Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks (June 2015)

Hello Blog Fans (Hi Mom!).  Welcome to my first real post in my new blog.  We had the pleasure of visiting Yosemite and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks with our friends the Seppanens this June.  It was the first time for all of us. The kids are now 16 & 13 (for both families actually) and are a great age for travel.  We got in lots of hiking (~40 miles) and saw plenty of animals, as you will see.

Overview region

We were able to take a “long” week (FRI-SUN) flying in/out of Fresno which is the closet airport to both parks.  We spent the first night in Fresno (bleah) and then 5 in Yosemite and 3 in Sequoia. campgroundmap2013Yosemite is a BIG park with 5 different major areas (Wawona, Glacier Point, the Valley, Hetch Hetchy and Tioga Rd).  The map above is a very basic one that happens to show the campgrounds.  We stayed in Yosemite West (red star) just inside the park near the Glacier Point Road turnout.  We rented a vacation home through Scenic Wonders and that worked out great.  The house had a game room for the kids and enough space for us all.  I really prefer being in control of the food and being able to chill in the evening (with friends no less).


With only 3 days in Sequoia NP, we decided to simply stay in the Wuksachi Lodge.  That worked out fine.  We did enjoy a couple of nice meals at the lodge restaurant while we were there.

Day 0 (SAT) — Checking in and Driving through the Valley

As I mentioned, we simply stayed by the airport in Fresno on the first night.  It saved us a few bucks and we would have been too tired to try to find our way to Yosemite in the dark.  We got an early start the next day (Saturday).  Thanks to the accommodating folks at Scenic Wonders, we were able to drop our stuff (and nearly $500 worth of groceries) at the house before heading into the Valley for some of the sites.  No major hikes planned. We saw a few sites and then the skies opened up.  I was really kicking myself as we didn’t prepare well by dropping all our things off at the house (when it was nice and sunny).  It was a pretty hard and persistent rain so we might not have wanted to do much anyway.  It took us about an hour to get out of the day parking lot — another lesson learned.

The traditional view just after the tunnel looking down into the valley. This is the same shot as the photo at the top with all of us (except me).
El Capitan, a popular climbing spot
Bridalveil Falls. Wispy enough that the wind would really change the direction of the falls. Fun to watch.

And, that’s about all we got before the rain came.  We had hoped to squeeze in lower Yosemite Falls as well, but we picked that up another day.  We hung out in the Visitor’s Center for awhile but the rains didn’t let up so we headed back to the house (eventually–traffic was horrible).

Day 1 (SUN) — Sentinel Dome, Glacier Point, Taft Point

Stretch goal achieved on the first full day!  I had planned to hike to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point and drive to Glacier Point but I was able to coerce our willing vacationers into walking the entire route.  Well done team!

glacier_point.1 This trail is the “cyan” route on the map above (the yellow is Day 2, btw).


First hump (peak) is Sentinel Dome, then Glacier Point and finally Taft Point and then back to the car.  Note that Taft Point is where the two BASE jumpers died just a couple of weeks before we got there. The stats from my geeky GPS (love it, btw):  8.9 miles and 2555′ elevation gain.  It took our crew 6:18 (including lunch) of which I was moving 3:55.  You’ll notice this is all at 7000’+ so not bad at all for a first day.  (I was the overall planner for this trip — not sure all were too happy with me after this hike.  It was a lot to bite off for the first day but it was an excellent hike).

Heading to Sentinel Dome
Yosemite Falls (and the Valley) from Sentinel Dome
closer view
some of the crew chilling and the top of the Dome
looking back down the Valley (El Capitan, Bridalveil, etc.)
all 8 of us on Sentinel Dome with Half Dome in the background
Frey Kid shot
Half Dome on the way to Glacier Point
Heard this squawking bird (pheasant?) while walking on the trail. Hard to see due to the dirt camouflage.
Turns out it was a mom and about 3 chicks. You can just see one here. 1st animal siting!
another shot of Half Dome with Nevada Falls in the distance on the right
closer view of Nevada Falls
iconic Half Dome — can’t get enough
a happy, backlit couple in front of Half Dome
more of the valley to the left of Half Dome
the Valley and Yosemite Falls
the Valley from Glacier Point
saw this guy a bunch during a lunch break — a Stellar Jay
a quick (and futile) rock climbing attempt on the way to Taft Point
Valley view from Taft Point

