Our first destination on our road trip was a stopover in Sequoia National Park. Now, this was not at all planned! A couple of weeks before we were to be leaving June Lake, our son Luke called and said that he would be in Sequoia NP the weekend of October 14/15 for a college friend’s wedding. He wanted to know if we would still be in CA at that time, and could we rendezvous with him there. Our original plan was to head south and then east right away. To get to Sequoia from June Lake is a somewhat round-a-bout drive – or as they say in Vermont – you can’t get there from here. There are few roads going west over the Sierras as one might expect and those that do are not RV friendly, so it meant going all the way south and around the Sierras. And then, back up north again! But, it’s good to be flexible and we wanted to see Luke – however short the visit would be.
As it turned out, we also ended up with more time than originally planned to get to Texas. Jim’s broken bone needed more time to heal, and we needed to stay in June Lake longer so he could complete the medical treatment. We were able to extend our start date at Amazon’s Camperforce location in Haslett. So, everything fell into place for us to take an extra week and head to Sequoia.
Luke’s friend Christine was getting married at the Wuksachi Lodge located deep in Sequoia National Park.
We needed to stay in a campground close to the lodge so Luke could conveniently get to the wedding. The Lodgepole Campground was located behind the Lodgepole Visitor Center and claimed to have sites for rigs up to 42 feet – so that worked for us. We did have to go into the park from the north entrance however since you cannot take a trailer up from the south entrance – too many tight switchbacks! Always good to check the road restrictions within national parks!!
This campground normally allows reservations on Recreation.gov but this late in the season it was first come, first serve only. So, we were driving way into the park hoping for a spot. I called ahead and asked how it looked for availability since we were coming in mid-week and was assured we would be able to find a spot. Good thing we arrived on Wednesday though!!
Now, while the Lodgepole Campground data on the NPS website indicates that it is RV friendly for rigs up to 42 foot in length, these sites must have been on the loops they had closed down for the season! There were only two loops open when we were there in mid-October and the one that allowed RV’s was not big rig friendly. Our trailer is 25’ long and with the truck added to that, we are at least 40 foot. The loops were very tight and cramped with many obstacles such as large rocks and trees that meant, at one point, I had to get out of the truck and guide Jim around some turns in the campground as we were looking for an open site. We finally found a site that could accommodate us – but I must say that there were not many sites in this loop that would fit a rig any larger than ours, if any. Most of the other RV’s in the campground were Class C’s and did not need as much length thankfully.
By Friday, the two loops that were open filled up. And with no camp host on the premises, people were coming in and just camping willy-nilly – parking their vehicles in the overflow parking and pitching their tents literally in other folk’s campsites! One group even took over someone’s campfire after they went to bed! And were not quiet about it. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the National Park Service should be more flexible in recognizing that weekends will be busy and providing more park service personnel to police the campground during busy days. Perhaps, another loop could have temporarily been opened. (We gauged the demand at our forest service campground in October, and opened up closed loops when necessary, if only for a couple of days). It was almost a free for all on Friday night. We were lucky in that we had a *corner* site and thus had a little more room, but this campground is tight with very little privacy between sites.
Now, to be fair, maybe some of the other loops that were closed were nicer and offered more privacy. So, I will be fair and offer up some positives! Wednesday and Thursday night we did enjoy some solitude with no one camped around us. Lodgepole CG is a nice central location for exploring Sequoia and perhaps that’s the draw. We were close to some of the places we wanted to see. The other positive was that it was convenient for Luke and his need to have easy access to Wuksachi Lodge.
Confession: I want to admit right now that I have become somewhat of an Eastern Sierra snob! It’s true. And I do feel bad about that – really. I fell in love with the *other* side and it took me a couple of days to become enamored with Sequoia. But, I did. We explored our immediate surroundings on Thursday and Friday and saw some really nice scenery and enjoyed some quiet solitude on some of the trails.
On Thursday, we opted to keep the truck parked, and hiked the 6-mile roundtrip trail from Lodgepole to Wuksachi. It was a nice trail with very little traffic and went through a mostly fir/pine forest – crossing a couple of streams along the way.
The first stream crossing had a substantial bridge that we walked over, and could look down on a pool of water that harbored an incredible number of actively-feeding trout. What a treat! We watched the trout for quite a while. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that many trout in one spot so readily visible.
We also explored Wuksachi Lodge to get a sense of what the wedding would be like, and where it would be held. On the grounds at the lodge, there is a hiking trail, and on this trail, we crossed a large bridge called the Sequoia Bridge. I mentioned to Jim that if I was getting married, I would have the ceremony right on this bridge. (As it turned out, that is precisely where the wedding ceremony was!)
