Sequoia National Park, CA

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– Traveled Summer 2010 –

My wife and I were a tad skeptical about visiting Sequoia; we were not sure if we or our kids (13 and 10 year old girls) were up for this trip.  Every vacation that we had taken as a family has been to cities with theme parks, historical buildings, movie theaters, restaurants in every corner, beaches and hotels with Jacuzzi and pools.  This trip was different, none of the usual amenities, just us and nature.  I am glad that we were proven wrong; this has been one of the greatest vacations we have ever had; our kids have fond memories from this trip.  This is a vacation that we will always remember.

We visited Sequoia at the beginning of the summer so we avoided the snow.  I think this was a good decision.  I believe that our experience would have been very different.  In addition some of the sites are closed during the snow season; so if you can travel during the summer, I recommend it.  There are two ways to access the park, from the north side via the Grant Grove – Hwy 180 and from the south side via Three Rivers – Hwy 198 which naturally divides the park in two sections, the North side (Grant Grove and Cedar Grove Areas) and the South side (Lodgepole, Giant Forest and Foothill Areas).  All references to the park are in regards to the south side since that is the area that we visited.

We left the LA area at 5:00 a.m. to avoid rush hour and to get a good head start.  Timing was great, by 11:00 a.m. we were driving into Sequoia National Park.  We even had enough time to stretch our legs and have a leisure breakfast in Bakersfield – about half way between LA and Sequoia national park.

As we planned our visit we decided that the best thing to do was to bring our own food to the park, especially because of the limited places to purchase food within the park.  As we neared the park, we decided to stop at the lodge, where we were spending the night, to see if we could leave our suitcases.  At the lodge, the lady at the counter suggested that we do not leave food, lotions, or anything with a strong sent in the car since bears can smell it and brake into the car.  Armed with this information and the fact that we always heard stories about bears breaking into cars – we didn’t want a broken window to spoil our trip – we decided to leave our food at the lodge.

We came to regret this decision – not to fault the lady behind the counter; she was being very helpful – by mid afternoon the kids were hungry with no food to eat – we had some snacks in the car to hold us until dinner.  As we drove around the park we could see that it was okay to take food into the park; just be smart about it and use the facilities that the park provides you to store the food.  Each parking lot, with exception of the parking lot at Lodgepole (since is very populated, bears do not come during the day) has bear-proof boxes to leave food at; so even if the bears can smell it they cannot open the boxes.  Make use of this facility!  Bring the food in a cooler and every time you leave the car in the parking lot, place your cooler in the bear-proof box.  During our visit a park ranger told us that the week before a bear broke into a car in the middle of the afternoon.

The next day of our visit, as we drove around we came to find out that there are two places to purchase food within the South side of the park, 1) at the Wuksachi Lodge located in the Wuksachi Village (Not really a village yet, only the lodge for now.  There are future plans to build around the lodge to make it into a village) – a fancy place for lunch or dinner where hours are limited; and 2) at Lodgepole.  In this area you can find a grocery store and two fast food places where you can find wraps, salads and ice-cream for the heath conscious and pizza and hamburger for the taste conscious.  The restaurant is located across from the gift.

With kids our age, restrooms are very important, and with girls are even more important.  Throughout the park there are many restroom facilities, but given that this is a national park in the middle of nowhere you will not find 5 star restrooms.  The best facilities (tier 1) are at the lodges but are very scarce (Wuksachi Lodge).  Around populated areas (Lodgepole, Giant Forest Museum, etc.) you will find half decent facilities (tier 2).  As you go away from the main road (Crescent Meadow, Moro Rock, etc.) the facilities are rudimentary (tier 3) and usually not up to women’s standards (what is the name to describe the hole in the ground?).

Transportation and Accommodations

Shuttle Vans
Available during the summer – check the park website for the latest information.  This is a free transportation offered by the park.  There are convenient since you do not have to worry about finding parking – especially in the few areas where space is limited – Morrow Rock.

Own Car
Best way to get around; there are many parking lots around the attractions so you can drive at your own pace.  As you drive on the secondary road there is a high possibility to spot bears, deer, and wildlife.

During our trip we did a combination of both means of transportation.  The first couple of days we drove around the park; scoping the place.  Once we decided what we wanted to visit, we used the shuttle vans.  We left our car in the Giant Forest Museum parking lot – this is the hub for the vans – and from there we took the vans to go to the different locations throughout the south side of the park.

There is one station inside the park, the Stony Creek Village, that sells gasoline but it is too far away from the south side of the park and maybe even the north side of the park.  The Village is located in the middle of the Sequoia Park!  You can find gas stations outside the park in the adjacent communities.  There is a Chevron gas station in the middle of Three Rivers which is very convenient if you are staying in Three Rivers.

Park Permit
Entrance fees are required to access the park.  You have the option of a daily pass ($12) or weekly pass ($20) per car (this is the price that we paid during our visit, check the park website for the latest fees).  If you decide to camp, there is an additional fee; camping fees are not included in this entrance fee.  Other options and discounts are available; check the park newspaper for the latest information.

