Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

The Sierra Nevada's tall trees, mighty mountains

November 16, 2009, 7:10 am
John Denver sang about "Almost Heaven West Virginia" and Colorado "Rocky Mountain High," but I guess he never went to Sierra Nevada in California.

This summer we went on an amazing 47-mile five-day backpacking trip in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks in the southern Sierra Nevada on the Rae Lakes Loop Trail and saw some of the best nature has to offer.

Nestled in the southern Sierras, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks adjoin each other and are administered as one park. They don't share the fame and popularity of their northern neighbor Yosemite National Park; they get about 1.5 million visitors annually whereas Yosemite gets about 3.5 million, but they have their own unique attractions.

Kings Canyon (named after the Three Wise Men) is the deepest canyon in the Lower 48 at 8,000 feet. Mount Whitney is the highest point in the Lower 48 at 14,505 feet, and the General Sherman giant sequoia is arguably the largest living thing on earth measuring 36 feet across, 275 feet high, and weighing in at 1,400 tons! These are only some of the natural wonders that make this park a great destination.

Of course, with these parks being less popular the one drawback is available facilities. There is adequate lodging and dining within the park, but as with most national parks, it costs more with fewer amenities.

There are some towns outside the park, the closest being Three Rivers with limited but adequate facilities. Also, if you would rather ride than drive, the town of Visalia sponsors a shuttle service going to many of the points of interest within the park. As most of our time was spent in the backcountry, it wasn't an issue for us.

The route we picked is popular, so we reserved ahead. They start accepting reservations on March 1 for $15 per trip. I sent mine in then and got the trailhead departure date that I wanted. Within a month, reservations for our requested date and trailhead were closed.

At the trailhead is a ranger station where you register for each night. The route has designated camping areas, and you have to decide ahead of time where you are going to camp. There are no facilities in these areas -- it's pack-in, pack-out.