Although most people plan their visits to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks for the summer months, off-season trips there are at least as rewarding. These two magnificent parks in California’s southern Sierra are open year round and visitors can enjoy hiking and other activities during the fall, and then snowshoeing, skiing and other kinds of snow play as winter descends. Equally as much fun can be the opportunity to join in the many celebrations and special events during the holidays.
Nights are cold now, but by dressing properly in layers that can be shed as the day warms, there are many trails in the park that can still be hiked. This week the temperatures at Lodgepole, which is at about 6,700 feet, have been in the high 60s-70s during the day. Sequoia’s 400,000 acres have almost 800 miles of hiking trails, but keep in mind that the temperatures can vary greatly within Sequoia or Kings Canyon depending on the elevation. As is the case in Yosemite, its neighbor to the north, in Sequoia/ Kings Canyon some roads, trails, and facilities close when winter conditions dictate.
I recently was invited to visit Sequoia/Kings Canyon to see the natural beauty of the parks, to do some hiking, and to check out the accommodations. Unfortunately, my arrival was on the eve of the early October government shutdown. Many of the outings that were planned had to be curtailed because the campgrounds, lodges, and stores began to close.
While I was not able to climb the quarter-mile series of steps to the top of Moro Rock, where one can look out from the 6,700-foot granite dome and see the Continental Divide, I was able to see the General Sherman Tree in Giant Forest. The General Sherman Tree, a giant Sequoia that is 275 feet tall and weighs 1,385 tons, is the largest tree in the world and is believed to be 2,200 years old.
We went on the easy .06-mile loop around Round Meadow on the Big Trees Trail. The trail skirts a meadow that is frequently filled with waist-high wildflowers and grasses in the springtime. Our docent, Stephanie, of the Sequoia Natural History Association (SNHA), told us about one of her favorite springtime sights. “First you see the grasses start to move, then you see an ear pop up, then another ear pops up, and finally the entire head of the bear rises above the vegetation.”
The closure also meant that we missed the opportunity to descend to Crystal Cave (which closes for the season this weekend), but I was able to take a five-mile loop trail along a creek from Wuksachi Lodge out to Lodgepole Visitor Center and campground and back. The trailhead offered several choices—not only my short hike, but also longer ones to Twin Lakes at elevation. I found the trailhead for the hikes behind Wuksachi Lodge’s back parking lot—where we had been treated to an astronomy talk given by a SNHA the night before and where we would later be given a living history talk.
During my recent visit, I was a guest of Wuksachi Lodge, the park’s concessionaire. Wuksachi is midway through Sequoia on the Generals Highway. Their comfortable guest rooms are in wood-shingled buildings that fit in well with the natural setting. I saw deer grazing nearby most every time I left my room. The main lodge, a rustic stone and cedar building a short distance from the rooms, has a lobby that invites friends and family to linger, a bar, and Peaks Restaurant (reservations suggested).
According to John Poimiroo’s (Poimiroo & Partners), most recent “California’s Fall Color Report,” “[Color is] peaking in areas from 6,000 to 7,000' in elevation in the High Sierra….” This is definitely a fine time to line up a visit to Sequoia & Kings Canyon, part of “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”
Sample packages and accommodations at Wuksachi:
Fall getaways at Wuksachi Lodge start at $155 in October and $115 in November.
To celebrate the re-opening with the Stay & Choose offer, visit VisitSequoia.com/Open or call 866-807-3598 and mention code SNPOPEN. Other offers include the Fall Foliage Package, Sequoia Night Sky Package, and the Wuksachi Romance Package.
Current reports on fall color, click here.
In Part 2 of this series about Sequoia and Kings Canyon, you’ll find out more about these national parks, about a special December event—the annual Christmas "Trek to the Tree," and how to best reach your destination from the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego. Subscribe above to automatically receive Susan Alcorn’s articles in your mailbox.