Plan ahead!  We were very, very lucky to find accommodations with one week’s notice; usually reservations are needed with a few months in advance.  Of course there are plenty of campgrounds to stay at but they also fillup fast, reservations are recommended and some times required.  The best place to stay (for driving logistics and scenery) is inside the park at the Wuksachi Village lodge which is located in the middle of the south side of the park, but as you can image, rooms are hard to come by,; you need to make reservations 6 to 8 months in advance.  From there you can take the free shuttle to access many points of interest in the south side of the park.

There are a lot of places to stay outside the park that are very reasonable and comfortable.  We stayed at a lodge in Three Rivers.   The only downside of this is that you have to drive in and out of the park.  On the other hand; staying outside the park has its perks, you have more options for dinning, convenience stores and depending where you stay, a swimming pool! A kid’s favorite, no matter what time of year.

Where to go

Giant Forest
There is a lot to do at the Giant Forest, the Giant Forest Museum and gift shop (favorite spot for wife and kids), walking trails, General Sherman Tree, etc. Plan to spend some time here; there are a lot of trails that you can take and walk between the sleeping giants. You do not realize how big the trees are until you walk among them. There are some trees where the base of the tree is hollow and you can walk inside it! Restrooms are located in the Giant Forest Museum (tier 2), General Sherman upper parking (tier 2) and lower parking lot (tier 3).

Crystal Cave
A must go if you visit Sequoia! The only way to access the cave is with a guided tour and thus you must purchase tickets. They can only be purchased at two of the visitor centers – Foothills and Lodgepole – the same day that you plan to visit the cave. No tickets are sold at the cave! So do not waste your time driving without tickets; you will only enjoy the views of the parking lot. From the main road, it will take you approximately 20-25 min, one way to reach the cave’s parking lot. The drive to the cave is beautiful; you are in the middle of nowhere and you feel that you are in the middle of nowhere.

We purchased our tickets at the Foothills Visitor center at 9:00 am when it opens; we had plenty of time to drive up to the cave for a 10:00 a.m. tour. From the parking there is a ½ mile hike downhill – on a dirt path – to the entrance of the cave. Our kids did not have any issues with the hike, going up or down to the cave. There is a waterfall by the cave where you can stay and take pictures.

We took the first tour of the day; we believe this was the best time; it was not too crowded. As we exited the cave we could see the second tour lining up. We estimated that the second tour had twice as many people as our tour did. The trail inside the cave is paved so it easy walking; bring a sweater and good walking shoes since it is cold inside the cave and the floor is wet and could be slippery. You will have the opportunity to see an underground stream and stalagmites and stalactites. The cave is usually lit so there is plenty of light to view it. During our visit a squirrel had chew the power cables cutting the electricity to the cave, so we did the tour with flashlights (provided by the park or you can bring your own), what an experience!! While in the middle of the cave everyone turned the flashlights off, the cave became pitch black and stayed pitch black. This is an experience that everyone should have. Our kids loved it!

Restrooms are located in the parking lot area so plan ahead specially with the kids, since there are no restrooms at the cave. These are tier 2 restrooms.

Crescent Meadow
This is a beautiful place to see. The meadow is a green grass oasis surrounded by trees. There are trails that you can use to walk around the meadow. You are discouraged from walking inside the meadow and disturbing the habitat; however, if you find a fallen tree you can walk on it and be in the middle of the meadow. If you are lucky, you may get to see some bears. This is an excellent place to have a picnic.

Restrooms are located in the parking lot area next to the meadow. These are tier 3 restrooms.

Moro Rock
This is a place for people that do not have vertigo. You are either walking on paved path or on the rock itself. There are lots and lots of stairs to climb. As you begin your ascent, you have the rock at one side and emptiness at the other side. Half way up the rock, there is a resting place where you can stop, seat down and enjoy the view (People with vertigo can finish the climb here). The rest of the ascent is done by walking on a narrow passage delimited by metal railing. The views at the top are spectacular.

Restrooms are located in the parking lot area so plan ahead specially with the kids, since there are no restrooms at the rock. These are tier 2 restrooms.

This is the main location at the south side of the park. There are a lot of human comforts in this location; convenience store, fast food restaurants, showers, laundry mat and of course a gift shop with a small movie theater to view short films about the park. Within walking distance you can also find is a small river and a campground.

Restrooms are located in next to the gift shop. These are tier 2 restrooms.

There are lots and lots of trails across the park, from paved and flat walkways (Giant Forest) to nature trails where the trail blends with nature (Crescent Meadow). Bring a pair of comfortable shoes, hat, water, sun screen and a camera; you never know when you will walk up to a bear, deer or other wild creature.


Small souvenirs and gifts can be found at the visitor center and the lodges at the park. Also, at the Lodgepole, in addition to the visitor center there is a small supermarket where you can buy souvenirs and camping supplies. In this location there is also a fast food restaurant if you are tired of the camp food.

Additional Resources