Showing posts with label Sequoia National Park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sequoia National Park. Show all posts

National Parks Adventure Day 3: Yosemite and Tenaya Lodge

After spending two glorious days visiting King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, I was eager to move on to one of the crown jewels of the American national park system. Yosemite has always been a magical place for outdoor enthusiasts, which climbers, backpackers, and campers flocking to the place in large numbers. America's second national park didn't disappoint either, as it reminded us of why it is often considered one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

The drive from Sequoia National Park to Yosemite takes a couple of hours, so in order to maximize our time in the park, we set out bright and early for the last day of our adventure. Descending out of Sequoia and King's Canyon was a bit sad, as we knew we'd miss those spectacular landscapes, but those feelings were eased a bit by the knowledge that Yosemite would be our reward at the other end of the road.

Arriving at the south gate on our way in from Fresno, we paid the entry fee, and drove into the park with excitement. But Yosemite demands patience, and while the drive was a scenic one, it would take some time before the amazing valley would actually reveal itself. The twisty turns of California Highway 41 kept the brilliant display of the surrounding landscape well hidden, until we rounded a bend to find the entire area opened up before us. In a flash some of the most iconic Yosemite landmarks could be seen, including El Capitan and Half Dome. It is an unforgettable sight to be sure, and we immediately pulled over to snap some photos.

Stretching out beneath us was the entire Yosemite Valley, flush with the greens of spring brought on by recent rainfalls. The granite rock faces that the park is so well known for were prominently on display, and numerous waterfalls could be spotted splashing their way down cliff sides. To call it a magical scene would be an understatement to say the least, and breathtaking hardly begins to describe the setting.

With a somewhat limited time to explore, we crawled back into the car and descended down to the valley floor. The thick forest shaded the road, but gave way at regular intervals to give us a glimpse of the towering cliffs that surrounded us on all sides. On occasion, one of the magnificent waterfalls would reveal itself as well, reminding us that the park is home to countless others scattered across its 1200 square miles (1930 sq. km). The ones that were closest include the amazing 2425 foot (739 meter) Yosemite Falls and the 620 foot (188 meter) Bridalveil Falls, both of which we stopped to gape in wonder at.

We also watched in wonder at the crowds of visitors that were found in the valley as well. Coming from Kings Canyon and Sequoia, two parks that saw limited traffic while we were there, the hustle and bustle of Yosemite was a bit off-putting. We much preferred the peaceful solitude of Kings Canyon, which rivals Yosemite in beauty in many ways. Our visit was even taking place in the middle of the week, before the start of the busy travel season. On weekend during the summer, the roads must be bumper-to-bumper with traffic.

Still, the large crowds didn't dampen our enthusiasm for the place, and we enjoyed soaking up the scenery that is found at every turn. After all, there is a reason that so many people come to Yosemite, as there are few landscapes anywhere that can compare.

At mid-afternoon we stopped for lunch at the charming Ahwahnee Lodge. This historic hotel allowed us to enjoy a good meal while eating outside on a scenic patio with great views of the park around us. It was a nice place to take a break from the road, and the crowds, while still enjoying the setting to its fullest. The lodge is also an amazing looking place, and if you wanted to stay in the valley itself, it would be a great choice.

But on our third night in the parks we would be staying elsewhere. Our home for the evening was the spectacular Tenaya Lodge, which sits just outside of the park and offers every amenity that a traveler could ask for. Accommodations include newly renovated rooms that are spacious, comfortable, and beautiful. Tenaya also has luxury suites and quaint cottages as well, offering something for just about every taste and budget.

Upon entry into Tenaya one can't help but be impressed with the absolutely huge lobby. Built to evoke a sense of mountain lodges from days gone by, the lobby itself is impressive at any time. I'm told however that in the winter a massive 35-foot (10.6 meter) tall Christmas tree is brought in to help celebrate the holidays. That should give you a sense of scale for the place that greets you when you first arrive.

Tenaya also offers guests both indoor and outdoor pools, adults only hot tubs, and a full-service spa that simply has to be seen to be believed. There are also four onsite restaurants, a couple of retail outlets, and a concierge the can help travelers to make plans and reservations for their stay. Active guests can even rent mountain bikes to hit the trails, learn archery, or hone their skills on the outdoor climbing wall. In short, this lodge is an amazing place to rest, relax, and recuperate during your Yosemite adventure.

After checking into Tenaya, and taking a brief tour of the facilities, we found it hard to pull ourselves away. But we weren't quite finished with Yosemite just yet, and we wanted to make one last trip into the park while we still had the chance. So, we loaded ourselves back into the car, and set out for a place called Glacier Point, which we had been told offered some of the best views of the valley below.

