Sequoia National Park. The first time I visited was when I was six. From my parents’ recollection, my memory, and faded photos, it was the quiet alternative to the more popular and iconic Yosemite National Park. Is it where I earned my first patch from picking up trash along the trail, ate my first s’mores, and saw my first bears. It’s where I learned how to hike along a dirt trail and be amazed at what nature had to offer.
It was a bit late in the season, but we finally decided on some dates. I looked at lodging and discovered that we were too late to book anything in the park. We opted to stay at a hotel at Three Rivers, which boasted “is less than six miles away from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.” What they left out is that it’s 45-60 minutes of winding roads from the first attractions in the park.
Three Rivers is a scenic little town, with decent amenities, so if you forgot something, you can find it. The first morning, we headed out for Sequoia National Park, getting in line to pay our entry fee and see the visitor center to pick up the Junior Ranger booklet. We then started the drive into the park. I took it nice and slow, given that my passengers are prone to car sickness.
It was a nice road, but was relentlessly filled with hairpin turns while sharply gaining elevation.The plants changed from oaks and grasses to towering giants and shockingly green foliage. It felt like we were in a rainforest. Once arriving at the Sherman Tree trailhead, my passengers were drowsy and not as energetic. I wondered if today would be the only day we would be visiting the park.
We put on some layers, since it was pretty chilly, and headed with the crowds to see the Giant Forest.
Once again, it’s the wonderful fragrance of the outdoors that always hits me first. And then it’s the timbre of the Steller’s Jay’s call as it flutters from tree to tree, mad about something. It’s the rust-colored texture of the ancient bark of the Sequoias and their cones. It’s the breeze that slowly gains volume as it starts from the bottom of the drainage to sing through the trees all around you.
We shook off our road weariness and enjoyed the trail. Someone we passed let us know there was a bear up ahead. I didn’t have a long lens, so I just stood and enjoyed its presence while it tore open a log with more strength than I could fathom.
The trails were crowded. Way more crowded than my memory served. On one hand, I was happy that so many people were enjoying this special place, but, I also lamented the peace that was destroyed. An eternal conundrum.
We got back into the car, everyone was energized. We headed to the Lodgepole area for lunch and saw a bear and her cub in a small meadow there. We ate while we listened to a ranger talk about the owls in Sequoia National Park. It was entertaining and informative. While there, I bought tickets to Crystal Cave, later that afternoon. I had fond memories of it. We hung out at the visitor center, watched an informative video on bears and we were ready to drive 45 minutes to the cave trailhead. My passengers had a nice nap along the way.
We arrived at the Crystal Cave Trailhead and got ready for a short hike. The setting was beautiful as we descended into the canyon below. We passed several cascades and crossed bridges. Before long, we were at the gates of the the cave. A giant spider web with a spider in the middle marked the entrance. Exactly as I remembered.
The tour was informative and the water gurgling through the cave was a reminder of how it was formed. I highly recommend this tour if you get a chance.
Once getting back to the car, it was late and we decided to call it a day. Thinking that I was saying goodbye to Sequoia National Park for a long time, we took the winding road on the way back down the mountain. That night, over dinner, the rest of the family sensed my disappointment and decided to take a day off tomorrow and stay local, and go back up to the park the day after that.
The next day, we headed down to the river for an afternoon of relaxation.
The next morning, we headed back into Sequoia National Park. We stopped back at the visitor center and Soph earned her next Junior Ranger Badge. Our family was feeling excited about re-entering the park. We then drove the long road back up the mountain, parked in the main parking lot, and took the Beetle Rock trail. It was a short hike to warm us up. We scooted out to the edge and enjoyed the view.
Since it was the weekend, the shuttles were running. We hopped on and zoomed over to the Moro Rock trailhead. We joined the crowd and climbed the granite stairs and rock to the top.
It was an amazing view and gave us a glimpse into the park where few people visited.
We headed back down and had a snack. Everyone else immediately got back in line for the shuttle since they had ‘checked the box’ for Moro Rock. I assume they were headed to Crescent Meadow and wanted to take the shuttle. Since it was only a mile or so away, we decided to hike it. It was a great decision, as we hiked through the lushest forest I’ve been in for a long time. And we had it mostly to ourselves.
Sophia spied a creek and asked if she could put her feet in. Of course she could. Mom and I sat off to the side while she made herself at home in Crescent Creek.
“Look! Tadpoles! They’re tiny!”
I looked at the stagnant pool she had found.
“Nope,” I replied, “They are mosquito larvae.”
We moved on.
We reached Crescent Meadow and hiked around the edge of it. Before long, we came to an opening. As we had a snack while sitting on a giant log, I stared out over the vast green oasis of sun and grass. I could have sworn that was the same log with a bump on it that I had walked on as a kid. At age six, with my family, we had walked on fallen logs, using them as balance beams, and went to the center of the meadow.
Now, rightly so, the meadows are off limits, due to their fragility and the presence of bears.
We continued around the far side of the meadow and joined a group of people watching a large cub happily eating in the meadow. We kept scanning around for the mother, but she was not to be found. It wandered out of the meadow and into the woods. We thought we were continuing around the meadow, but we were really headed to Log Meadow and Tharpe’s Cabin. We saw two more bears before we started to get tired and continued on.
Back at Crescent Meadow, we saw yet another bear, munching away at whatever bears munch away at. We had been out in the woods all day and it felt nice to sit on a log and wait for the shuttle. We were all glad that we decided to come back. It was a pleasant day and showed us way more of the park than the first day.
It was getting near sunset, we had been hiking for hours. We had seen 7 bears in two days, along with deer and squirrels. There was still a lot more to see, but for now, it was time to start thinking about home. We headed back down the mountain.
On the way down, I thought about how the park had changed since I first went there. There were no shuttles, and not as many people. However, I think a lot has stayed the same. I saw many families with young children and it is likely that the views into the canyons and the interactions with bears left lasting impressions on those young eyes, as it did mine. I was lucky enough to visit several years in a row when I was younger, so the park started to feel like home. I still have the patches that I earned there.
While I sometimes get frustrated by touristy visitors and wonder if Sequoia National Park is getting loved to death, it appears to be well-managed and is still a beautiful place.
On the way out, as a parting gift, Sequoia National Park decided to offer a wonderful view from the side of the road.
Needless to say, we’ll be back.