There are few things that make me happier than being able to use my annual National Parks pass, so when Niko and I were heading down through California on our way back to the east coast, stopping by Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park felt like a no-brainer. Plus, after a wonderful weekend spent exploring in the woods of Willits, California, we were certainly channeling the spirit of outdoor appreciation.
Departing from the bay area, we hauled south towards Fresno until night fell and forced us to find somewhere to spend the evening. After driving into veritable wilderness, we pulled over at a mountain turnout in Squaw Valley and hit the hay – but not before encountering the largest bat I have ever witnessed. It had an unbelievable wingspan; I can still picture it swooping over the hood of our car as we navigated up the mountainside.
We spent the evening comfortably along the road, woke up the next morning to a breakfast of cheese sticks and chocolate milk, and then headed into the parks. We entered Kings Canyon National Park through the Grant Grove area, and made our first stop to hike towards General Grant. As we followed the easy trail towards the towering tree, we paused to pose in hollowed out sequoia stumps, and were tempted by signs that told us “do not climb trees.” (We’d never disrespect nature, but anytime I’m told not to climb something, I feel a slight itch to defiant.)
General Grant is over 3,000 years old, and boasts status as the second largest sequoia tree in the world. To be honest, we were impressed by every giant we encountered along the way; it seemed it would have been impossible to determine which of them was truly the biggest without the assistance of park signage and plaques. They were all beautiful.
Did you know? The General Grant Tree was declared as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by President Calvin Coolidge. To keep with tradition, the park holds annual Christmas serves at the base of the tree.
After scoping out our first giant sequoia, we journeyed further into the park, and seamlessly transitioned into Sequoia National Park. We pulled over on the side of one of the roads to go play in a snow patch; Niko had never actually touched snow before, so we made his first little snowman and threw a few snowballs at each other. Satisfied after stuffing my face with a tasty, fresh snowball, we clamored back into the car and continued exploring the park.
Driving along General’s Highway, we made our way past Stony Creek Village, Lost Grove, and the Lodgepole Visitor Center before finally reaching the main attraction: General Sherman.
An impressive feat of natural wonder from the moment you lay eyes upon this robust, barky creation, General Sherman is the largest tree in the entire world – perhaps not the tallest, nor the widest, but indisputably the largest tree by volume (52,508 cubic feet, to be exact). The incredible plant dwarfed tourists as they approached the wooden barrier to snap photos of themselves. Luckily for Niko and I, there were plenty of other couples eager to trade camera duty to snap a shot in front of the General.
Standing near the tree was a truly humbling experience. I have always been such an admirer of trees for their wisdom and age, so being in the company of General Sherman and General Grant was a beautiful way to reflect on both the tininess of my own body, and the timelessness of the outdoors. These trees have seen generations come and go, they have remained steadfast in their place while countless fans flocked towards their roots to lay eyes upon their majesty. They’ve survived fires, droughts, destructive storms, and even the abuses of humanity.
After a starry-eyed hike back up to the parking area, Niko and I headed towards the park exit in awe of the enormous creatures we had just met. In the true spirit of being fully encompassed by the wilderness around us, our GPS failed to function, and we resorted to attempting to find the exit ‘with our gut feelings.’
Two wrong turns and a sketchy u-turn later, we found ourselves queued in a long line of vehicles. Roadside construction forced the main road out towards Three Rivers to be converted into a one-lane, one-way path. Our caravan patiently waiting for a pilot car to guide us, then slowly ascended down the steep mountain towards Lake Kaweah.