While Yosemite make’s it to the top of California’s “A-list” for National parks in the area; there are two strong “B-listers” that are definitely worth a visit. They are the sister parks of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park . Much like Hollywood movies, these B-Parks frequently are less crowded and offer more substance than their mega-blockbuster A-list counterparts. If you find yourself looking for a wonderful day of driving and hiking, head on over to King’s Canyon National Park and it’s sister Sequoia National Park. Considering all three parks are along the same range, I promise you’ll have a grand ole’ time without all the crowds and fuss of Yosemite.
Our original plan for the day was to take a drive into Sequoia National Park and see Grant’s Tree (which happens to be the world’s third largest tree) and then skip over to see the General Sherman Tree (the worlds largest single stem tree). We got up early in morning and made our way in to Sequoia National Park. We found our way to the area where we were supposed to “hike” to Grants Tree and were very quickly disappointed. We were expecting a hiking trail and what we found instead was a wide paved path swarming with tourists. It was the hiking equivalent of planning for a quiet day at the park and then accidentally walking into Disney World. It was kinda cool, just not the vibe we were looking for that day. We spent a few minutes there and walked the short loop.
We had a chance to see some monsterous trees and learn a bit about these amazing feats of nature.
Seeing Grant’s Tree was pretty cool as well, but it was hard to enjoy the grandeur of it with all the racket caused by the swarms of people all over the place. It was hardly the type of environment conducive to pondering the wonders of Mother Nature, heck it was almost impossible to get a picture!
I don’t mean to sound like a crotchety old man or anything, but I prefer a solitary communing with nature over the teeming masses found at sites like this. There was however, one more cool thing at this site worth mentioning. Near the tree, there was a tiny little cabin named Gamblin Cabin.
Apparently, at least according to this conveniently placed sign, it was built back in 1872, when they thought it was a good idea to cut these massive trees down. I just find it amazing that this was considered adequate housing 130 years ago and a great place for a ranger to live 100 years ago. It makes us “modern” humans look like pretty big wusses.
After having our fill of the place Lauren and I regrouped in the car and decided to make a change of plans. We were faced with a bit of a conundrum. If the 3rd largest tree in the world was this busy the #1 tree would probably be swamped. Instead of finding out, we took a look at the handy maps given to us by the rangers at the entry station. It turns out we could take a beautiful drive to the bottom of a canyon that’s 8000 feet deep and carved out of granite instead. That sounded much more like our style. So we fired up the ole v-dub and rambled our way out of Sequoia and into King’s Canyon National Park.
The second we arrived we knew that we made the right choice. Compared to Sequoia National Park, this place was practically abandoned. What ensued from that point was a lovely drive down a weaving canyon with beautiful vistas along the way.
One of my favorite parts about driving into King’s Canyon is the change of perspective as you head down. We began our drive near the top, surrounded by just the tops of mountains formed out of solid granite.
As you go deeper though, you start to become encased at all sides. About half way down, we came across a little general store. Everything was really overpriced so we were happy that we brought our own lunch. If you find yourself needing gas though, they do have it (priced by the liter) in these original antique gravity pumps.
Plus, who wouldn’t want to have an impromptu picnic with this beautiful lady?
After our picnic, we continued our drive towards the bottom of King’s Canyon. We found out there was a river at the bottom of the canyon and we set out to find it.
So what did we do? Get out and hike around and play of course! Notice there was no one else around.
Once we finished playing in the river (no broken toes this time), it was time to get back in the car and make our way to the end of the road. It’s one of those things about me that I just can’t resist. If I know the road ends I want to make it to the very last inch of pavement (and many times beyond).
It was well worth the drive though. The vistas of the mountains were incredible.
We even found another original settler’s cabin.
This one was even smaller than the last one and quite a bit more rustic. Built during the 1920’s this is the oldest building in this part of the canyon.
In just the right spot (there is a little sign that tells you exactly where to stand) you can see the direct center of the canyon. From there you can see the path of the glacier that receded and left this incredible canyon behind.
For us the trip to King’s Canyon National Park was just what we were looking for. There were many hiking trails at the bottom of the canyon and many places to explore on the way down. If you find yourself in Northern California, it’s definitely a national park you want to visit.
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