If you have not been to Sequoia National Park, you need to know… it’s beautiful! I would go back whether I had done everything or not (and definitely plan to down the road). The Redwood trees alone are unlike anything anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, the drive is incredible – I suggest allowing for time to drive slowly and use the pull outs to stop and take in the views. Be prepared to take (and delete) a lot of photos. There is running water everywhere, views of the valley from so many places, animals, trees, and more.
Things we did:
1. General Sherman Tree:
Truthfully, it’s a big redwood tree; actually, it’s a fat redwood tree (thus why it’s famous). It’s very cool, but what I really enjoyed were the trails surrounding the tree. General Sherman Tree is probably worth the stop if you’re in the area and want to stop for lunch or something. It wasn’t too crowded the day we went, but I would suggest walking around the tree (away from the sign at the front) to get a picture. Otherwise you will be waiting in the make-shift lines that form of people waiting to take that iconic picture. The upside to waiting is that it’s probably the easiest spot to get a picture of you/your friends or family AND the entire tree in the background. From any other spot, you have to get creative with your photography.
2. Congress Trail
This is well worth the hour or so it takes to walk it. Congress Trail is a beautiful path through the forest surrounding the General Sherman Tree. There are entire stands of redwood trees, beautiful water-scapes, some old fire damage (which is truly stunning), and plenty of moments to stop and take photos or sit and enjoy where you are. We walked the full trail (there is a shorter option) and found that much of it was quiet and away from the General Sherman Tree crowd.
3. Moro Rock
Here’s my take on Moro Rock: if you like views from heights, then it’s worth the climb. If you are content with the views from the pull outs as you drive, then don’t worry about it. It’s 400 steps (according to the internet…I forgot to count) to the top and you’re already at high elevation. I promise, you will need to stop multiple times on your way up; it’s ok, so does everyone else! However, you can see all the way up and down the valley, and the mountain peaks still covered with snow are stunning. If you have time, it’s probably worth the stop; we did it on our way out of the park on our last day – it was a 20-30 minute stop all told. If you are running out of time, it’s ok to skip it.
4. Crystal Cave
We did this on our very first day in to the park. It’s a 3-4 hour endeavor. First, you MUST purchase tickets at one of the visitors’ centers on the way up (we stopped at the Foothills Visitor’s Center, but you can get them from the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center too). Then you make the drive to the parking lot by the caves; they will tell you to arrive half an hour early…I wouldn’t bother. We could have arrived 10 minutes early and been fine. Once you arrive, you and your tour group will get a little intro from the park staff. It’s then a half mile hike down to meet your tour guide, a 50-minute tour through the caves (which are stunning, but not shiny. The mountain is actually a large part marble, so be sure to look down into the water on your way in/out. The water has polished the marble and it’s beautiful), and then the half mile hike out (which is steep, and you will once again need to pace yourself or stop for breath). We also discovered that the BEST time to go is on the 1:30 tour. We had a small group compared to the tours before and after us which, in my opinion, heightened the experience.
5. Tunnel Log
It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s an old, fallen over tree that they carved a tunnel through. I learned that the iconic tree that people used to be able to drive through blew over in 1969 and was many miles north in the Mariposa Grove. Tunnel log is a different place and occurrence, but you can stop and get out or just drive the little loop to say you’ve done it; I wouldn’t say it was worth it, but what IS worth it on this short drive is the fallen tree (I unfortunately don’t remember it’s name) on your way in/out from Tunnel Log. Redwoods have the disadvantage of “losing their balance” and toppling over without warning. Because their root system is so shallow, the roots come right along with them and the result is incredible. Stopping to get out here made the drive well worth it. You can’t miss it; the tree is on your left and there is a pull out on the right to park in so you can get pictures.
Things I wish we’d been able to do:
1. Mineral King
2. High Sierra Trail
3. The Groves (both in Sequoia and some into Kings Canyon): https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/sequoiagroves.htm
4. Camping within the park
Top 5 Things to Try to Do (in my opinion):
I would tell you to spend at least a week inside the park, driving to all the sights and doing some of the hikes (grab a trail map from one of the visitor’s centers). However, if you only have a day or two, here is what I suggest you choose from:
1. Congress Trail/General Sherman’s Tree
2. Mineral King (I know I didn’t go, but I can’t find a reason not to)
3. Hiking (pick a hike, any hike that goes through an area you’re excited about, even Moro Rock. Stop at a visitor’s center and pick up a trail map)
4. The Groves/Giant Forest (again, go to the website and pick one, or plan the ones that make the best drive): https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/sequoiagroves.htm
5. Crystal Cave
Ben’s Two Cents
Sequoia National Park is not particularly dog friendly. Dogs are allowed in campsites/picnic areas and parking lots, but we aren’t allowed on any of the hiking trails. It was too hot to be left in the car, so I got left in the (air conditioned) trailer back at the KOA (2 hours away). Perhaps dogs should stay at home with family/a sitter while people go camp and explore in Sequoia National Park.