Friends — my obsession with visiting U.S. national parks officially rages on. I recently checked two more off the list, bringing my total visited to 10 (which means I’ve still got 51 to get to). But between visits to places like The Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, and Zion National Park, I’m convinced that these parks offer up some of the best sights in the world. Foreign tourists are already hip (the parks are filled with them), so I feel it’s only right I make sure the rest of us — particularly east coast urbanites like me — get with the program as well.
OK, so now that you’ve heard my ode to national parks… a little about our recent visit to Sequoia & Kings Canyon. Jordan had reason to be out in California so we could support friends who started a new church in San Luis Obispo. He suggested we fly out a few days early so we could see the giant redwoods in Sequoia National Park. And since Kings Canyon National Park is just next to Sequoia, it was a no-brainer to visit there too.
We flew into Fresno, and drove an hour and 15 minutes east to Three Rivers, CA, where we rented the cutest ever casita through AirBnB.
After looking through the casita guidebook and articles I’d collected about what to see in Sequoia, we headed into the park, which was a 10-minute drive away. We had a few hours left before sunset, so we set out to hike Paradise Trail and The Big Trees Trail.
Unfortunately, we completely missed the small “trail” sign for the start of Paradise Trail and ended up on a completely different trail altogether. (Silly city slickers.) Nevertheless, the views were still pretty rewarding…
Especially this one below. We also came across a tarantula and a snake, which was equal parts terrifying and exciting for ya girl.
From here we drove a little more up the mountain and into the park, until we reached The Big Trees Trail. This trail is an easy 0.60 mile path that takes you past — you guessed it — a bunch of big trees! Incredibly big trees. Trees that experts estimate are up to 1,500 years old! And as you might imagine, walking among these tress is pretty epic.
One of the most fascinating things about these giant sequoias is the role fire plays in their growth. For one, sequoia seeds are held inside tiny cones on the forest floor, and it isn’t until fire comes along that those cones are cracked, and the seed can fall on fertile soil. Once a sequoia grows, it’s incredibly fire-resistant and relies on regular fires to clear out bushes and trees around it that would compete for sunlight. The end result is trees that can grow up to 300 feet tall and live for nearly 3,000 years.
It was hard to walk through this forest and not think about the metaphor for our lives. We generally see fire as a destructive force, but the tallest, sturdiest trees in the forest become the strongest because of the fires they endure. I’ll be reflecting on that for awhile, and I’m pretty sure we can count on it being featured in a Jordan Rice sermon coming to a church (or podcast) near you. ;-)
After walking The Big Trees Trail, we headed out of the park as the sun was dipping behind the trees and mountains. It was gorgeous.
The next day we were up early, thanks to our bodies being set to east coast time. We enjoyed coffee (a lavender latte for me!) and breakfast sandwiches in the backyard of the casita, which we grabbed from the local coffee shop, Sequoia Snack Shack. The setting in our backyard was so beautiful and peaceful, I could have happily sat back there all day.
But we did get ourselves together and hit the road. This time, we drove an hour and a half north to the western entrance of Kings Canyon National Park, with plans to hit up a few sites in there, before winding our way back down into Sequoia National Park and to our home base in Three Rivers.
Our first stop in Kings Canyon was the Big Stump Trail. Once again, this trail is accurately named — it takes you past a bunch of different giant stumps, which gives a new appreciation for just how large these sequoias are.
The Mark Twain stump is one of the main attractions on this trail, as it has steps you can climb so you can stand on top. The tree was cut back in the late 1800’s so that slabs of it could be housed in museums in New York and London — no one believed there could actually be trees this big! One of the slabs can still be seen in the Museum of Natural History here in New York City.
Other stumps on the trail included one that resembled a castle and another that you can climb inside to get “a hug.” Jordan tried it and said, “I’m not claustrophobic, but this isn’t my favorite thing.” Ha!
After lunch near the Kings Canyon Visitor Center, we took the scenic drive down Generals Highway toward Sequoia National Park. Hiking through both of these parks in pretty great, but driving through is great too. After about 45 minutes, we made it to the Sherman Tree Trail.
The Sherman Tree is the largest tree by volume on earth (that we have on record). It stands 275 feet tall, and is more than 36 feet in diameter at the base. It’s estimated to be about 2,000 years old. And it is quite a sight to see. Let me tell you, the new iPhone 11 with it’s wide-lens camera mode came out just in time for this trip of ours.
Our final stop in Sequoia was to take the road toward Moro Rock, which includes a fallen tree that you can drive through. Seeing the roots of the fallen trees gives yet another perspective for just how grand these trees are.
Climbing Moro Rock is a short, but steep hike up several steps. But the payoff of the view was well worth it.
We wrapped up an amazing time visiting these parks by taking in the sunset in the backyard of our casita. Talking about life — our greatest joys, greatest challenges, and things God is teaching us.
A pretty great end to a pretty amazing expedition.
And here’s a little video recap to bring it all to life even more…
If you find yourself visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon, it’s easy enough to cover the highlights in one full day, although if you have time to stretch your time out over two days, I think it’s nice to allow yourself to catch the parks at different times of day (morning, sunset, etc).
Here’s a park map, and here are the sites in both parks that generally are most popular:
Sequoia National Park
- Big Trees Trail
- Moro Rock
- Tunnel Log
- General Sherman Tree
- Tokopah Falls
Kings Canyon National Park
- Big Stump Trail
- General Grant Tree
- Grizzly Falls
- Zumwalt Meadow
Have you been to a national park? If so, which one(s)? And which are your favorites? I need to plan which one I’ll cross off the list next!