Day 2 (MON) — The Mist Trail, John Muir Trail and Mirror Lake

This day was going to be one of the tougher climbs of the week.  We knew that we would hike up the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls.  I felt that top of Nevada Falls was a bit much for the group; however, to avoid going back down the Mist trail (and the stairs) we decided to hook up to the John Muir trail which did require some further ascending.  It was worth it to avoid the stairs down though. The stretch goal (achieved) was to walk to Mirror Lake.  Your faithful tour director made an error in deciding to walk to the trail head from the Mist trail because we just missed the shuttle bus.  It was an extra mile on a crappy (literally) horse trail that pushed a few to exertion.  The trail out to Mirror Lake was about as bad.  Not worth doing in hind sight. Some of us went to Lower Yosemite Falls afterwards (via the shuttle) while others hit the store to top up supplies (and get some sneaky ice cream).

We got an early start this time so we were able to park by the Yosemite Falls shuttle stop where I knew we’d end the day.  Much better than messing with the day lot (no rain helped too).


Big climb to the top of Vernal Falls (about 5000′) and then to the peak as we hooked up to the John Muir trail.   The flat bit is walking to Mirror Lake.  6:20 in total, similar to the previous day (but more moving time at 4:45).  Stats say 8.9 miles but the plot above says more.  Who knows.  Certainly a tired crew by the end.

Crossing the Merced River and the beginning of the Mist Trail
closer to the top of Vernal Falls with the mist (and the stairs) in the background
waterfall induced rainbow
Vernal Falls — mist everywhere. It felt good.
another of the falls and mist
Kuk crossing the rainbow
my favorite 3 and the rainbow
close up of the falls (Vernal)
one from the top
as close as we got to Nevada Falls — hiking up the John Muir connector (also a rare moment when Alex wasn’t in the lead). Recall that we saw Nevada Falls from a distance at Glacier Point the day before.
Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap (I believe)
Mirror Lake — decent enough view but wasn’t a fan of the horse trails there/back
Lower Yosemite Falls at the end of the day

Day 3 (TUE):  High Sierra (Tioga Road)

Tuesday was spent driving through and to the end of Tioga Road in the northern part of the park.  It was a lot of car time but it also allowed us to see a completely different (and less crowded) part of the park.  We just got a taste and I had hoped to spend a second day up this way but the weather was a little iffy so I got outvoted.  Elevations are higher (about 10,000′) and it is very peaceful.  If I were to come back I’d think I’d stay at the lodge up here (or even backpack??) and spend some more time here without the driving back/forth.

We stopped at Olmsted Point for a quick scramble up a rock (for most of us) and then made our way to Tenaya Lake for a disappointing and eventually aborted hike (tour director mistake #2).  We got a nice, albeit short walk and lunch in Tuolumne Meadows.  The final hike was up (and down) to Gaylor Lakes at the far east end of the park.  Unfortunately, I didn’t record our walking stats for that one though.

Shout out to our friends Chris and Janet who recommended Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining just outside the park (and in a Mobil gas station no less).  Given the drive time this was our one meal out in Yosemite.  It hit the spot.

Bonus:  saw our first bear on the drive back.