One of the things that we had missed from the previous two parks that we had visited was the abundance of wildlife. While in Kings Canyon and Sequoia we were constantly spotting deer, bear, marmot, and other woodland creatures. But in Yosemite we hadn't seen much wildlife at all. Of course, considering how busy the park is with visitors, that was somewhat understandable, as too many people are going to keep most of the animals at bay. But on the drive out to Glacier Point we did manage to spot a rather large brown bear, and plenty of mule deer too. My advice is that if you hope to spot wildlife on a Yosemite visit, your best opportunities are to get more off the beaten path. There are plenty of animals to be found there, they just tend to avoid the more heavily trafficked areas.

The drive out to Glacier Point is on another long, and winding road, but it is more than worth the effort to reach the scenic overlook. From that spot you can look directly down on Yosemite Valley, and see it from a vantage point that is even more beautiful than the initial approach. Once again, Half Dome, El Cap, and numerous waterfall can be spotted dotting the landscape, making it a picture-postcard setting.

We arrived shortly before sunset and the valley below was set on fire by the sinking sun. On that late spring evening temperatures were dropping quickly too, bringing an undeniable chill to the air. This being Yosemite, we weren't alone at Glacier Point, as there were dozens of others looking to capture the perfect shot of the landscape as well. But as with most of the national parks, you can share the setting with a lot of people, and still find your own personal solitude. It was a perfect place to end the day, with a view that would be tough to match.

Our last evening was spent enjoying the comforts and luxuries at Tenaya Lodge, where we had a wonderful meal and bottle of wine, then made s'mores around a campfire, while looking at the stars overhead. The whirlwind national park adventure was nearly over, and were simply weren't ready to go home just yet. Still, it was a great reminder of just how special the national parks truly are, and how many amazing places there are to visit right here at home in the U.S.

When we set off for home the next day, we vowed to return to explore these landscapes further. There is just so much to see and do that one day in each park wasn't enough. Besides, those destinations – along with the lodges we stayed in – are simply too enchanting to not visit again.

National Parks Adventure Day 2 - Sequoia and Wuksachi Lodge

After spending the majority of the first day of my recent national parks adventure in Kings Canyon and at the John Muir Lodge, the second day was earmarked for a visit to Sequoia National Park instead. This amazing destination gets its name from the massive trees that grow throughout the area, one of which is actually the largest tree on the planet. While we were sad to leave Kings Canyon behind so soon, we were also eager to go see what wonders Sequoia had in store for us as well. We were not disappointed.

Even though Kings Canyon and Sequoia sit adjacent to one another, there is a distinct difference between the two parks. The former features more dramatic vistas, rock faces, and valleys, while the latter is more heavily wooded and has more of the giant sequoia trees growing within its borders. These changes in landscape give the two parks a unique feel that makes them both fun to explore.

We started our day by first going horseback riding in the Sierra Mountains. Just reaching the horse corral was a bit of an adventure, as the route took us down an increasingly narrow road well into the Sequoia backcountry. Often we hugged the side of the mountain in our trusty rental car, as one side of the road fell off a precipitous cliff. Thankfully, the road was all-but deserted, so we seldom ran into any oncoming traffic that made it a challenge for two cars to pass one another. It was of course thrilling and nerve wracking at the same time.

Eventually we reached the remote location of the Horse Corral Packers, a family run organization – owned by Judy and Charley Mills – that provides a wide variety of options for riding in the spectacular Sierra Mountains. Before long, we knew it we were on our steeds and setting off a fantastic ride. As we climbed up the side of a mountain, our sure-footed mounts effortlessly carried us above 7500 feet (2286 meters), providing us with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside as we went. It was an amazing way to see the backcountry, and one that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys horseback riding in any way.

The Mills have a wonderful herd of horses, each more beautiful than the next. They are calm, well behaved, and easy to ride, even though the terrain can be rough at times. Each of the animals has their own personality of course, which we found out throughout our ride, but it was a great experience, with knowledgeable and personable guides taking us the entire way.

Before we knew it our ride was over, and it was time to head off in a new direction. Since Sequoia is well known for its massive trees, we decided we should probably check them out. That included the absolutely massive General Sherman, which stands an impressive 275 feet (83.8 meters) in height, and is 102.6 feet (31.1) meters in circumference. That make it the largest tree in the world in terms of volume. In other words, there are trees that are taller, and even some that are wider, but none are so massive in every way. The healthy General Sherman is believed to be over 3000 years old, and takes up 52,500 cubic feet (1486 cubic meters) of space. To put things into perspective, it even has a branch that is 6.8 feet (2.1 meters) in thickness.

