Sequoia National Park, California: Camp, Hike, SURVIVE!

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Sequoia National Park is best known for trees. Okay, not just any trees, but the BIGGEST trees in the world! So naturally it was on our bucket list to spend a few days camping, hiking, and exploring in the famous California park.

Keeping in trend with most of our major events in the last two years, this trip was planned spontaneously just two weeks ahead. With only a tent and sleeping bags, we had to scramble for a few extra essentials to last our 3 day, 2 night stay in the wilderness:  REI to the rescue! (Not only were we able to get the right equipment, but the knowledgeable staff was awesome at providing tips and pointers for camping in Sequoia specifically and also some insight on trails and campsites- they also have great general resources on their site.) A few key pieces we picked up were inflatable sleep pads, a couple LED lanterns, fire starters, a dependable and sharp knife, and some wool hiking socks. I figured we could just tough out the rest…

Now, this was Jeremy’s first time camping ever!!! I know- so sheltered! So he wasn’t having the “go with the flow” game plan of mine. But I forced him to just let me plan everything and to relax for once since he usually does most of the planning. I picked out a few easy and “must do” trails for our first visit and a few longer hikes in case we were feeling adventurous.

We were visiting the park Easter weekend, which also kicked off the start of National Park week, so our entry to the park was free for the whole weekend! All we had to pay for was our food, equipment, campsite ($20/night), and gas. Ready, set, GO!

The drive to the park was beautiful! We left around 4:00am and were able to catch the sunrise coming over the southern edges of Sequoia National Forest. Passing through the farmlands of Bakersfield, I was fixated on the vast openness of the fields and snapped a few photos.

We could tell we were nearing the park soon after as the mountains in the distance grew nearer and much much taller. We had to travel through the town of Three Rivers which was adorable and quaint as its backdrop were some immense and impressive mountains.

Three Rivers, Sequoia National Park

Three Rivers, Sequoia National Park

We arrived into the entrance at about 8:30am, stopped for a quick stretch and view of the rapids near by, and then prepared for our journey to the Lodgepole campgrounds which sat at 6,700 ft. Since it was still considered the off-season, this was one of the few sites that were actually open, and with the holiday weekend we knew we might have to fight for a campground.

Sequoia entrance

Sequoia entrance

After about 45 minutes of driving through the winding ascent, we arrived at the campgrounds which were packed! We drove around for about 15 minutes simply searching for an open site- there were like two…next to the restrooms, or in the middle of the lot, so not fun! So we waited it out a little longer as we noticed a few families packing up and ended up snagging a golden spot backed against the rapid river of Tokopah Falls. SCORE! After a celebratory high-five, we quickly set up the tent, and threw all of our supplies into the bear box. Just as we finished and were scoping out the area a little better, we noticed two deer strolling along the back of our site and down into the river to cross! What a welcoming!!!

As I let my excitement settle, we prepared to go explore the touristy spots today and wander through Giant Forest and hike over to Moro Rock. Being so compact on our map, I thought it would be an easy couple miles for our Day 1… whoops! 6 hours and almost 8 miles later….. it was time for a campfire. Here are some of our favorites from Day 1:

Being the last week of April the temperature was a little cool still. Highs during the day were mid to upper 50’s, while the nights were forecast in the upper 30’s. Hiking throughout the day was fantastic as the cool air combined with the warm sun for a perfect hiking condition. The evenings were definitely cooler and our fingers were crossed for a warmer than expected night. We were sure to have plenty of wood bundles to make our warm fire last and keep us comfortable.


camp fire

Unfortunately, we were not equipped with the proper sleeping bags for the 30 degree camp-out. Though we wore every single piece of clothing, bundled inside our sleeping bags, and zipped them to the top, Jeremy’s long body wasn’t able to fit inside and his exposed head was pushing him into hypothermia…it was time for Plan B- car camping!

Luckily the rear of our little SUV was the perfect size once we folded the seats down. We climbed in and snuggled up for a less than traditional night. In the morning, the intense temperature difference had caused a crazy amount of condensation on the inside of the car which we had to wipe down with our dirty hike clothes.

After a bumpy night we decided to take it easy on day 2 with a lot of relaxation and an easier scenic trail. We headed out on Tokopah Falls trail mid-morning which provided difficult light for good photos, but the experience is surely something we wouldn’t forget.

The trail ran along side the river for the majority of the nearly 2-mile hike. With each step you could smell the fresh water and the fresh pine scents in the air. It immediately made me feel happy as I was reminded of Christmastime and tunes of jingle bells came to mind…

The top of the trail was a great view of the rushing falls over the rocky terrain with views of snow-covered mountain tops and lush green trees. It was quite peaceful. I had my eyes peeled for animal activity as we heard reports of a mother and cub black bear on the trail from the previous day.

The travel back to camp was when all the fun and action started! Just a few hundred feet from the top of the falls, we were winding through the rocky pathway cut in the side of the mountain when a big fat brown thing wobbled across our path just feet in front of Jeremy. We thought it was a small beaver or gopher or something rodent-like and after some research later declared we saw a marmot. Not even 10 minutes later as we continued down our hike we looked out onto a large rock and saw a slender rodent-like animal sunbathing. Though we are not 100% sure what it was, we’ve determined it was a type of weasel based on the long slender furry body and dark face. Regardless, I was set that we had seen our fair share of wildlife and happier than ever.

We then strolled down to the river at a calm point to explore a bit more when suddenly I felt like I was in a Disney movie. The stream flowing, trees blowing in the wind, butterflies all around, and birds chirping made it feel like a perfect moment.

hey there black bear

Walking around the corner on the trail and Jeremy stops dead in his tracks and whispers a simple, “oh shit”. Being the excitable and unphased person that I am, I grab for my camera and phone because I knew I had to try and get this! This little black bear was about 20 feet off the main trail clawing at fallen trees for bugs and grub for lunch. We had to be careful not to linger too long or startle him in any way, but being so infatuated by the real-life experience I hid behind a nearby tree and just watched in amazement. You could hear the power of the claws breaking through the trunks and the sound of every breath coming out of his nostrils. Just as I was about to creep slightly closer I felt the tug on my shirt from Jeremy reminding me that we need to keep going and let him be. Safety first.

suspected claw marks from a bear on a nearby tree

As we finished out the trail, I couldn’t help but feel an amazing sense of satisfaction with this weekend trip and our first camping experience together. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing by the river at our campsite and just doing nothing. It was important to just sit and take it all in since that serenity surely does not exist in the city.

The next morning we woke up early to travel down the mountains and see the sunrise for some golden hour shots. Here are just a few of those shots before we headed back home.

Overall, this trip was a great success. Putting this post together reminded me of how drawn to nature I am, and how I could easily escape all of life and just run away into the woods and live off the land!!! But…reality is that’s not reality…so I commit to connecting myself with nature as often as I can and exploring the many wonders this world has to offer. Until next time…

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