Road trip & Camping at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
It was a little over a year ago that I resigned from my full time job to pursue my passion in photography and travel. It was also around this time that I started planning for my 2 months road trip where I visited and camped at 8 National Parks, 3 State Parks, and couchsurfed with complete strangers at 7 different homes for the very first time. It was a completely terrifying and exciting trip all together.
As summer is upon us once again, I wanted to share with you the places I visited on this trip so that it may inspire you to take a road/camping trip of your own as well. This time however, instead of doing an extremely long post like I did for Vietnam where I try to cover everything, I will be breaking it down to several smaller posts for easier consumption. This post will cover the first 2 National Parks I visited on my trip.
I drove up from Orange County and made a quick lunch stop at Beach Park in Bakersfield, CA. I sat to eat at a table underneath a big tree for shade and noticed many squirrels running about. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that they had burrow their way underground and made a home for themselves under this tree.
They came out when they smell my food and happily ate bits and pieces of the bread I threw their way as they played with one another. It was good entertainment for my lunch break.
After that, it was a straight drive to Sequoia National Park, or so I thought. Instead of directing me to the main part of Sequoia Park, my iphone lead me to a remote section of it known as Mineral King. The drive up this small winding dirt path of 20 miles or so took over an hour. By the time I got up to the first campground Atwell Mill, the sun had already set and I was fighting the light to set up my tent. To make matters worse, there was a "bear warning" sign so I had to unload all the food I had bought from Costco the day before and packed in my car that morning into the metal bear proof box to lock up. I hadn't been camping in over 10 years and as I laid awake that night in my tent listening for any sounds that resembled a bear, I was cursing myself for somehow thinking that this 2 months road/camping trip was a good idea.
Atlas, the dark of the night soon passed and morning came. I walked around my campsite and came across some of the biggest sequoias I had ever seen. The first one is a picture of me sitting on a tree stump so you can get a general sense of how big it really is.
After seeing all there was to see at my campsite, I drove up to the end of Mineral King Road where the second campground Cold Spring was located. On the 7 mile drive up, I passed by Silver City where there were paid showers behind a small convenience store and restaurant. I also saw a few wood cabins along the way where this one couple I talked to at my campsite said retired people lived and that they were also looking to buy once they retired.
At the end of the road, I parked my car, walked around and striked up a conversation with another fellow photographer. He and I ended up hiking further inward on a small dirt trail to a nearby creek.
Along the way, we passed by a small stable with a few horses inside and deers nearby. I also saw a marmot, the Mineral King's resident mischief, that I was warned might chewed my car wires if I had parked and camped at Cold Springs Campground.
After two days at this remote primitive campground, I was ready to head down and find the real Sequoia National Park. As my car came hurling down this small winding dirt road once again, my ABS brake light came on warning me something was wrong with my brake. And to make matters worse, I also realized that my gas light came on letting me know my gas tank was close to empty. So I coasted in neutral most of the way down and prayed that the brake would work so my car will not be hurling itself off the cliff with me inside.
I guess my time had not come yet because I got down the mountain safely and got gas. Then it was off to find a mechanic that can check out my ABS brake light. Long story short, it turned out that although the ABS portion did not function properly, my brake still works. I ended up last minute that night couchsurfing for the very first time with an amazing Indian guy in Tulare, CA. Despite working late until 7pm that day, he still showed me around after and took me salsa dancing (my first time ever) that night. The guy turned out to be quite a ladies man and a good wingman as well. We had a great time and it was the best first time couchsurfing experience I could have asked for.
The next day, I headed back into the actual Sequoia National Park off of highway 198 and passed by these 4 humongous sequoias.
I camped at the first campsite on my way in which was Lodgepole Campground . This place had a much bigger supermarket and restaurant with coin showers and even a coin laundromat right across from the campsite. Additionally, there were flushable toilets instead of the vault toilets like at the campground in Mineral King. Needless to say, it was so much better.
