Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks – Cross Country USA Road Trip (Part 9)

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Welcome back to Part 9 of our six week road trip across the United States! In this article, I’ll cover the days we spent exploring Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Yosemite National Park in California. 

In between our visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, we stopped in Fresno, California for a rest break. Then continued back up the mountains to visit Yosemite National Park.

A brief recap of our trip: we set out from our home in Raleigh in early June and made it back home toward the end of July. In total we spent over six weeks (46 nights!!) on the road and drove 8,200 miles. 

Along the way, we visited 14 national parks and a ton of other interesting places. It was quite a busy trip, since we stayed in 25 different airbnbs or hotels and spent more than 100 hours traveling in the van

To cover the whole trip, I am breaking up the trip summary into thirteen separate blog posts plus a bonus article covering the trip logistics for a six week road trip for a family of five.

Here is a table of contents for our whole trip if you want to check out other parts of our journey (once those other blog posts go live!):

  1. North Carolina to Kansas via West Virginia and St. Louis
  2. Colorado: Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Frisco
  3. Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde National Parks plus Ouray
  4. Utah: Arches National Park and Capitol Reef National Park
  5. Utah: Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park
  6. Arizona: Glen Canyon Dam, the Grand Canyon, and Hoover Dam
  7. A Week in Las Vegas, Nevada
  8. California: Los Angeles and Long Beach
  9. California: Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks
  10. Crossing the Desert in Nevada and Utah: Hawthorne and Bonneville Salt Flats
  11. Salt Lake City, Utah and Idaho Falls, Idaho
  12. Yellowstone National Park
  13. Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and National Museum of the US Air Force
  14. Road Trip Logistics

Join me for part 9 of our trip across the country as we explore Los Angeles, California and the surrounding area.

Our route from Bakersfield, California to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, pitstop in Fresno, CA, and Yosemite National Park

After a quick one night stay in Bakersfield, California, we got up and hit the road for Sequoia National Park. As it turns out, the Kings Canyon National Park is right next door to Sequoia so we ended up visiting Kings Canyon NP as well.

From Bakersfield, we drove about two hours north before arriving at the Sequoia entrance gate. 

Once inside the park, lunchtime was approaching quickly. We stopped at a few overlooks and didn’t find any good picnic spots. Eventually we arrived at a dirt parking lot next to the Kaweah River and across from the Potwisha Information Center and Campground.

We stopped there and enjoyed our lunch right next to the river. Lots of people were swimming and wading in the slow moving river. We took off our shoes and waded in as well! The day was incredibly hot so the cool water felt great.

Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park

Knowing that we had a lot more ground to cover, we cut our river recreation short, dried off, and hopped back into the car to continue on our way. This was one of those times where I wished we had another day or two in the park so that we could spend several hours relaxing at these cool spots we encountered from time to time. The hard part of planning our whole trip was forecasting when and where we would want extra time.

We followed the winding Generals Highway up the mountain and eventually reach the altitude where we started seeing sequoia trees. At first, the roadside sequoias we encountered were small. As we proceeded into the park, the sequoia trees got larger and larger. 

Eventually we arrived at Crescent Meadow Road. Along this side road, we saw several notable giant sequoias like the Auto Log, the Parker Group of sequoias, and the Tunnel Log (which we climbed on). We also passed by numerous other lesser known and unnamed giant sequoia trees along the drive through this part of the park. 

Parker Group of Sequoia Trees
Parker Group of Sequoia Trees

General Sherman Tree

Our next stop within the park was at the General Sherman Tree. This massive forest behemoth is the largest tree in the world in terms of volume. All of the giant sequoias in the park were impressively humongous, but the General Sherman Tree stood out even among the other giants. At 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter at the base, this is one big tree. Even more impressive is the fact that it is more than 2,000 years old! 

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park

It’s a short but steep half mile hike down to the tree from the parking lot. We finished the hike down just after 6 pm when the last shuttle back to the parking lot had already left, so we had to hike back up to our car.

Missing that last shuttle was quite fortuitous because on the hike back up the hill to our car, we encountered a wild mama bear and her three tiny cute cubs traipsing through the trees. They did their best to ignore us and we did our best to watch them for as long as we could. No visit to Sequoia is complete without a random bear encounter.

After several minutes, the bears meandered on down the hill and we continued our steep hike back to the car. 

Bears in the woods! Three cute bear cubs and the mama bear (off-frame to the right)

Kings Canyon National Park

After leaving the General Sherman Tree, we continued north and east into the Kings Canyon National Park. At this late point in the day, the sun would soon set on us, so we only had a few minutes to stop at the General Grant Tree.

Giant sequoia tree in Kings Canyon National Park

When we realized it was a 30 minute loop trail to see the General Grant Tree, we knew we wouldn’t make it out and back before dark. So we checked out the huge trees by the General Grant trailhead parking lot, then headed on to the Big Stump Grove on our way out of the park. 

The sun dipped behind the trees and twilight spread across the mountainside. When we arrived at the bookmark on my map for the Big Stump Grove, we couldn’t find it. I looked around in the woods a bit and then decided I didn’t want to get eaten by a bear in the dark, so I went back to the car. We backtracked some but still couldn’t find the Big Stump Grove. By this time it was completely dark, so we gave up the search and called it a day. 

Down the mountain we went. As the sky transitioned from pink to orange to purple to black, we found a cool overlook that had a great view of the whole central California valley. We could see the lights of Fresno, our next stop, twinkling in the distance.

