Weekend Warrior Series: 48 Hours Exploring Sequoia National Park, CA

This past weekend was my birthday! Now that I’m officially 24, I’ll need to start taking life more seriously, settle down, get myself a big house to start thinking about having kids and just WOW JUST KIDDING WOW not yet, I enjoy traveling and being irresponsible WAY too much for that, yet…

Anyway, Conner and I celebrated our remaining youth by taking a trip to visit Sequoia National Park in California which was phenomenal. There’s something special about being in nature that grounds you, and makes you realize what’s truly important in life — if the 2000+ year old redwood trees can push onward and upward, then so can you.

I’d like to start off with a quick disclaimer: Right now it’s June of 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the world. Here in California, travel restrictions were just lifted for the first time in months as of June 12, which meant that we could safely travel to the park while abiding by local rules and being mindful of necessary safety precautions (it’s just second nature at this point to have a mask with me wherever I go, living in Los Angeles).

There are five main areas in the park — and we visited the Giant Forest & Lodgepole region on the first day, and the Mineral King region on the second.

Upon arriving to the park and purchasing an “America the Beautiful,” pass which is $80 access to any park in the United States for 12 months (totally worth it if you’re planning on going to more than one park in a year since entrance to a single park is usually around $35 each) we made a stop to visit The General Sherman Tree, which is “the world’s largest tree by volume.” It’s pretty massive, standing at 275 feet (83 m) tall, and 36 feet (11 m) in diameter at the base. The tree is located in the Giant Forest grove, alongside hundreds of monarch sequoias which are much older (and wiser) than I am. They’ve seen a lot of birthdays. It’s probably not even special for them, anymore.

Parking for the main trail is off Wolverton Road which is located between the Sherman Tree and Lodgepole, where you’ll then follow the trail half a mile downhill to the tree on stairs and a paved pathway. It’s not a steep climb back up, but it’s important to remember that you’re now at 7,000+ feet of elevation which makes it harder to exert yourself because the air is thinner — so cut yourself some slack if you’re a wee bit out of breath upon walking back up.

General Sherman was just the warm up for our main hike of the day: Heather Lake. We parked at the Wolverton parking lot and ascended via the Watchtower trail which was breathtaking (no pun intended) and featured grassy meadows, plenty of sequoias, and panoramic sweeping views of the park below.

Just a warning for those with a fear of heights: there were sections where we were on rock scrambling along a sheer cliff face, but I was never afraid that it was loose enough rock or steep enough that we would lose our footing.

The round trip trek totaled just over 8 miles with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain (7,200 feet to 9,200 feet), highlighting views of Wolverton Creek and the majestic redwoods. After snacks, we turned around at Heather Lake where there were some boys daring each other to swim in the lake’s glacier water. It looked… cold.

Since camping in the park was a no-go due to safety precautions related to the pandemic, we stayed in Visalia which is about 30 minutes outside the park itself — but approximately two hours from any trailheads (National parks are notorious for long windy roads and low speed limits. Why rush when there are such great views?)

Naturally, I had to try out the local coffee scene which meant a trip to the outdoor patio of Component Coffee Lab where I enjoyed a drip brew, which was thoroughly satisfying (spy the mask around my neck that I’ve got everywhere with me, now when I’m not drinking coffee or beer ;)!).

On our second day we drove up to the Mineral King region of the park, which felt like a completely different world than the section of SNP we enjoyed the day before. The landscape up in the mountains was serene, and vastly different from the towering sequoias we were walking alongside the day before.

We hiked up to Eagle Lake (I have a thing for lakes, I guess?) which was a steep but satisfying journey. This roughly 8 mile round trip trek features approximately 2,200 feet in elevation gain, climbing from roughly 7,800 feet up to about 10,000 feet.

The entire climb was filled with truly spectacular sites and a variety of changing terrain as we climbed. It started with dewy, grassy forest moving on to boulder-y, dry sheer granite rock scrambling and finished with another grassy patch upon the final ascent to a meadow where Eagle Lake sits.

To say that this spot is “peaceful” would be an understatement. The tranquility of this pristinely clear lake is unmatched by any other landmark I’ve visited in my whole 24 years of living.

Watch out for marmots. They’ll try to steal your food and they’ll try to break into your car to get any food you may have left in there, too — we saw lots of cars wrapped up from the bottom in tarp so that their underbelly would be protected from pests trying to burrow inside from below.

Ensure that sure you bring enough food and water, and be prepared for rapidly changing weather! When you’re up extremely high in elevation, weather patterns can change quickly, and since I’m always cold it’s important for me to stress that it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to packing enough layers. See below, for a collection of photos of me in the exact same spot as four hours prior, but with quite a different background. Don’t worry, I did have a warm jacket and beanie in my backpack. 😉

Once we finished our BIG hike, we drove back into the nearest town to the park, Three Rivers, and enjoyed a socially distant “cold one” at local Three Rivers Brewing Co. My apple sour was fantastic.

This trip to Sequoia National Park was amazing, but far too short. We only had the opportunity to explore the Sequoia section of the park, so we’ll have to return soon to visit the Kings Canyon section which is adjacent to Sequoia, and just up a bit further north, next time.

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