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.
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. Yosemite 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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.