4th of July weekend 2008. We, along with Dilip’s IIT roomie and his wife camped at the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park in California, for 2 nights.
There are only 2 campgrounds in Sequoia National Park that accept reservations – Lodgepole and Dorst (each with 200 campsites). Each campsite is $20 a night and has all the amenities. However, I read opinions that these tend to be over-crowded, offer very little solitude & privacy and there are very few good campsites in each of these grounds. RV and trailer camping is allowed on these campgrounds as well. People recommended the other ‘no-reservations’ campgrounds, over these two. We started making plans only during the last week of June and these grounds were all fully reserved by then. So we had no choice but to go without a campsite reservation and depend on the first-come-first-served system at the other grounds.
As we were coming from Berkeley, we entered the park through the north entrance. There are 3 campgrounds near the north entrance – Azalea (110 sites. I read somewhere that this is the prettiest), Sunset (157 sites) and Crystal Springs (36 sites). These campgrounds cost about $18 a night and have amenities like shared flush toilets, bear-safe food storage boxes, BBQ grills, picnic tables and running water. Laundry and showers are only available in villages and not on any campground. It was close to noon when we arrived at the park and couldn’t find any available campsites in these 3 campgrounds.
Fortunately for us, the lady at the Grant Grove Visitor Center told us about other campgrounds in the area that are not listed among the campgrounds on the park website, but feature in the park map. These grounds like Ten-Mile, Landslide etc have BBQ grills on each site, but the bear-safe boxes are shared, restrooms have pit-toilets only and they may/may not have running water. These grounds cost $15 a night.
The final category of campgrounds are the ones that do not figure on the park website or the park map. They are not named and I guess the visitor center rangers are the only people who know about them (apart from those who have been there already, of course). These are much smaller campgrounds, have no grills, a shared bear-safe box and no toilets or running water. Most important, they are completely FREE. This is where we finally landed up, looking for space on a crowded weekend like the 4th of July.
The ground we found was between Ten-Mile and Landslide campgrounds, close to Hume’s lake. In a way we were lucky, the sites here were very few and offered great privacy. For toilets, we went to the nearest campground/village with the facility. We found a campfire pit right next to our tent. One neighbour came over to guide us in putting up the tent and using the portable stove we had brought along. Another gave us some firewood to start our fire. We left our food supplies in the boot of our car and felt scared when we thought we heard bear noises outside our tent at night. The next day, our neighbour told us that the campground had visits from two bears that night. Needless to say, we panicked the second night, when the neighbour’s dog came sniffing at our tent… we thought it was a bear!
The first day we were there, we set up tent and drove to Hume’s Lake. It was a beautiful lake with people swimming, kayaking, fishing and what not! Wading into the cool waters was the high point of the hot day. We then drove further to Cedar Grove area in Kings Canyon National Park. The canyon has huge granite walls with the King’s River pushing through at the bottom. On our way to Cedar Grove, we found search and rescue personnel looking for something along the river. On our way back, they were still searching. I hate to think about what they could be looking for, along the rapids. We trekked around the Zumwalt Meadow, once home to the Monache Indian tribe. It was a beautiful grassy green meadow set against a granite backdrop. On our way back, we stopped at the Cedar Grove village to get some food supplies to cook.
The next day we drove south, to the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park. We first bought tickets to the Crystal Cave tours. The cave has chambers of stalactites and stalagmites of marble. To get back from the caves required a rather strenuous and steep hike.
Our next stop was further south at Hospital Rock, where we had our packed lunch. The Middle fork Kaweah River Falls is very close to this. The multicoloured rocks beneath the green waters were beautiful. Apparently, this waterfall is popular for swimming as they are not very deep and form a big pool at the base of the falls. However, there are caution signs posted.
But to us, the best sight was a bear and its cub leisurely strolling among the trees, occasionally crossing the road. Dilip rates it as the best experience at this park. He jumped out of the car to get some great snaps of the duo.
Unlike the granite walls of the Zumwalt Meadow, Crescent meadow had a lining of pine and sequoia trees. What was striking about Crescent Meadows was the sea of wildflowers in different colours! A Sequoia fallen right across the meadow, added to the charm. There was an Indian settlement around this area too.
Moro Rock is a dome shaped rock at an elevation of about 6500ft. The stairs cut into the rock face is an engineering feat and offers a steep climb to the very top. The climb is worth it, with amazing view of the Great Western Divide, a side range of the Sierra Nevada in California.
The Giant Forest is home to 4 of the five largest trees in the world, including the General Sherman Tree which I remember learning in school, is the largest living thing in the world! The Congress Trail which is over 2 miles in length, gives an opportunity to view the other notable giants of the forest.
On our third and final day we trekked around the General Grant Tree which was named the ‘Nation’s Christmas Tree’ by President Coolidge in 1926. In 1956, President Eisenhower declared it a ‘National Shrine’ to American war heroes, the only living thing to be declared so.