Taking a hike to meet the largest trees on earth at Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park

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.

I spent the rest of the week dreaming of trees.

Picking my own apples at Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard in North Carolina

After a wild evening spent celebrating the marriage of Kirby and Julia Crider, I awoke to my last day in North Carolina with a mean hangover that could only be cured by one thing: apple picking. I was invited to embark on a pick-your-own adventure during a lovely meal of homemade chicken pot pie with two 80-something-year-old women who regaled me all evening with tales of their own cross country adventures in the 1940s – bad ass.

As a Florida gal, I have picked many a things, like strawberries, tomatoes, avocados in my backyard, the works. However, I had never before had the experience of strolling through a sprawling orchard, plucking the prettiest apples I could get my hands on. My host for this adventure was Marie, a charming woman who makes some amazing apple butter from scratch. She drove Dena and I to the Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard on the outskirts of Hendersonville, and I was immediately in heaven.


The property boasts plump bodies of apple trees that sweep across the land for as far as the eye can see. The friendly women who worked at the orchard armed us with a map of the different apple varieties, and pointed us in the direction of the best pickings before setting us lose amongst the trees.

It was hard to control myself from snatching up every apple in sight, but Marie taught me the delicate process behind picking prime produce. Apparently, you should look for a flattened bottom to indicate a good apple – but honestly, I just went for the fruit that called out to me for whatever reason. Some were shiny, some had robust colors that couldn’t be ignored, and some were just too cute not to take home.

I was enchanted by the rows of apple trees, and the slightly rotten scent of fermenting apple flesh that wafted from the hoards of discarded fruit left abandoned beneath each tree. All was not lost though, as further investigation underneath one of the trees revealed that the lumps of fallen apples were being voraciously devoured by swarms of bees.

My woven basket was soon filled with all sorts of apples. My favorites are the little Galas, which can easily be eaten within a few bites if you’re not willing to commit to the idea of a big apple. Then there were the Jonagolds, a few Empires, and then the ultimate apple, my lone Honey Crisp. I had never tasted a Honey Crisp before coming to Hendersonville, but after just one bite into one I was hooked. It is hands down the best apple variety I have ever tasted – but alas, it was too late in the season to pick any, according to the orchard worker. I scoured the barren row of Honey Crisp trees in desperate search of overlooked treasure, and with my luck I was able to snag the final apple from one of the trees.

After satisfactorily loading myself up with a hoard of apples, we returned to the main orchard store to cash in our winnings. What I thought would surely be a fortune’s worth of apples miraculously only cost $5.00 – at a price like that, I could happily pick all my produce. I also stocked up on dehydrated apple rings made on the farm, and a few bottles of homemade cider.

The apples withstood crossing six state lines, a few nights of camping, funky changes in the weather, and a few other mishaps before making their way home to Denver. I offered my basket as a ‘thanks for letting me crash on your couch forever’ gift for the lovely men here in Colorado – and naturally I gave my beloved Honey Crisp to McGoo to try. He was skeptical about my musings at first, but after a few bites he admitted that it was in fact the best apple he has ever tasted.

As my travels in North Carolina come to a close, I have to once again thank everyone in this beautiful state who hosted me, fed me, took me on adventures, and made my trip amazing. I am overwhelmed with gratitude, and can hardly express my love for all of you. What a blessed little vagabond I am.