No visit to Visalia, Ca. is complete without driving the extra miles to Sequoia National Park. It is not a long drive; about an hour to the park’s southern entrance and the drive is not boring. Highway 198 takes you along groves of orange trees and fields of grapevines, up into the foothills through the small community of Three Rivers, officially the gateway to the park.
Sequoia National Park along with Kings Canyon National Park is located in the Southern Sierra Mountain Range. The two parks form the heart of the second-largest contiguous area in the lower 48 states with no roads. The Southern Sierras are considered so rugged, few roads actually cross the mountain range.
Along the highway to the entrance gate the foothills display California poppies, rolling streams and the community of Three Rivers offers several delightful stops for shopping. For those with a sweet tooth, the Reimer’s Candy Factory is a quaint little shop that must be visited. They offer a large variety of sweets to tantalize the taste buds. As the winding road continues up through the foothills, travelers can enjoy buckeye and oak trees and increasingly steep canyons. One mile (1.6 km) from the entrance gate, a small visitor’s center nestled among the oak and chaparral will provide valuable information for the park enthusiasts, but this is just the beginning of the adventure.
Places to Go in Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is often called the Land of the Giants because many well-known giant redwoods make their home in this park. Once inside the entrance gate, visitors to the park travel along Generals Highway, the main roadway of the park. After a long, narrow and winding climb of 16 miles (26 km) with 130 curves and 12 switchbacks, visitors will finally reach the Giant Redwood Grove guarded at the start by the two Sentinel Trees.
Traveling among the giant redwoods can be awe inspiring. These beautiful trees are simply amazing. The first stop will take visitors to the Giant Forest Museum. Inside visitors can learn about the trees, the history of the park and how the park staff preserve the park for public enjoyment. Rangers are always willing to answer questions and tell stories. The museum sits at an elevation of 6500 feet (1980m).
Across the highway from the Giant Forest Museum is a short walk out to Beetle Rock. This massive fairly flat rock overlooks a huge canyon. Nearby, the Beetle Rock Family Nature Center offers hands-on experiences for folks of all ages to enjoy. During the summer, park rangers guide kids through a variety of science experiments and learning activities.
Alongside the Giant Forest Museum a road takes travelers to several other wonderful sites. The road passes two historical trees; The Auto Log on which cars parked in the early 1900s and the other a fallen tree which the road travels right through called Tunnel Log. Morro Rock is a popular destination on this road. This dome shaped rock is climbed by 400 steps to the top. The climb is strenuous but well worth the effort. At the top the view is breathtaking.
Another popular destination from this road is Crescent Meadow. This beautiful meadow, rimmed by sequoia trees, marks the western boundary of the High Sierra Trail. A short less than a mile (1.6 km) hike takes visitors to the Tharp Log House. This is a home carved into a fallen giant Sequoia in which pioneer Hale Tharp lived during much of the year. Black bears are common wildlife in the park and they are often sighted in and around this area.
Crystal Cave is yet another popular tourist spot. There are over 240 known caves in the park, but Crystal Cave is the only cave open to the public. This is the second largest cave in the park at 3.4 (5.5 km) miles long and has a constant temperature of 48 degrees Fahrenheit (9° C).
Probably the most well-known site in Sequoia National Park is General Sherman Tree. By volume this is the largest tree in the world. The tree is over 275 feet tall and is believed to be between 2,200-2,700 years old. The circumference of the tree is over 100 feet at the base. To view this magnificent tree several trails can be used. The most common is the General Sherman Trail. It is less than a mile from the parking lot down to the tree, but the walk, though paved is a steady decline, thus a steady incline for the return hike.. Near the tree is a handicap parking lot which is opened to all vehicles during “off-season.” And during the summer a shuttle takes tired hikers back to the parking lot at the top of the trail.
Other Activities in Sequoia National Park
Popular tourist attractions are not the only draw to Sequoia National Park. The park offers a multitude of hiking trails in a range of difficulty and length. Several “loops” take hikers among the giant forest trees and in popular sight-seeing areas such as Tharp Log and Morro Rock. Other hiking trails take trekkers out into the back country where they can enjoy solitude and glacier lakes.
Several campgrounds provide ample space for campers. Reservations are recommended during high season such as summer. Some of the campgrounds are open year round. The Wuksachi Lodge, located 4 miles (6.4 km) from the Giant Forest Museum, is open year round. With 102 rooms, a full service restaurant, cocktail lounge bar and retail and ski shop, this lodge has everything for the vacationer.
Horseback riding stations are located within the park as well as various great spots for the rock climbing enthusiast. During winter skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities. Sequoia National Park is next to Kings Canyon Park, so it is easy to continue into that national park for further activities.
Details to Know Before Visiting the Park
Depending on the time of the year, the climate can change rapidly. In the summer the elevation can still be cool in the early and late evenings. The elevation change is rapid; around 1400 feet (425m) at Ash Mountain in the foothills to 14494 feet (4418m) at the top of Mt. Whitney. The terrain is rugged and the roads windy, narrow and steep.
Gas services are nonexistent in the park itself. Small convenience shops are sparse, located near a few of the large campgrounds only. While there are a multitude of camping and lodging accommodations, they do fill up fast during the busiest months, especially the summer months, so reservations are recommended.
As with any park visit, there are specific rules that do apply and visitors need to be aware of the specific rules for the park. Visitors will find these in the brochure given out at the entrance gate and posted around the various centers. Absolutely no food can be left in containers other than bear proof containers. Bear proof bins are located throughout the park and in most campgrounds. Be sure to check the fire restrictions as most areas do not allow open campfires. Most campground sites have campfire accommodations. There are also restrictions on vehicle length for some of the roads.
There is generally no cell service in the park. Shuttles run from late May to early September. A shuttle from Visalia to the park is available during these months as well. Since travelers in the park go in and out of both National Park and National Forest areas, different rules may apply. It is important to know the difference. Be sure to study the map given at the park entrance or become familiar with the area before visiting.
Allow plenty of time to visit Sequoia National Park. The drive from Visalia, Ca may take two-three hours to reach the Giant Redwood Forest. Check road conditions as road work may delay the trip. Be sure not to leave any trash behind. Visitors should leave the park as it was when they saw it so others may enjoy the same amazing and beautiful country.
The copright of the article “Gateway to Sequoia National Park” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.