I visited Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in November. I have visited California, maybe one hundred times including visits to relatives and trips for business and events. But I’ve never seen THIS California; it is the real West, just like Colorado and Wyoming.
Yosemite Valley looks like a veritable paradise. I now understand why the likes of John Muir and Ansel Adams spent most of their lives there. El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls and Yosemite Falls all compressed in a relatively small valley are among the most impressive natural wonders anywhere. No wonder over 3 million people visit every year.
November was a good time to visit because there were fewer tourists. However, it is late in the season; many roads are closed and access is basically limited to Yosemite Valley. There was a dusting of snow at higher elevations and there were still leaves on some trees. I definitely want to go back and visit the high country. The altitude ranged from 6,000 to 7,000 feet. No doubt the waterfalls were at lower levels than springtime.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
I visited the California Coastal Redwoods earlier this year, but had never seen the giant Sequoia. Grant Grove contains the nation’s living Christmas Tree, General Grant. Giant Forest contains the largest tree, General Sherman. Note these trees are not the tallest (redwoods are) or oldest (Los Alerces in Argentina are), but they are the largest by weight and volume. They are funny looking trees, all trunk and then some foliage all the way at the top. Many people say they look like clubs, but to me, they look like broccoli. When you tap on the trunk it sounds somewhat hollow. The hike along the Congress Trail is well worth it. Look for the President’s Tree, the Senate Grove and the Congress Grove. The highlight was hiking in Redwood Canyon (see below) and admiring thousands of unnamed Sequoias. There is an interesting log cabin: rather than being made out of logs, the cabin is a hollowed-out single trunk. Near Moro Rock, you can drive your car through a tree tunnel.
The Kings Canyon is reportedly the deepest canyon in the U.S., even deeper than the Grand Canyon. I got a look at it at Junction View, but the road beyond that was closed. The high sierras are good to look at (Moro Rock and Panorama Point), but the view of Mt. Whitney (highest peak in 48 states) is obscured. The road from Grants Grove down to the valley floor is interesting in its own right; you drop quickly from 7,000 feet to sea level.
Vernal and Nevada Falls—7 miles, 2,000 foot elevation change plus 1 mile round-trip to parking lot near Camp Curry. The water is the Merced River, so there is lots of water, independent of rainfall. I also saw Yosemite and Illilouette Falls. We ate lunch at the top of Nevada Falls and I felt like I was on the top of the mountains. I also saw a bobcat in addition to lots of birds (and hikers).
Yosemite Falls—7.2 miles, 2,700 foot elevation gain. This is a strenuous stair master style hike. The first lookout is Columbia Rock and the climb to there is well worth it. The very top is spectacular. The Falls, at 2,425 feet, are North America’s tallest waterfall.
Redwood Canyon Trail—7.1 miles, 900 foot elevation gain. A relatively easy hike through old growth Sequoia. The size of the grove is estimated at 15,000 to 25,000 trees. I had problems hiking because I kept stopping to look at the trees. I liked the fact that the trees are NOT named. The largest tree in the grove is the Hart Tree. There is a trail to it, but it is not marked. I was uncertain which of three trees was the Hart Tree because there were several other similarly-sized trees nearby.
Yosemite Lodge—our room was directly across from Yosemite Falls. Although I couldn’t see it through the trees, I could hear the waterfall in the evening. On the night of the full moon, I took a walk about 10 pm to see the falls glistening white in the moonlight. The food court and restaurant are in the lodge area.
John Muir Lodge—the lodge is relatively new and well-appointed(but, no TVs). The main lobby has a fireplace, games and comfy furniture where the guests gather in the evening. The restaurant is just down the road.