On Friday, we drove the short distance to the Sherman Grove of Sequoias. We did the customary and popular hike around the grove of giant trees. We had been at this very site in March several years ago with my sister and her husband. It’s amazing how different it all looked. When we were here in the spring of the year, there was still feet of snow in the woods. I could not get my bearings as to exactly what path we took then through the grove. I will say that the trees really are amazing up close and personal.
We left the Sherman Grove and continued on down the road to the Giant Forest Museum. This is a nice museum that offered some great exhibits explaining the critical habitat of the Sequoias. There are also some interesting old photos depicting the park in the early 1900’s when over development almost ruined the sequoia grove here.
Across the street from the museum, we found a spot to eat lunch on Beetle Rock. This granite dome outcropping looks down on the Sierra Nevada foothills and is really a cool spot to relax and take in a tremendous view. One of the interpretive signs indicates that on a clear day you can see the coastal mountains from here. I do not believe there are too many clear days anymore! The pollution and smog from the valley prevents this – except perhaps in late fall and winter.
After lunch, we walked a trail from the museum to the top of Bear Hill. There were a few sequoias along this trail and it was a relatively quiet trail with few other hikers.
After returning to the museum via this loop trail, we still had a good piece of the day left, so we decided to take the road on the right side of the museum that takes you back to the Moro Rock trail. I read about the hike up Moro Rock and it sounded intriguing. It is a short hike, but a classic hike that takes you up the side of the granite dome via 350 stairs complete with railings along the way to steady those who may get a tad queasy from the exposure.
From the top gazing east, you look down into the canyon formed by the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River and beyond. Toward the west, some of the summits that form the Great Western Divide of the Sierras are visible including Triple Divide Peak, Loin Rock, Mount Stewart, Lawson Peak, Kaweah Queen, Black Kaweah, Lippincott Mountain, and Mount Eisen. Interpretive signs show the ridge and identify the mountain tops. Mt. Whitney is blocked from view here even though it is the highest peak in the lower 48 states.
Just before reaching the top of the dome, we stopped to take in the view at a small overlook. We heard a little commotion behind us, and I turned around just in time to see a young gentleman down on his knees proposing to his gal! He whipped out an engagement ring, and she accepted. It was very touching! What a romantic! Apparently, the top of Moro Rock is a famous spot for popping the question – much like Baker Tower at Dartmouth. What is it about height that prompts folks to choose these spots for proposing??
On our hike back to the truck, we detoured on a small trail that skirted us past the Roosevelt Tree, and also took a small trail that lead to the Hanging Rock, a formation visible from Moro Rock.
The highlight of our time in Sequoia was of course our visit with Luke. He arrived late Friday night, driving from LA airport in a rental car. We were able to spend Saturday morning and early afternoon with him – setting up his new-fangled tent for a show-n-tell – and taking a short hike up the canyon on a trail from the campground. He stayed at the lodge Saturday night with friends, but we connected again on Sunday morning and heard all about the wedding.
Luke planned on hiking with friends Sunday afternoon and then leaving from there to catch his flight back to Detroit. So, we said our good-byes and headed off on our own mid-day Sunday to explore the northern part of the park. We headed for the Grant Grove of Sequoias, and in the process noticed another campground near this grove and the north entrance to the park – Azalea Campground. The weather was turning, and it was getting incredibly foggy, which actually made for some interesting pictures in the sequoia forest! This campground looked nice, and we cruised through it and found it to be one of the nicest campgrounds we have ever seen. There were lots of open sites, so we booked on back to Lodgepole CG, hooked up the trailer and moved ourselves to Azalea CG. It was only for one night, as we were planning on leaving Monday, but it would save us a least 2 hours in the morning since it was right near the north entrance, and our exit location.
The ride over to Azalea from Lodgepole was a little dicey as it just continued to get foggier and foggier as the day wore on. Jim did a great job, even though at times, it was so foggy we practically had to come to a complete stop on the winding, narrow road. It reminded us of the worst fog we have ever been in –near Jim’s sister Susan’s place in Washington State! Anyway, it was a beautiful site with total privacy from other campers. I highly recommend this campground if you are planning on staying within the park.
Oh, and by the way, the Grant Grove was amazing. This grove was different from the Sherman Grove. The undergrowth was more diverse, and the *feel* of the grove was just more impressive to me. I cannot really put my finger on why – maybe it was the weather and the fog moving in. Maybe it was a conversation I overheard on my way into the grove. As I was crossing the parking lot to enter the grove, a young man was pushing an elderly lady in a wheelchair back to their vehicle. As they passed me, I heard her heartfelt exclamation: “This has been the happiest day of my life. I feel so blessed to have been able to see these remarkable trees once again.” Her facial expression was one of pure joy. I could tell I was in for a treat as I headed to walk among these giant trees. On this day, at that time – the Grant Grove really found a special place in my heart.
Coming up! Adventures in Zion, Bryce and beyond……I’ll once again have limited WiFi – so be patient!