We spent two nights outside Sequoia National Park in mid-October 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.
In Yosemite, we met our first giant sequoias, from a distance. In Kings Canyon, we got up close and personal with lots more sequoias, including enormous stumps and logging graveyards. Our sequoia grand finale was Sequoia National Park!
- they are the world’s largest trees by volume, not by height; the tallest sequoia is 316′
- they are the world’s third-oldest tree species (first place goes to bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park)–the oldest known sequoia is 3266 years old
- they grow naturally only in a 60-mile band along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, and only about 73 sequoia groves exist
- their bark can be three feet thick at the base of the tree, and their bark and sap protect them from fire damage
- they rely on periodic fire to clear out competing species–and that fire also preps the soil for seeds and causes the sequoia cones to release their seeds
- seeds are the side of oatmeal flakes, and 91,000 seeds weigh one pound
- sequoias have root systems up to an acre wide and only 12″-14″ deep
Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park are adjacent and connected by Generals Highway, but this is not the route you should take between the two if you’re towing a trailer–vehicles longer than 22′ are not advised. Even the alternate route Google Maps offered us, via the dot on the map labeled Badger, seemed super sketchy–be sure to sanity check if you’re not in a regular car. We decided to go farther west before heading south toward Visalia to be safe, and it was a pleasant drive through a valley of citrus groves.
Most visitors stick to the west side of Sequoia, where the big trees are, but the majority of the park is wilderness stretching east to Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in California and the continental US. Long-distance trails (the PCT and John Muir Trail) pass through the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Day visitors can access the foothills in the Mineral King section of the park, but we were scared off by the NPS instructions to wrap your vehicle in a tarp to prevent marmots from eating engine hoses!
Our campground was in the village of Three Rivers and we quickly fell for the tiny town. It has a brewery, a coffee shop, a gas station, a few restaurants, and just a sweet vibe. What more do you need? It’s the closest town to the southern entrance of Sequoia, only ten minutes up the road… but then it’s a long, winding trip into the heart of the park. There are no campgrounds in Sequoia National Park that can accommodate a 28′ trailer; Potwisha is the only RV-camping option accessible from Sequoia’s south entrance, and it has a 24′ limit.
We stayed at Sequoia RV Ranch in Three Rivers, a pleasant riverside campground a short drive from the main commercial strip. The creek behind our “riverfront” site was a dry ditch, but as there were warnings all around the area about toxic algae in the local waterways, we were ok not having possibly contaminated water in Bugsy’s backyard.
The riverfront sites didn’t have sewer hookups, but the campground will send a truck to empty your tank for $10, which is a good deal. Wifi was good, and there’s a walking trail along the river to a little beach where you can splash in times of no toxic algae.
The main areas to explore in Sequoia National Park were an hour’s drive from home, so we only did the drive once. We packed as many items from our to-do list into a half day in the park and felt like we’d gotten a good overview.
Inside the national park
Our goals on our time in Sequoia were 1) to see big trees, and 2) to see big views.
After driving an hour into the park, we made a beeline for General Sherman. The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree by volume; he’s 275′ tall, the diameter at the base of his trunk is over 36′, and he’s estimated to weigh as much as 107 elephants. He’s just as impressive to behold as you can imagine. General Sherman is in Giant Forest, a half mile from the parking area, and most people go see him and turn around, but our favorite part of visiting Giant Forest was seeing the trees along Congress Trail.
Congress Trail is a three-mile lollipop starting from General Sherman. It’s a less-crowded trail through the woods, past collections of giant sequoias such as The Senate and The House, and the President Tree and Chief Sequoyah Tree. This hike is a must-do in Sequoia.
I had Moro Rock just under General Sherman on my list of priorities. It’s a granite dome towering over Giant Forest with a giant staircase leading to the top where you have sweeping views of the wilderness and the Sierra Nevadas. The engineering is impressive, and we enjoyed the informational panels along the way. Yes, it’s cool, and yes, the views are amazing, but good gravy everyone in the park is climbing those stairs so be prepared for a crowd.
You can get a very similar view, with a tiny fraction of the people, by hiking a mile down the High Sierra Trail from Crescent Meadow to Eagle View. We ate lunch on some rocks in the sun and exhaled after the insanity of Moro Rock.
We mentioned Little Baldy in our Kings Canyon post: it’s part of Sequoia National Park, but we hiked it when we were staying in Kings Canyon National Park. It’s a phenomenal little hike 15 minutes past General Sherman, and well worth the extra time in the car.
Outside the national park
Per usual, dogs aren’t allowed on the trails in the national park. Bugsy needed some entertainment, and J had a work meeting and wanted us out of the Airstream, so B and I headed to Case Mountain, on BLM land about ten minutes from the campground.
Other than dodging the lake of toxic algae, we had a fantastic time. We tootled around for an hour on the many trails looping around the lake, through the woods, and across the pastures, and there was nobody else there. J was sad he missed out.
Eating and drinking
Sweet little Three Rivers has a surprising number of quality establishments for eating and drinking. We investigated most of them.
Sierra Subs and Salads seemed to be the most popular place in town, and for good reason. They serve big, yummy, creative sandwiches, salads, quesadillas, and burgers, and we thought our sandwiches were super.
The other sandwichy place on our to-do list was Quesadilla Gorilla, but alas, they weren’t open while we were in town. They’re a food truck with a few other locations around CA, for savory, sweet, or build-your-own quesadillas.
Sequoia Coffee Company is a couple doors down from Sierra, serving espresso drinks, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and pastries. I got a seasonal latte as a post-Case Mountain treat and it was delish.
Tiny Three Rivers has a brewery! Three Rivers Brewing Co is just up the main drag from Sierra and Sequoia Coffee. They have a big dog-friendly backyard over the river, a pupusa truck, and a varied beer list–which lucky for us included a hazy IPA and a sour. Both beers were meh; I liked my sour more than J liked his hazy, but we were both (er, all three) happy to sit in the sun with a beverage.
After dinner at home on evening #2 we headed out to River View, a few minutes farther toward the park (everything in Three Rivers is close together). Bugsy came with us, and we had a large area of the covered riverfront deck all to ourselves. They have a full bar and local beers; the dinner scene was bustling, but we didn’t try the food. We had a beer by the water, then put Bugsy in the warm car and stayed a little longer inside to watch the scene at karaoke night. It must be the place to be in Three Rivers!
Dinner and drinks
We went to Ol’ Buckaroo, next to the coffee shop, for a drink on their pretty riverfront patio, but were drawn in by the dinner menu. We meant to eat at home that night, but instead ordered up a storm: shrimp tacos, Brussels sprouts, steak skewers, butternut squash salad, and a lemon bar for dessert. Some of the food made it home as leftovers, and it all was great. It was a lovely evening, even if the beer list didn’t strike J’s fancy.
The beertender at the brewery had recommended Ol’ Buckaroo; he also recommended The Gateway Restaurant ten minutes up the road for something fancier. We didn’t need fancier, but let’s note it here for next time.
After Sequoia, we only had one more new-to-us national park on our itinerary, and it was a last-minute addition as it was kinda on the way from Three Rivers to our next destination on the coast: Pinnacles National Park!