Travel Adventure: Yosemite
Updated: Nov 12, 2018
And it's friends to the south
A little while ago I got the chance to go visit Yosemite again and Sequoia National Park for the first time. Both boast spectacular views in the fall and are only a two hour drive away from each other. Sequoia also sports Kings Canyon National Park. If you live in California (or are visiting for a few days) I highly recommend doing a weekend trip to all three of these parks. So lets start with my route.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Both parks we started at the south entrance (I went with my partner). With Sequoia, the entrance is a dry looking valley with a small walking trail to a nearby river. Very nice, but not at all what we were initially expecting. It almost felt like an oasis in the middle of the desert (minus the excitement). The drive to get there had been fairly boring with only a couple small towns and houses on the way.
We continued north, stopped at the visitors center for t-shirts and a bathroom break and then kept going. The roads in the part were narrow and twisty, especially once we started climbing the sides of the mountain. But once we hit a certain point, all the scenery seemed to change.
There were gorgeous fall leaves and gigantic, tall trees. It didn't feel at all like what we had seen at the entrance to the park. Of course, it took us about an hour and a half drive to get to this point.
I'm not exaggerating when I say the scenery was gorgeous and well worth the drive further into the park. It also made the $35 entry fee a bit more bearable too. We eventually made our way to the General Sherman tree where we hiked about for a while. This stop gave us the chance to really experience how gigantic the sequoias can get and learn a bit about the area.
Monte Vista gives you a spectacular view at sunset, I highly recommend stopping here for the perfect picture before you leave the park.
The giant forest museum was nearby so we stopped there beforehand and hiked out to the tree. It was a bit more distance than I expected and the return trip was uphill so afterwards I was in just about ready to call it quits. We talked to one of the park rangers in the museum and got directions to the best spots for sunset photography in the park, Big Baldy and Monte Vista Outlook.
Both these outlooks are actually a part of Kings Canyon, but are easily found on your way out of the park. Deciding on Monte Vista, we drove out, parked our car, and started hiking. The trail was well marked for a while, but then it seemed to disappear completely.
We decided to play it relatively safe and stay nearby while still reaching the top of the ridge. Thankfully, the park ranger was right. The view was spectacular. My partner and I had a ton of fun experimenting with photography, and I even got a nice time lapse on my phone.
The lookout was a great chance to see one side of the park, turning beautiful shades of lavender and navy blue, while the other side was lit up by brilliant oranges and fiery reds. An absolute must see if you're taking a road trip through Sequoia Nat'l Park!
Yosemite National Park
After such a spectacular day in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, we had high hopes for Yosemite. For the most park, the park did not disappoint. Once again starting from the south of the park, we decided to go to Glacier Point first. Both Ricardo and I had been to the park separately before and this was something neither of us had experienced before.
There was an unfortunate amount of construction on the roads (luckily we didn't have to pay the $45 entry fee since whoever stayed at our AirBnb before had left their pass). The road was also winding and if you get motion sick easily, I would not recommend doing this, or at least taking frequent breaks. It took us roughly 2 hours to get to Glacier Point, but I think it was worth it.
You get a wonderful view of the valley and half dome from this point. But if you're afraid of heights, stay back from the edge. Railing is sparse and it's generally left up to the individual to make sure they don't fall off the edge.
This is a spot that was recommended by the park ranger for lovely sunsets as you get a great view of the entire park. Unfortunately, since we did this first, we decided to try taking sunset pictures in the valley (don't do this, it doesn't work well at all).
After enjoying the fresh air and exhilarating view, we drove back down into the valley. Just as beautiful as Sequoia, Yosemite also features Redwoods and Giant Sequoia's along the drive. Don't be surprised if you find areas of the forest burned to the ground though. Sections of the park recently were filled with forest fires. Once we got down into the valley, we almost immediately went for some hot cocoa laced with espresso.
There were a surprising number of tourists despite it being a Monday. We did quite a bit of hiking through cooks meadow and in between the roads that go through the valley. There's a variety of trails and most of them are short and easy. The visors center offers an abundance of food, gifts, and even a little art gallery.
After a quick shopping break, we explored cooks meadow and attempted to find a good spot to view the sunset. Cooks meadow was the recommended viewpoint, but it wasn't the best. We got some lovely shots from the area around it, but they were during golden hour. The sunset in the valley just wasn't quite as lovely as it was in Sequoia.
During the drive out of the park we experienced more construction and winding roads. It was an exhausting drive. The trip was spectacular and I highly recommend this as a weekend trip. It's the perfect drive and if you don't have a set schedule, you can get out nearly anywhere.
If you'd like, here's some tips and recommendations if you decide to go:
Consider buying the annual National Park Pass. $80 and it will get you into all the national parks in the US for a full year.
Sequoia has a $35 entry fee and Yosemite has a $45 entry fee. Thats already $80 so I say go ahead and get the annual pass. This gives you year round access to all the National Parks in the US, a bargain if you're on the West Coast as there's several national parks within driving distance of nearly all major cities.
Sunsets are best viewed from high up on the mountains, not in the valley.
If you're in the valley, you will catch a lovely golden hour but the trade off is that the mountains block the final sunset. Take a hike up to a ridge or overlook for a more spectacular view and the perfect picture.
Avoid the tours and drive yourself
Tours are fun if you're into history, but if you're like me, it's a lot more exciting to enjoy the scenery at your own pace. Plus you won't have to worry about noisy tourists, cramped buses, or missing out on hidden gems. For me, tours belong in the art museums, not the outdoors. Nature speaks for itself and I'd much rather explore at my own pace. Don't forget to ask local park rangers for tips on the best spots to visit in the park. They often know trails that give a beautiful view and avoid the larger crowds.
If you have any questions or would like to share your own experiences in Sequoia, Kings Canyon, or Yosemite, please feel free to leave comments. I post many of my traveling pictures on social media so give me a follow if you enjoy my photography (@modern_kitties).