It is 6:15 am, and with two cups of coffee and the kids in the back half-asleep/half-awake, we head to Sequoia National Park during one of the busiest weekends of the summer.
We stopped for gas at the town of Three Rivers and quickly noticed several B&Bs and guest houses available to rent that did not appear on any searches in the most common booking websites, plus a brewery and a nice coffee shop. Which leads me to my first tip:
- Tip #1 - Look for a place to stay near the park to avoid the two+ hour drive in the morning.
With a full tank of gas, we proceeded to the park entrance.
- Tip #2 - Buy a national parks pass before going to the park so you can drive in the far-right lane, avoiding the first wait in line
The drive from the Foothills Visitor Center to Giant Forest Museum can take about an hour. Don’t worry, there are several stops you can take along the way to break up the windy, switchback road for photo ops. We decided to stop at Tunnel Rock for a photo on top of the rock and at the lookout to admire Moro Rock and the amazing view from that location.
Since we were traveling with our five-year-old and nine-year-old kids, we decided to park further into the park at the upper General Sherman parking lot and take the shuttle to the museum. The reason for this is also my tip number three:
- Tip #3 - Park your car at your last stop of the day and if you have kids in tow, get the junior ranger books at the beginning; big disclaimer: we saw the parking at the giant forest museum parking lot was completely full by 10am
We took the shuttle from the upper parking lot to the museum parking lot which took us about 10 minutes. At the museum, we spent about 15 minutes looking at the different exhibits and information they had regarding the park. We took the next shuttle, the #2 bus, to Moro Rock. This was a climb that took us 400 steps to a panoramic view of the park. As an outdoor-educator it was fascinating to watch the dynamic of people going up and down this mountain. Common hiking etiquette, like giving way to those that are going up was not followed by most people.
After a successful hike adrenaline rush for my wife, and reassuring two kids of their safety on some edgy parts, we came down and waited for the next shuttle. From the museum we took the shuttle, the #1 bus, to go back to the upper parking lot. We had our pre-made lunches waiting for us in the car in a (bear-proof) cooler and we found a nice shaded area to enjoy our lunch.
- Tip #4 - Pack your lunch, as there are no food stores inside the park
Our last hike was to see the General Sherman Sequoia which is the tallest tree in the world. Everyone wants a photo of themselves in front of the tree, so be prepared for a long line unless you want to take it from a different angle that has no visible signage of the “General Sherman”. We chose to do that; we went around the tree and took multiple photos of us from different angles to avoid the long line of befuddled and sometimes oblivious people standing in front of the General Sherman sign.
Driving out of the park around 3:30pm, we enjoyed the company and commentary of the Ranger driving behind us, using the megaphone to let people know that they were not parked correctly and they had to move along. Think of Super Troopers.
The Foothill Visitor Center closes at 4:30 pm, and unfortunately we got there at 4:31pm with our Junior Ranger Books completed and missed the opportunity to get the Sequoia NP badge. However, our boys are proud of the hiking and learning that took place at the park. My wife and I also talked about the difference between being somewhere truly wild and out in nature versus appreciating what has been preserved for future generations.
Don’t be afraid of the crowds. Sequoia National Park, like many other public lands, need to be appreciated and with these tips you’ll have a great time.
In summary, if you are visiting Sequoia during the summer, use some or all of the following tips:
1. Stay near the park and get there early, before 9am
2. Get the National Parks Annual Pass
3. Park your vehicle at your last activity for the day
4. Pack your lunch in a bear-proof cooler