Your Perfect Weekend in Sequoia National Park
Alpine lakes, some of the world's largest tree and an epic sunset.
While less famous than its neighbor Yosemite, Sequoia National Park should not be overlooked. Jointly administered with Kings Canyon National Park since World War II, Sequoia stretches more than 630 square miles and features remote wilderness, pristine lakes and the largest tree in the world. While you could spend weeks (and some do) exploring this park, sometimes you only have a couple days available. If you’ve always wanted to check out Sequoia, I’ve got you covered with the perfect weekend itinerary.
Sequoia is over 4 hours from both San Francisco and Los Angeles so it's a road trip to get here and that’s before factoring in traffic. It's worth it though so don't let the distance deter you. Assuming you were able to knock off early from work, your arrival should put you into the park somewhere around sunset. What better way to stretch the legs than catching sunset on top of Moro Rock.
Photo: John Loyola
If you approach Sequoia from Visalia and Three Rivers, Moro Rock is hard to miss. It’s the granite dome protruding above you as you traverse the numerous switchbacks from the park entrance up toward Lodgepole Visitor Center. Moro Rock is a short hike (~0.5 miles roundtrip), but makes you work with over 350 steep steps to the top. From the summit on a clear day, you’re rewarded with views of the Great Western Divide. I highly recommend coming here at dusk, as it’s less crowded and the sunset can be spectacular.
After exploring Moro Rock, continue on the Generals Highway past the General Sherman Tree and head toward Lodgepole campground (one of my favorite campgrounds in California). The campsites are nestled among pines and red firs, and the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River runs through the grounds. Lodgepole is also located close to all the major attractions. In fact, the trailhead to Tokopah Falls starts next to site 198. With such a convenient location, Lodgepole fills up early so make sure to grab reservations ahead of time and snag a campsite on one of the outer rings. Once you've settled in, enjoy a meal over the fire (here’s some inspiration for camp cooking) and get to bed early. You’ve got a long day tomorrow.
Get a good night’s sleep? Well you’re one step ahead of me. Last time I was in Sequoia, an epic thunderstorm rolled through that kept me up most of the night. Don't forget to pack your rain gear as the weather can be fickle. I’m glad you got your rest as you’re about to embark on a big hike. Today you’re tackling ;the 12 mile Lakes Trail to Pear Lake.
Photo: Will Cebron
The Lakes Trail takes you past three stunning alpine lakes and offers jaw-dropping views of the Tokopah Valley before you reach your final destination, Pear Lake. While the crowds at Sequoia are smaller than many other national parks (it gets ¼ of the annual visitors to Yosemite), this trail really gets you away from the masses. There are two ways to reach Heather Lake, which is the first alpine lake on the trail. You can take the aptly named Hump route, which is a long uphill climb through the woods, or you can take the famous Watchtower route. Just be careful if you take the Watchtower route, as it can be sketchy if there’s any snow or ice. One thing I appreciated about this hike is that each lake is just as impressive, if not more, than the last. Once you reach Pear Lake, kick back and soak up the sun before you head back down the trail.
Having finished a major hike, head over to the Wolverton BBQ or the Peaks Restaurant for some well deserved dinner. While I won’t rave about the food, I will rave about not having to cook for yourself after a full day on the move.
After a good night’s sleep (or maybe some astrophotography instead), it’s time to warm up those legs with another thigh burner this morning. This time you’re headed to Little Baldy, one of the best “bang for your buck” hikes in the area.
Photo: Will Cebron
Little Baldy is only 3.5 miles round trip but when you reach the summit, the views feel like you’ve hiked twice as many miles. If it’s a clear day, you’ll get 360-degree views across the park. I had a hard timing pulling myself away from the summit, but breakfast and an empty stomach finally convinced me to head back toward Lodgepole.
After breakfast, it’s time to visit the main attraction in Sequoia, the General Sherman Tree. From the General Sherman Trailhead, you’ll walk gradually downhill on a concrete path until you’re in front of the largest tree in the world. While most people simply visit the General Sherman Tree and leave, I’d highly recommend taking one of the side trails that meanders through the giant sequoias. The nearby Congress Trail takes you past the third and fourth largest trees in the world, and there are extensions like the Trail of the Sequoias loop so you could make this an all day affair.
Photo: Will Cebron
If you feel up for it and have the time, pop over to the Crescent Meadow loop on your way out of the park. It’s an easy and beautiful way to end your time here before the drive home. After a weekend in Sequoia, you'll be exhausted but you'll also be counting down the days until you can make it back here.
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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.