Our cooler still had a few leftover sandwiches from lunch. So we had a late dinner and relaxed for a bit at the scenic overlook. Then we continued down the mountain on the 45 minute drive into Fresno where our next airbnb awaited us. 

After our visit to Sequoia and King’s Canyon, we spent three nights in a three bedroom, two bath airbnb in Fresno, California. This meant we had two full days to rest and relax, play games, restock our supplies, and get some pizza. Mrs. Root of Good even made some Laotian pork stew from scratch. 

As we were waking up and preparing to pack on our last day in Fresno, we hear several popping sounds outside. I pay no attention and commence with packing and prepping. When making the trip to the car with our luggage and gear, we realized that the police are outside and yellow police tape is spanning the intersection a hundred feet away.

Just a drive by shooting in front of our Airbnb. No big deal. The neighborhood was nice and quiet and well maintained. But as you know, people with guns and grudges can drive anywhere to gun down other people! Later reports indicated the shooter knew the victim so it wasn’t a random crime. 

After an eventful morning of packing and bullet-dodging, we detoured around the intersections that remained blocked by police and set out toward the north for Yosemite National Park. 

From our Airbnb on the north side of Fresno, the drive to Yosemite took about an hour and a half including a stop for gas along the way. 

We arrived at the southern gate near the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza and were overjoyed to find literally no line to get through the entrance gate. There we go, zipping through the line without any delay!

We were worried about getting stuck trying to enter the park. Emails from Yosemite National Park warned that it was taking one to four hours to get through the entry point, with the longest delays occurring on the weekends. We arrived on a Friday in the middle of the busy summer season so our concern wasn’t misplaced. 

Fortunately for us, Yosemite instituted a reservation system for all park visitors. We signed up ahead of time to get a timed entry ticket valid for a three day visit. The cost is $2 plus park admission fees if you don’t have an annual pass like we did. 

In spite of the capacity constraints at the park, it was still pretty jam packed in the central areas of Yosemite. 

Our day in Yosemite

After a short drive from the park entrance, our first stop inside the park was at the Wawona visitor’s center and Pioneer History Center. There are a dozen old covered wagons originally used by pioneers and a covered bridge situated over the beautiful Merced River.

We dipped our feet in the water for a bit to beat the 100F+ oppressive heat. Then we had a picnic lunch next to the river before heading out for the remainder of the park.  

Merced River, Yosemite National Park

Just under an hour later, we arrived at the central part of the park. Here we found the overlook for the Yosemite Valley and the Bridalveil Falls. We proceeded into the central section of Yosemite and noticed the traffic congestion and density of visitors increasing. 

Overlook of the Yosemite Valley

I’m going to be honest – it was packed and felt very crowded. We stopped occasionally to see the notable sights – Yosemite Falls and El Capitan – and kept on driving to escape the madhouse. Maybe we’ll visit the central part of the park off season when it’s less crowded, because it wasn’t very inviting when we visited in the summer.

On our drive out of the central part of the park, we found a great riverside rest stop just before the Pohono Bridge that crosses the Merced River. We stopped for a while here to take in the last view of the Yosemite Valley before departing. This area was less crowded but still felt hectic as the folks jumped out of their cars or tour vans/buses for a quick selfie to show that they had “done Yosemite” (whatever that means). 

A quiet respite from the crowds in the Yosemite Valley

At this point it was mid-afternoon and we had an almost three hour drive remaining to get to our hotel for the evening. 

Tioga Road Mountain Pass and Tenaya Lake

We set out for our next stop about an hour away at Tenaya Lake. Along the way we stopped at a few overlooks including the Olmstead Point Overlook. Here we got a good view of the iconic Half Dome that’s found in the Yosemite Valley about 5 miles away (straight line distance). 

We arrived at Tenaya Lake in the late afternoon. By this point, the crowds were almost completely gone. Just one family remained in the secluded recreation area by the lake. We found a comfy spot to chill and enjoyed the sandwiches from our cooler while checking out the amazing view of the mountains across the lake. 

We found a great spot to picnic along the Tenaya Lake

This is what we came for. Not the crowded central part of the park but this quiet, beautiful unspoiled hidden gem. But we didn’t know what it would be like until we got here! 

We splashed around a bit in the lake and relaxed some more as the clouds rolled by. This was another time where I regretted not having just a little more time in our itinerary to stay by the lake a bit longer. 

Back we go in the van, destined for a few more scenic overlooks before driving down the mountain and onto the floor of the flat desert. 

An overlook along the view from Tioga Road Mountain Pass

We departed from Bakersfield, California in the morning and headed north to spend the day exploring Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. The main attraction in these two parks are the massive Sequoia trees dotting the rugged mountainous terrain. The star, the General Sherman Tree, lived up to its claim of being the largest tree in the world. 

After leaving Sequoia/Kings Canyon, we headed back down the mountain to Fresno, California where we enjoyed a couple of days of mostly peaceful rest and relaxation (drive by shooting notwithstanding). 

Tioga Road Mountain Pass in Yosemite National Park – miles and miles of views

Then we headed back up the mountain to visit Yosemite National Park. The interior of the park proved hectic and overcrowded. But once we escaped to the lesser visited parts of the park, we got to appreciate the natural beauty that Yosemite is known for. We enjoyed a tranquil lakeside picnic dinner along the Tioga Mountain Pass Road before heading back down the east side of the mountain into the desert flatlands of Nevada. 

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks and Yosemite National Park were amazingly beautiful. Ever been to either one of them? Or do you want to go now that you’ve seen them?

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