Kings Canyon, Sequoia & Yosemite

After 3 days in Sequoia/Kings Canyon, we arrived at Yosemite National Park, late in the day, on the first weekend in May. I was giddy with excitement, at this long-held dream coming true at last. It was a hard landing. I hated it immediately.

You see, we pretty much had Sequoia and Kings Canyon to ourselves. We had a tiny adorable little cabin in Grant Grove. The sun was warm and the snow was deep, and there were few other people. Our days were spent wandering and hiking and running in the big trees, hardly seeing a soul for hours.

Our cabin was walking distance to Grant Grove, a lovely circuit of Giant Sequoias, and we returned over and over to wander in awe in this sacred grove of ancients. Walking among trees thousands of years old is a profound experience. These are survivors. They’ve been through fires and droughts and floods and times we’ll never know about. I feel like we can learn so much from them.

Our second day took us out to a high bald with 360 views. Hiking was limited because the snow was still deep and the trail poorly marked, and I learned about “snow bridges” when I took a step and dropped 3 feet into the snow.  

Our last day took us down into Kings Canyon, a magnificent drive with enormous views. At the bottom is the river, which was running fast and furious with the winter’s melt, and sparkling in the sun. I could have watched it all day, and I took about a thousand pictures trying to capture the diamond droplets the current tossed into the sky.

But at last we had to move on- Yosemite was waiting, and it was a long drive. When we arrived we headed immediately to Mariposa Grove. We wanted to make the most of every minute and I couldn’t wait to see this place I’d been dreaming of. Like I said in the beginning, it was a rough start.

Told by a surly employee that we could not hike in, we squeezed onto a shuttle bus jam-packed with people, most of whom seemed bored by the whole experience, scrolling on their phones, napping on each other’s shoulders, like they were waiting for it to be over. Another cranky staff person barked out a bunch of rules and warnings as we proceeded up the road to Mariposa Grove. Where was I? What happened? It was such a culture shock after our time in the other parks.

But the trees worked their magic. We immediately headed up the hill, successfully leaving behind the noisy crowd and finding a soft, needle covered path. Within 15 minutes I was in love, back again in the Sequoias. We climbed higher and higher, stopping to admire giant after giant, until at last we turned around to head back before dark. Since no more shuttles were running, we were able to walk back to the visitor center and our car, following the winding road flanked by Dogwoods in bloom.  

Our old-fashioned roadside motel was about 20 or so miles outside the park, so we got up early and headed over, winding along the narrow road, past long stretches of forest burned by wild fire, through the tunnel and BAM! Inspiration point and the tunnel view. My first glimpse of the majestic Yosemite Valley, with El Capitan rising to the left, then Half-Dome and Bridal Veil Falls on the right.

Then we entered the valley. And became part of a parade of traffic, snaking along desperately searching for a parking place. Every lot was crammed full. Round and round we went, and I was despondent again. Then, a park employee gave us a tip, which turned into a parking spot. We grabbed what we needed for the day, and headed out to recapture the magic.

Once out of the car, space opened up. Encircled by massive granite, waterfalls flowing, the Merced river so green and full; everything else faded away.

There is so much to see in that tiny portion of the park, we put in 2 full days of exploring on our feet. Some of the highlights:

Bridal Veil Falls. Fantastic, especially since it was so full, crashing onto the rocks below. We were told that the waterfalls were the best they had been in 11 years, and they were incredible.

The Mist trail.  Another beautiful river hike, with stone steps climbing alongside the waterfall. Rangers advise hikers to take a waterproof layer because of “the mist” coming off of the falls.  This “mist” is more like a fire hose, and soaked us through and through within minutes. It gushed over the trail, turning the stone steps into a creek.  Drenched to the skin with water the temperature of freshly melted snow(which it was), we made it to the top of the falls, and into the dry sunshine! Sitting on a giant granite slab, we watched the river flow over the lip, drying our clothes and warming our skin. It was sublime.

The Awanhee hotel. Don’t miss this! It’s a massive historic hotel, all wood and stained glass, huge fireplaces and old-fashioned charm; so worth walking through. Ansel Adams thought so too, and the piano he used to play stands in the lobby. We considered having a ridiculously expensive meal in the dining room, but instead headed to the bar for a beer and a snack.

This National Park adventure was in celebration of my birthday. I had wanted for so long to see all 3 of those parks. Sequoia and Kings Canyon dropped everything right in my lap. It was love at first sight. Yosemite played hard to get, but what a prize! Many people before me have tried to describe it’s beauty- I will do no better than they have, and worse than many.

So you must just get there. These are your parks, your places. Get there, revel in them, and like me, find yourself deeply thankful that they exist. 

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