General Sherman isn't the only massive sequoia to be found in the park either. The Giant Forest is so named because of the large number of the trees that are found there, and there are other groves scattered about in various corners of the preserve as well. There is even a spot where one of the trees toppled centuries ago, and cars can now drive through a tunnel that has been carved from its trunk.

One of the highlights of the visit to Sequoia National Park was a climb up to the top of Moro Rock, a 245 foot (75 meter) granite rock dome that provides outstanding views of the surrounding area. The walk up is an easy one since there are more than 300 stairs in place, and a number of barriers to prevent falling. Due to the altitude (6725 ft/2050 meters) the thin air can be a challenge, but those who make it to the top are treated to an amazing panoramic view of the countryside. The ground simply falls away beneath you, allowing you to see for miles in all directions.

After exploring the park for most of the day, it was time to go check into our accommodations for the evening. On our second day of the trip we were staying at the Wuksachi Lodge, which is located in a tranquil part of Sequoia, just off the beaten path. The lodge features many of the same rustic features we found the night before at the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon, but there was definitely a step up in terms of amenities and refinements. For instance, Wuksachi features a cocktail lounge, an upscale restaurant, and rooms with better furnishings. Its common area was also extremely comfortable, and guests chatted warmly while they waited for dinner. There is a subtle charm to the place that was very endearing, and it was easy to get settled in after a long day.

Wuksachi is deeply entwined with the wilderness, and the staff reminded us to be "bear aware." Animals were a common sight, and apparently it is not uncommon for bears to wander directly through the premises. We didn't see any during our stay, but we saw several of them not far away during our day in the park.

Open year-round, I can only imagine how lovely the lodge must be in the winter months. It features 102 rooms, and when speaking to the manager it is clear that if you want to stay in Wuksachi you should make reservations well ahead of time. There are plans afoot to begin breaking ground on an expansion, and considering how popular the lodge is with Sequoia visitors, I'd say it is overdue. It is the perfect place to become immersed in everything that the park has to offer, and I'd whole-heartedly recommend it for a stay if you plan to visit Sequoia or Kings Canyon in the future. There are even several expandable meeting rooms available for corporate events, weddings, or other special occasions.

We rounded out the day by driving up to nearby Wolverton for a barbecue dinner and an interpretive historical show. While we dined on delicious ribs, chicken and corn on the cob, a Native American woman spun tales of a character that lived in the late 1800's. The food was better than the storytelling, but it was hard to not be enchanted by the entire experience thanks to the beautiful outdoor setting that glowed red as the sun dropped in the west.

It was another wonderful day in another amazing national park. It was quickly becoming clear that we didn't have enough time to see and do everything that we had hoped. But as always with the national parks, there is a strong desire to return and see more.

Tomorrow, it is on to Yosemite, a place with a reputation that is as large as the massive valley itself.

National Parks Adventure: Day 1 - King's Canyon and John Muir Lodge

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to spend some time in three U.S. national parks that I had never gotten the opportunity to visit before. Those parks includes the spectacular Kings Canyon and Sequoia, as well as the incomparable Yosemite. Along the way, I was also lucky enough to stay the chance to stay in three fantastic lodges as well, each with its own unique character, design, and amenities. The experience was a fantastic one, and a good reminder of the beauty of domestic travel in America's national parks. With that in mind, I thought I'd share some of that experience with you in a series of blog posts about the trip.

Day 1 of my national park adventure began far from wilds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I had spend the Memorial Day Weekend with friends and family along California's Pacific coast in the sleepy little town of Carmel. The beautiful setting found there was perfect for relaxing along the beach, but after a few days I was eager to set off inland to explore my first national park destination – Kings Canyon.

I mention this because the journey actually started at sea level along the Pacific Ocean, but by the afternoon we had already climbed up above 7000 feet (2133 meters), which is a significant altitude gain in a fairly short time period. The mountain vistas that we saw along the way were beautiful, but we also found are breath was being taken away by the thinner air that our bodies hadn't had the chance to get accustomed to yet either. It was a minor inconvenience that would pass within a day or two, but it was noticeable upon arrival.

I have to admit that before visiting Kings Canyon, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I already knew that Sequoia would give me an opportunity to walk amongst the largest trees on the planet, and that Yosemite is one of the most beautiful destinations found anywhere, but King's Canyon was relatively unknown to me. It turns out, it is a strikingly beautiful place that may have been the surprise destination of the entire trip. The park is lined with thickly wooded forests, an amazing array of wildlife, and sweeping landscapes that threaten to take your breath away around every corner. In fact, our drive through the park took much longer than expected thanks in part to frequent stops to take photos at scenic overlooks along the route.

