After spending the majority of the first day of my recent national parks adventure in Kings Canyon and at the John Muir Lodge, the second day was earmarked for a visit to Sequoia National Park instead. This amazing destination gets its name from the massive trees that grow throughout the area, one of which is actually the largest tree on the planet. While we were sad to leave Kings Canyon behind so soon, we were also eager to go see what wonders Sequoia had in store for us as well. We were not disappointed.
Even though Kings Canyon and Sequoia sit adjacent to one another, there is a distinct difference between the two parks. The former features more dramatic vistas, rock faces, and valleys, while the latter is more heavily wooded and has more of the giant sequoia trees growing within its borders. These changes in landscape give the two parks a unique feel that makes them both fun to explore.
We started our day by first going horseback riding in the Sierra Mountains. Just reaching the horse corral was a bit of an adventure, as the route took us down an increasingly narrow road well into the Sequoia backcountry. Often we hugged the side of the mountain in our trusty rental car, as one side of the road fell off a precipitous cliff. Thankfully, the road was all-but deserted, so we seldom ran into any oncoming traffic that made it a challenge for two cars to pass one another. It was of course thrilling and nerve wracking at the same time.
Eventually we reached the remote location of the Horse Corral Packers, a family run organization – owned by Judy and Charley Mills – that provides a wide variety of options for riding in the spectacular Sierra Mountains. Before long, we knew it we were on our steeds and setting off a fantastic ride. As we climbed up the side of a mountain, our sure-footed mounts effortlessly carried us above 7500 feet (2286 meters), providing us with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside as we went. It was an amazing way to see the backcountry, and one that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys horseback riding in any way.
The Mills have a wonderful herd of horses, each more beautiful than the next. They are calm, well behaved, and easy to ride, even though the terrain can be rough at times. Each of the animals has their own personality of course, which we found out throughout our ride, but it was a great experience, with knowledgeable and personable guides taking us the entire way.
Before we knew it our ride was over, and it was time to head off in a new direction. Since Sequoia is well known for its massive trees, we decided we should probably check them out. That included the absolutely massive General Sherman, which stands an impressive 275 feet (83.8 meters) in height, and is 102.6 feet (31.1) meters in circumference. That make it the largest tree in the world in terms of volume. In other words, there are trees that are taller, and even some that are wider, but none are so massive in every way. The healthy General Sherman is believed to be over 3000 years old, and takes up 52,500 cubic feet (1486 cubic meters) of space. To put things into perspective, it even has a branch that is 6.8 feet (2.1 meters) in thickness.
General Sherman isn’t the only massive sequoia to be found in the park either. The Giant Forest is so named because of the large number of the trees that are found there, and there are other groves scattered about in various corners of the preserve as well. There is even a spot where one of the trees toppled centuries ago, and cars can now drive through a tunnel that has been carved from its trunk.
One of the highlights of the visit to Sequoia National Park was a climb up to the top of Moro Rock, a 245 foot (75 meter) granite rock dome that provides outstanding views of the surrounding area. The walk up is an easy one since there are more than 300 stairs in place, and a number of barriers to prevent falling. Due to the altitude (6725 ft/2050 meters) the thin air can be a challenge, but those who make it to the top are treated to an amazing panoramic view of the countryside. The ground simply falls away beneath you, allowing you to see for miles in all directions.
After exploring the park for most of the day, it was time to go check into our accommodations for the evening. On our second day of the trip we were staying at the Wuksachi Lodge, which is located in a tranquil part of Sequoia, just off the beaten path. The lodge features many of the same rustic features we found the night before at the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon, but there was definitely a step up in terms of amenities and refinements. For instance, Wuksachi features a cocktail lounge, an upscale restaurant, and rooms with better furnishings. Its common area was also extremely comfortable, and guests chatted warmly while they waited for dinner. There is a subtle charm to the place that was very endearing, and it was easy to get settled in after a long day.
Wuksachi is deeply entwined with the wilderness, and the staff reminded us to be “bear aware.” Animals were a common sight, and apparently it is not uncommon for bears to wander directly through the premises. We didn’t see any during our stay, but we saw several of them not far away during our day in the park.
Open year-round, I can only imagine how lovely the lodge must be in the winter months. It features 102 rooms, and when speaking to the manager it is clear that if you want to stay in Wuksachi you should make reservations well ahead of time. There are plans afoot to begin breaking ground on an expansion, and considering how popular the lodge is with Sequoia visitors, I’d say it is overdue. It is the perfect place to become immersed in everything that the park has to offer, and I’d whole-heartedly recommend it for a stay if you plan to visit Sequoia or Kings Canyon in the future. There are even several expandable meeting rooms available for corporate events, weddings, or other special occasions.
We rounded out the day by driving up to nearby Wolverton for a barbecue dinner and an interpretive historical show. While we dined on delicious ribs, chicken and corn on the cob, a Native American woman spun tales of a character that lived in the late 1800’s. The food was better than the storytelling, but it was hard to not be enchanted by the entire experience thanks to the beautiful outdoor setting that glowed red as the sun dropped in the west.
It was another wonderful day in another amazing national park. It was quickly becoming clear that we didn’t have enough time to see and do everything that we had hoped. But as always with the national parks, there is a strong desire to return and see more.
Tomorrow, it is on to Yosemite, a place with a reputation that is as large as the massive valley itself.
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