our first marmot siting while near Olmsted Point
Half Dome way in the distance on the rock/mound opposite Olmsted Point
Nice shot of the kids. At first we were the only ones to climb up. Jay joined us later.
looking back from the top
Nicole and Alex with Tenaya Lake in the background
one more looking back
Tenaya Lake — it was pretty enough. The problem was there wasn’t a well defined trail going around (or we couldn’t find it). We aborted our circumvention after struggling for awhile.
Tuolumne Meadows. I believe that is Pothole Dome on the left, but I’m not certain. The ranger mentioned that most of the wild flowers have been trampled out of the meadows so free roaming is discouraged (we took the recommended trail to Soda Springs).
Lunch break/nap. It’s tough on the go at nearly 10,000′.
from our lunch spot along Tuolumne River
I thought this was a pika but it doesn’t appear to be based on Google searches. Might just be a chipmunk. They were surprisingly loud in the meadows.
a (faint) herd of deer we spotted on our way back from Soda Springs through the meadow
a bigger than expected climb to Gaylor Lakes, but we got some nice views looking back
as usual, the kids were in the lead and waiting for us
another good view
the usual laggards 🙂
I wasn’t smart enough to track our walk, but I did capture our elevation at the top. Big difference between 10,000 and the 7-8000′ walks from earlier in the week.
Gaylor Lake. Most decided not to actually down to it since it would require another trip back up.
but I did!
And Nicole went with me. This is my normal selfie face, she tells me. I have to concentrate too hard to get it to work on my camera (no appropriate smart phone).
that’s better (I’m still laughing at the selfie face comment)
nice one of just Nicole (and what became known as her “Where’s Waldo” shirt)
No Joke. We actually had a nice meal in a gas station near Mono Lake.
Mono Lake. A decent site in its own right, but we were too tired/hungry to explore.
Super Bonus: I happened to spot our first bear while on the long drive back. We are still on Tioga Road just west of Olmsted Point I believe.
zoomed in, but a little fuzzy (sorry)
Deer in our neighborhood (Yosemite West). We also saw a bigger bear on the way back but it was too crowded to stop and take a photo. I’ll not count that one in our totals.

Day 4 (WED) — Hetch Hetchy

I had planned out the first three days and left the fourth as a floater.  We all had had enough of the Valley and had pretty much “done” the Glacier Point Road area.  I was itching to do a longer hike on Tioga Road to Cathedral Lakes but there was a 70% chance of rain so we collectively opted out. We instead decided to go less well known area in the northwest of the park:  Hetch Hetchy.

Hetch Hetchy is a large reservoir that was controversially dammed up in 1923 (much to John Muir’s disgust) and now supplies 80% of water to the San Francisco Bay area.  Our hike involved a partial walk around the reservoir to Wapama Falls.  (4.9 miles, 3:05/2:32, minimal elevation change).

Another bonus:  we got to see a momma bear and her cub (quite close).  Fortunately, she wasn’t too bothered by people!

Rather than push for another walk, we took it relatively easy on this day.  We all enjoyed the extra down time while we cleaned out most of the fridge!

the reservoir with the falls in the distance
looking down O’Shaughnessy dam — pretty violent water jet!
our views heading out
promised bear w/ cub
momma bear was either eating or looking back at baby
squirrel munching some flowers
We were hoofin’ it back to race the clouds. We stayed dry. I like to think those are right over Cathedral Lakes to further justify our decision!
Wapama Falls
and again, this time with Alex and Nicole (look who’s nearly caught up in height!)
one more — fairly impressive (and close)
had to do the tourist shot re-entering the park at Big Oak Flat (Jay — you are crooked 🙂 )

Day 5 (THU) — Travel to Sequoia, Grant Grove, King’s Canyon

I thought we’d laze around, check out, drive to Sequoia and perhaps check out Grant’s Tree.  But folks were on the ball and we were out by 8 am.  We stopped at the King’s Canyon Visitors center and were encouraged to go ahead and drive through the canyon while we were on this side of the park.  Glad we did.  It’s only worth a 1/2 day in hind sight so glad we didn’t budget a full day for it.

King’s Canyon is mainly driving and stopping.  Not too many hiking opportunities.  It gave us a day off so to speak.  First stop was Grant’s Grove and the 2nd largest tree (by volume) in the world.

General Grant’s Tree — hard to capture in a photo!
Not the best lighting for the kids, but I was trying to get a little scale. For whatever reason, I wasn’t that impressed. Not sure what I was expecting.
a fallen sequoia
King’s Canyon
agave blooms (for Kuk)
more King’s Canyon
Grizzly Falls along King’s Canyon Road
Roaring River Falls
looking down Roaring River
Bear #4 in Zumwalt Meadows. Having a good scratch.
Still #4. All the bears we saw were “black” bears — this one was actually black. Our bear streak reached 3 days.
Zumwalt Meadows

Day 6 (FRI) — Giant Forest, Sequoia NP

This turned out to be a great day.  We took a nice, long point-to-point walk from the General Sherman Tree parking lot to Moro Rock with plenty of offshoots to see specific sites along the way.  We passed 3 different meadows and saw bears in each one (4 day bear streak!).  Other than the last brutal climb at Moro Rock, the elevation gain was very minimal and temperatures were comfortable.

