There’s several ways to spend your time in a National Park, but I think that all ways fall into two main camps—the “experiential visit” and the “attractions visit”. The experiential visit is about getting out into nature and freeing yourself of civilization. This could be about long hikes, floating rivers, or even just sitting around the fire and sipping whiskey. These visits take time.
The “attractions visit” is better for those who don’t have time. It’s more about seeing the primary “points of interest”, the impressive feats of nature that are unavailable to us in our flat, boring cities. This is how we would see Sequoia National Park in just 6 hours.
Our journey began near Exeter, California. We were staying with Chuck’s family in the early foothills of the Sierra, just west of the Sequoia National Park entrance. This is nearly as close as you can stay, without staying in the park, and yet we would have a 90 minute drive ahead of us. The road there is insane.
From the park entrance at 1,430 ft of elevation, the road climbs to 6,450 ft in just 7 or so lateral miles. The drive weaves in and out of the cliffside overhangs and valleys, expanding and contracting in a line of traffic. The traffic is a sign of the unifying pilgrimage that we humans love to make towards nature (but also a reminder that we’re not really “getting away”).
Eventually, we made it to the “top”, or at least the alpine plateau that this portion of the national park sits upon. We found some stellar parking in the first lot we reached and soon, were off to see the park’s largest attraction—the General Sherman tree.
Standing at 275 feet tall, 37 feet wide, and over 100 feet around, the General Sherman Tree is, by volume, the largest known living single-stem tree on Earth. The tree is estimated to be 2,300 to 2,700 years old, making it the largest and oldest living thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of “meeting”.
We clearly weren’t the only ones who came for this. The path from the parking lot to the tree was a paved, downward trail full of families skipping on the way there and huffing-and-puffing on the climb up. When we reached the tree, we were met by a hearty line of folks hoping to get their photo in front of the behemoth.
I am a special breed of stick-in-the-mud and wasn’t intent on queuing to have my picture with a sign and the bottom 30 feet of the tree. So, at (what I suspect was) a disappointment for the entire group, I just had us stand to the side of the mob and take some selfies. Still, unable to capture our group with the whole tree, I compensated by pledging to take a cute “magic” photo. Fun.
Next, we explored the trails around General Sherman, weaving in and out of some fallen trees. This is where we really got our tourist on.
As expected, after a long drive and a bunch of walking around, we were growing pretty hungry. We had packed some lunches, so it was back to the parking lot where just mere feet from the lot, we found a picturesque rock to enjoy our snack-age on.
Finally, for one last stop in the area, we were off to the Giant Forest Museum, a visitor’s center of sorts. The building featured exhibits which explained the lifespan of a Giant Sequoia and why Sequoia National Park’s geography is so hospitable to the gargantuan trees. We even got to spin the “life…erm, finds a way” wheel and see what would happen if we were a sequoia seed.
…I never sprouted. >_<
Knowing our time was limited and ready for our next attraction, we were soon off to see another big feature of the park, Moro Rock. Moro Rock (not to be confused with Morro Rock), is an enormous dome-shaped granite monolith latched onto the side of a Sierra cliff-face. In one of those classic 1930’s “government putting people to work doing random things” features, the Civilian Conservation Corps carved steps into the spine of the rock, allowing tourists to easily hike their wait to the top precipice.
We had to take a shuttle in to this area of the plateau, which dropped us off at the base of the rock. From there, it was just 400 steps to the top of the rock. We’re out of shape, so it definitely got our heart-rates up, but it wasn’t so bad—the view made it all worth it.
Views from the top were breathtaking. To the east was the Great Western Divide, where the Sierra Nevada peaks before dipping down into Kings Canyon. To the west was Three Rivers and then the California Central Valley. Regrettably, you could only see about 30-50 miles west due to all of the haze in the air, likely from wildfires and cow farts. Still, it was a tremendous view.
After several minutes at the top, it was time to start our long return journey back to Exeter. We snaked our way down the staircase and waited for one of the National Parks shuttles to come pick us up. That sucker was packed, but we made it on and were soon back at the parking lot. There, Cindy got to fulfill one last wish from the day—hug a sequoia!
Our visit to Sequoia National Park was an “attractions visit” and even then, we know we left several of the “main sights” on the table. And beyond that, I’m painfully aware that I hardly got an “experience” of the park. Still, one of the beautiful adages of our traveling careers is that it is always better to get a taste of a place than to not see it at all—it only gives you more reason to go back!
Anyway, for more photos of our short time at Sequoia National Park, check out the gallery below!