Highlights of the park include a visit to Grant Grove, where a massive sequoia named after U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant can be found. The tree stands an amazing 270 feet (82.5 meters) in height, and has a circumference of 107 feet (32.8 meters) around. Those are impressive numbers indeed, but they still don't make it the largest tree in the park. That distinction lies elsewhere as you'll discover in another post.

It is the dramatic canyon from which the park draws its name that is the real draw to visitors of course. The famous naturalist John Muir once said that Kings Canyon even rivals Yosemite in terms of beauty, and when you are visiting the place it is difficult to argue with that sentiment. The towering rock faces, deep valleys, and lush forests give the park an identity that is all its own, and the fact that it has far fewer visitors than Yosemite means that it is easier to find solitude and silence there as well. Kings Canyon may lack the glitz and glamour that make Yosemite so famous, but in many ways it is a better destination for adventurous travelers looking to get away from the crowds.

At the end of the day we retired to the wonderfully rustic John Muir Lodge for the evening. The log-structure remains open year round, and features 36 rooms for visitors to the park. Those rooms are spacious and comfortable, and a perfect place to rest after a long day of hiking and sightseeing in Kings Canyon. A large, shared common space offers a few nice amenities as well, including a roaring fireplace, large comfortable places to sit and read, as well as free Wi-Fi access to keep in touch with friends and family back home.

The lodge is also surrounded by a number of other options for accommodations as well, including some wonderful little cabins for those who prefer a bit more solitude and silence, and don't mind roughing it some. There are also a series of tented cabins as well if you're just looking for  place to sleep at the end of the day, and don't care about anything other than a comfortable bed. Communal showers and bathrooms are provided of course, and a nearby market and restaurant are handy for when you need to resupply too.

John Muir Lodge is also situated at the bottom of a road that leads up to Panoramic Point. It is a short 2.4 mile drive, or a brisk walk to the top, but the view provided of the park's backcountry is well worth the trip. It is a sprawling landscape that will give you a sense at just how vast and remote Kings Canyon actually is.

I spent a single night at the lodge and found it to be a very peaceful place to end the day. Despite the fact that the main building was completely sold out, and a number of the cabins and tents were occupied as well, it remained very quiet and comfortable the entire time. There were clearly a few early-season hitches to be worked out in the kitchen of the nearby restaurant, but I suspect those will be ironed out shortly.

One of the best aspects of the John Muir Lodge is that it is located right in the heart of the park itself. This provides a great sense of a connection with nature the entire time you are there, as the tall trees of the forest completely surround the area, and the Grant Grove is a short distance away too. We also managed to spot numerous deer and other woodland creatures on our way up to Panoramic Point, which was also an indication that we were ensconced by a sweeping wilderness as well.

After spending part of a day, and an evening, at the lodge and in Kings Canyon National Park, we would set out the next day for Sequoia and all of the wonders that it had to offer. Even though it was only a short drive between the two parks, we weren't entirely ready to move on just yet. Sequoia would charm us with its own attractions of course, but of the three parks I visited on this trip, the one that I would most like to return to explore further is Kings Canyon. It is an unforgettable place to the say least.

But the adventure connoted onward, and there was still much to be seen. I'll post more about the next stage of the trip tomorrow.

California Bound!

As we head into a long three-day weekend here in the U.S., I wanted to share a few plans of my own. Tomorrow I'll jet off to California to spend a few days with friends and family before heading off to a whirlwind tour of three national parks. Next week, I'll be spending time in King's Canyon and Sequoia, as well as Yosemite. All three are spectacular outdoor playgrounds, and I'm looking forward to enjoying some time at each location.

While I'm there, I'll also be staying at three different national parks lodges along the way. While in King's Canyon I'll be the guest at the John Muir Lodge, and when I move over to Sequoia the following day I'll be staying at the Wusachi Lodge, both of which look suitably rustic and inviting. Finally. I'll head over to Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite to round out my trip.

I have quite a few activities planned while I'm in the area, and intend to do some hiking, horseback riding, and stargazing. It should be a wonderful little escape to some beautiful natural settings. I am especially excited to be visiting Yosemite in particular.

As a result of my travels, there will likely be no updates next week, pending any major stories breaking. Considering the way things have gone over the past month or so, that seems like it could be a possibility, but lets hope for the best. I'll be back soon, and posting regular updates once again.