff or the big stuff.

I couldn’t get a fire started on the second night and I was so tired and starting to get frustrated. I realized there was more to go into fire starting than I thought, and I hadn’t spent time prepping for that part. But the important was that I was enjoying myself. I was getting to know myself over these two days. More than I ever anticipated or imagined. I didn’t need to start a fire thankfully. And so now I have some time to practice my fire skills before the next trip.

8. Prepare to be alone.

Traveling and camping alone brings a lot of alone time. Some people aren’t all that comfortable with that much space. For me, I really needed it. While there were moments I sorta wished I could have someone next to me drinking coffee and sharing in my pitiful attempt at scrambling eggs in the burnt fry pan. Okay, maybe not the eggs…I also had a lot of time to reflect on life and feel at peace.

I suggest doing something like bringing a book, a journal to write it, some type of craft or art project. Because you might just get inspired being out in nature.

9. Take time to appreciate the moments of struggle and success.

While there’s no one to high five when you successfully put up your tent for the first time by yourself out in the woods, or to console you  or talk you down when you get frustrated or can’t sleep – all of these things are intrinsically rewarding and growing you as a person. Thinking back now after a little bit of time has passed, I can see my confidence has grown and that this trip really was a milestone. Something special I’ll always remember and be able to tell my kids about – or maybe their kids. Mine just roll their eyes when I talk about camping. But someday they will know that their mom really tested herself on that trip. And its in those moments we know what we’re made of.

10. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t work.

For me, I wish I would have brought a pen to journal, a good book and had practiced starting a fire beforehand. What worked was doing a lot of what I talked about today. Being prepared, researching, staying calm and flexible.

And realizing that not everything will go to plan. It’s like life. Letting go. Knowing that you can’t control everything and understanding that as part of life…about the only thing you can control is how you respond to a situation.

In conclusion, spending two days at Sequoia and Kings Canyon I was able to walk along the giant trees, see these beautiful vistas, feel the force of waterfalls in my bones, be in awe as I drove along Kings Canyon byway and feel so small in the canyons – staring up at the granite domes and walls. My hikes were amazing, but they were just one small piece of this wonderful journey. Whether you’re young or getting older, all of us can enjoy these wild spaces and it’s never too late to start. So I hope this post resonated with all of you. It’s just a piece of my longer journey. A journey to appreciating life more and growing and sometimes that’s painful. But it’s always worth it.

Thanks for following along. There’s still so much more to share about my trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. I’ll be sure to add a blog post soon about my visit and what it was like on the trail.

So until next time, see you on trail.