Kings Canyon and Grand Sequoia National Parks are technically two separate parks, but they share a border and are often referred to as one. So, if you’re going to visit one, you might as well pop into the other and check both off your list.
Arriving from Yosemite, we went to Kings Canyon first, where we stopped in at the visitor center and checked out General Grant, the second largest tree in the world (by trunk volume). From there it was on to our campsite at Lodgepole in Grand Sequoia, an attractive and pleasant campground with frequent animal sightings. A couple of deer passed through our site, and my husband saw a bear scrambling up the hill behind our tent. Visitors to these parks are required by law to be vigilant about food storage – there are bear lockers at every site and all over the park.
After a comfortable night camping, we kicked off our day in Grand Sequoia with a visit to General Sherman, the largest tree in the world (again, by trunk volume). So yes, I’ve now seen the largest and second largest trees in the world – Grand Sequoia and Kings Canyon claim to be home to five of the world’s 10 largest trees. While checking out General Sherman, we chose to do the Congress Trail, a two-mile loop through the grove. I’d recommend taking the time to walk it – it was a pleasant way to start the day.
After lunch we checked out the Giant Forest Museum and then headed to Moro Rock, which provided a great viewpoint of the rolling hills and forests of the parks. It’s almost 400 steps up, though, so be prepared for a hike. As you can imagine, the views are pretty great.
All told, Kings Canyon and Grand Sequoia are certainly beautiful places, but if it’s big trees you’re after, I’d recommend the Redwoods first. The sequoias were spectacular and worth a visit, but both my husband and I were more taken with the Redwoods.
After two night in Kings Canyon and Grand Sequoia, it was on to Death Valley, our last night in California. So here’s the thing about Death Valley: it’s really more of a Spring-time destination. I was hoping that visiting in September would mean slightly cooler temperatures…and it may have, but “slightly cooler” is still pretty damn not. The thermometer at the visitor center read 119 degrees when we where there, and signs warned against walking around after 10am due to extreme heat. Also, unlike most desert spots, Death Valley doesn’t cool down at night. The triple digits temps continued well past dark, and forecasts predicted nothing under 95 (90 if we were lucky) all night long. So, when sleeping in the tent failed, we pulled our mats out and slept in the open air on a couple of picnic tables. Certainly not the most comfortable night, but the breeze helped immensely and the stars were lovely.
The moral of the story: don’t visit Death Valley during the summer. All we really did was see a sunset and sunrise. Otherwise, we tried to spend as much time inside as possible (at the visitor center and the bar where we shared a pizza – too hot for a campfire!), and we hightailed it out of there at 7am the next morning, just after the sun came up. I’m sure Death Valley is lovely other times of the year. But September is not the time to go. I guess they don’t call it Death Valley for nothing!