The trees in the Giant Forest, including the largest one in the world (Sherman), were very impressive and had the wow factor that was missing from Grant Grove.  We all truly enjoyed this hike and some may put it ahead of the Yosemite sites.


Light blue/cyan trial (purple is the next day).  8.6 miles in 6:05/4:47.  Fortunately we were able to catch the shuttle back to the car.  I’m glad I forked over the $3.50 for the paper map of the area because we took quite a few different trails to make up this route.

Sherman Tree — hard to appreciate the size in this photo
the bricks represent the base of Sherman tree — our crew just covers it
another view — still hard to get the scale
that helps
I liked this shot looking up
more massiveness
coming through
a group of trees called “The House” along “Congress” Trail
our first Sequoia marmot
teeny, tiny Nicole in “the Senate” (get it — House, Senate, Congress?)
Perhaps at one point in her life, my lovely wife cared what other people thought about her. Not anymore. Her sun hat plus red poncho for the light sprinkle we got resulted in quite a few barbs from the kids and me. We told her we’d look out for any rice paddies or Asian tour groups that she could join.
marmot #2 (at least in Sequoia)
close up — I think this is still #2
looky there — Bear #5. First blonde one we saw.
close up of same bear
black bear in same meadow (Circle Meadow) — #6
all of the crew in a large, hollowed out tree
didn’t get a good shot on bear #7 (top of Crescent Meadow I think)
his partner (#8) was more visible
Tharp’s Log (hollowed out log turned into cabin)
a brown (black) bear this time in Log Meadow — #9
closer shot
can you imagine the sound these must make when they fall?
Bear #10 was a little close for comfort though I was never really worried. He had come out of the meadow and crossed the trail. We made a lot of noise to encourage him on up the hill a bit more. We finally ditched the trail and walked through the undergrowth to keep a safe distance.
Destination Moro Rock
one last tree hug
view from Moro Rock (after catching my breath)
Nicole’s Panorama from Moro Rock
all the kids made it to the top (well done) but Nicole hung around for photos
almost as good a view 2/3’s the way down (where Kuk was waiting)
had to nudge this guy out of my parking space at the lodge upon arriving “home”

Day 7 (SAT) — Tokopah Falls and Crystal Cave

Bonus day since we knocked out King’s Canyon on the way end.  We fit in a really nice walk to Tokopah Falls (4.2 miles, 2:11/1:58) in the morning.  In the afternoon we went to Crystal Cave which unfortunately was very disappointing.  It took a while to get there and was quite warm hiking to/from the cave.  However, the worst part was the loud and generally obnoxious youth group that was on our tour (the group was too large in general, IMO).  To top it off, apparently we’ve become cave snobs having recently visited the Luray Caverns in Virginia.  Oh well, win some, lose some (in this case, $64 for each family).

At any rate, the hike was nice though I don’t have as many pictures of it.

a good part of the hike to Tokopah Falls was along the river — very peaceful (and shady)
Tokopah Falls, some 2 miles later



I was in desperate need of a vacation and this really fit the bill.  It was great that the Seppanens could join us as we experienced some amazing natural sites while getting to stretch our legs (and lungs).  The gang got along great and put up with all the hiking without a complaint.

I have a hard time comparing the different parks we’ve been to as I’ve enjoyed all of them.  However, this will certainly be a memorable trip and I’m glad we were able to share those experiences with friends.

Not sure if we’ll get back this way anytime soon given all the other great places we have yet to see. However, some further exploration along the Tioga Road area would be warranted.

Thanks for reading everyone.  Let me know what you think of the blog.  If you want any photos, just remember that these are the compressed versions on the blog.


One thought on “Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks (June 2015)

  1. Looks like a great trip! I’m impressed with all your hikes, but perhaps even more impressed that you are keeping up with blogging!
    – Tara


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