Kings Canyon National Park, California
Having not quite made it all the way from Yosemite the night before (too much mountain star gazing), we had an hour drive in the morning to Walmart to re-stock on a couple of important items - camping gas, ice for the cool box and sun cream! Another hour down the road we pulled into the Kings Canyon visitor centre at Grant Grove to see what our hopes were of finding a campsite for the next couple of nights. The ranger immediately pointed us in the direction of the ‘first come first served’ ‘Azalea’ camp literally round the corner so we headed straight off and sure enough found a great spot between two huge trees (for shade) for $18 a night.
The campsite was more of what we were used to in Olympic, nice big roomy pitches with clean toilets and somewhere to actually wash your dishes! Its sounds ridiculous but being in bear country the parks are very strict about food storage (all food has to be packed up in the park bear boxes and not in your car) and not leaving food out whilst having nowhere to wash up after dinner a bit hypocritical!
After some full on days at Yosemite we needed a slower day so enjoyed our camp for a few hours before setting off to find the second largest tree in the world, the General Grant. Being a short walk from the camp was ideal as we were both knackered. The tree itself, surrounded by equally impressive trees was just enormous, my photographs just don’t do these monsters justice
That night we had heard about a ranger talk on the night sky so thought we’d tag along. All the national parks run a number of ranger activities each day which I think would be really interesting to families and those not wanting to hike all day every day. We met the ranger at the John Muir Lodge at 9pm only then to be told to drive further up a small windy road to the aptly named Panoramic Point. Despite being up over 7000ft the view at first was a little crap if I'm being honest, the light pollution from the cities in the distance hiding all of the stars. A little while later though the night sky took over and the ranger gave us an in depth astronomy lesson which was great. About an hour or so after we arrived at Panoramic Point we made our way back down the windy road to our tent for the night.
To be honest, I was still feeling it after the heat and hiking in Yosemite (plus sleeping in the car!) and was reluctant to set off on anymore big hikes. Fortunately for me, the bigger Kings Canyon section of the park (an hour away at Cedar Grove) is made up of either really short hikes or great big multi-day ones.
We first headed to ‘Roads End’, literally the end of the road in Kings Canyon (to go any further east into the Sierra Nevada mountains you have to do it on foot). Just off the road you can reach the Kings River and in particular the ‘John Muir Rock’ (gets everywhere this John bloke) which he famously sat on and did a painting or something?! Either way, we sat on the rock and just relaxed and enjoyed the view (there’s something strangely relaxing about watching a raging, cold river that would probably kill you if you fell in!)
Fortunately for George I refrained from the temptation to push her in and we made our way back to ‘Zumwalt Meadow’ - a short 2 mile trail loop around a gorgeous meadow next to the river. The trail was fairly flat, a little boggy in places but it was a nice walk that didn’t kill our legs too much which was great.
Short stops would continue to be the order of the day and we found ourselves at ‘Roaring River Falls’ a tight granite shoot that compressed the power of the river into a raging torrent followed by a more gentle stop at an old cabin used to store necessities back in the day. Starving, we aimed for Grizzly Fall (another waterfall) as the map indicated that it had picnic tables - everyone else had the same idea so we made do with a small bench (George ate beetroot out of a tin - weirdo).
After lunch we made the 30 mile trek back up the mountain to our camp, stopping at many viewpoints along the way to take in the awesome scenery in the valley below - and partly so Tyrone didn’t overheat as it was another mid-30 degree day.
Sequoia National Park
Kings Canyon is often mentioned in the same breath as its neighbour, Sequoia National Park, which would be our next stop.
Again, we didn’t have a camping reservation so headed off early and made the 45 minute drive to the Sequoia Visitor Centre at Lodgepole where we had ear marked staying. Unlike the other parks, Lodgepole wouldn’t sell their empty camping spots until noon so we were faced with heading out for the day as planned or sticking around for 3 hours to try and get a camp site. Our minds were quickly made up when we discovered that (unlike everywhere else we had camped) there were pay showers and a small laundromat. Seeing as both our clothes and our bodies hadn’t seen water for far too long we made a visit to both.
The showers, $1 for 3 minutes were surprisingly good (I managed with 3 minutes AND found a quarter wedged in the machine making my shower a bargain 75 cents whereas George, with her extravagance, used a full $2! She has got hair though in all fairness.) The laundromat (or laundrette to normal English people) was another bargain, only $1.25 for a wash and 50 cents for 20 minutes in the dryer. I was a happy camper!)
With clean bodies and clothes I drew the short straw and sat in line outside the campsite registration hut for an hour before the sites went on sale and bang on noon (being the first in the queue) got us a site for the night. A perfect little secluded spot just above the river.
With the tent up we headed out to see the world’s largest tree, the General Sherman. Its not the tallest, or even the widest but is close to both which gives it the largest mass of any living thing on the Earth. You can take a free shuttle bus around the park but we chose to drive to give us a bit more freedom.
At the General Sherman you can also set off on a short 2 mile loop, the Congress Trail, which takes you around a few other huge Sequoia trees such as ‘The President’ and a group all close together called ‘The Senate’. After seeing these huge trees for so long its hard to remember what trees back home look like with regards to size. We were abeginning to lose sight of just how big the sequoia trees are! Nevertheless to see the largest living thing on Earth was pretty cool.
Next we headed a short way down the hill to a turn off that would take us to Moro Rock. A granite dome (similar to Half Dome in Yosemite, but a lot smaller) that conveniently has some steps to the top. The views from the top can reach 150 miles on a clear day, with the valley on one side and the Sierra Nevada mountain range on the other.
Just a little further up the hill was the Crescent Meadow trail. We walked just under a mile through the meadow to get to the Tharp Cabin, a fallen tree that had been made into a cabin many years ago. The meadow itself was beautiful but the only time we had seen bears (at Olympic National Park) they were in a meadow so I was nervous (unnecessarily as I’m a much faster runner than George).
We have tried to research off-the-beaten track sights to see along the way (hard using McDonalds’ carpark wifi) and I thought I had found another in the shape of a huge fallen Sequoia that you could drive though! It took me bloody ages to get a map location of the tree tunnel only to find out it was well and truly well known (and signposted). Still, it was pretty cool for me and Tyrone to drive through a tunnel in a tree trunk (I made George get out to take photos obviously) so I didn’t mind that my research had been in vein.
Its worth noting that the road that leads up to all three of these points in Sequoia National Park is closed to the public at the weekend with only the free shuttle bus being allowed to drive up (so if you want a selfie with a 3.6 litre chevvy driving through a tree then you need to visit in the week!)
A previous camper had left a small axe on our site (bonus!) so that night I chopped up some wood (you’re also allowed to use dead and down wood from around the camp - but with my guns…) and made some of my famous ghetto smores. George went to the campsite amphitheatre for a ranger talk on endangered species (she's now on her soapbox about endangered desert mice!) while I wrote a million blog posts…