Once I paid the $20 for my campsite and got my tent set up, I drove to Moro Rock which offered the best vantedge point to watch the sunset that evening. The 30 mins walk up the stairs carved into the rock was not bad and before I know it, I was blessed with one of the most spectacular 360 degrees view I had ever seen.
I was up here shooting the sunset well into 9pm. In the end, there was only me and another photographer and we both ended up going down the stairs in the dwindling light. Here is two of my favorite sunset pictures from that shoot.
The next day, I checked out the Crystal Cave at Sequoia National Park which was a decent size. For a few seconds, our guide turned off all the lights so that everyone can experience complete darkness, to the point where I couldn't even see my hand that's inches away from my face.
As I was walking back up from the cave, I came across this beautiful butterfly that was resting its wings on a metal pole.
Later that day, I visited the General Sherman tree, which by its volume, is known as the largest living single stem tree on Earth. It was so tall that I couldn't exactly photograph the whole thing but it is the one all the way to the right below.
After a couple days here, I continued on highway 198 north to get to the connecting Kings Canyon National Park. I bought a $80 annual pass valid at all National Parks in the US but for those only interested in visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon, you might be pleased to know that you will get 2 for the price of 1 $25 admission fee into both park. Those of you who do not want to camp can chose to stay at Wuksachi lodge further in. It is also the only place in Sequoia National Park where you could get wifi so I spent a good half day here before continuing onward to Kings Canyon.
The drive up north on 198 highway to Kings Canyon National Park was beautiful. And if you do decide to make it up here, I highly recommend you camp at Sunset Campgrounds like I did. As its name suggest, the view of the sunset from the back of this campsite over the hills is spectacular. I was lucky enough to get a spot in the back.
Another great view definitely worth checking out while you are here is Panoramic Point, a short drive up from the campsite. Although, becareful to drive the speed limit as there are cops/rangers here that can give you a ticket. I was pulled over as I was speeding my way down from Panoramic Point back into my campsite so I could photograph the sunset pix above. Luckily, with lots of apologies, some convincing that I am photographer chasing the sunset, and a nice enough ranger, I was able to get away with a warning.
Another nice drive that is a bit longer at around 30-60 mins, depending on how fast you drive, is the Scenic Byway at Kings Canyon. For most of the drive, I was parallel to a running river view and for other times, I was awarded with rolling mountain views at each turn.
There were also several waterfalls along the way that you can stop at and hike in. This is one of them.
So overall, even though I had a rough start at Mineral King, the remaining campsites at Sequoia and Kings Canyon more than made up for it and prepared me for Yosemite. And being back in nature helped me to reconnect with a deeper part of myself that I had long forgotten existed. So if you live somewhere in California, I highly recommend you do a weekend or week long camping trip at these two parks sometime this summer. And if you do or did, I love to hear about it so leave me a comment to let me know how it went.
If you are interested in purchasing prints of the pictures above, visit my galleries where I offer a multitude of prints and products made from these images that you can buy and have ship to your residence anywhere in the world.
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Keywords: Atwell, Beach Park, Campground, Cold Spring, Crystal Cave, Grant Sherman, Kings Canyon, Lodgepole, Mineral King, Moro Rock, National Park, Sequoia, butterfly, campground, camping, campsite, campsite, cave, deer, hill, horse, marmot, panoramic point, rock, sequoia, squirrel, squirrel, stair, sunset, view
Easy USA organization of such tours is simply priceless. I do not know if we would go to San Francisco if we had to plan everything ourselves. In addition, the attempt to combine several different activities in one tour also deserves praise.
Hi Nguien, greetings from Seattle, just arrived yesterday for a short trip. I am def a fan of street food, wish I would have known about your blog when I was Saigon a few months back. And thank you, it wasn't an easy decision to quit my job but I am glad that I did. As far as photography, I am still an amateur myself, and just started learning/teaching myself a little over a year ago when I quit my job. And yes, a good lens is very important but can be quite costly, I hope you'll get a chance to use your 70-300 soon. As for New Zealand, everyone's who's been have told me great things about it. I am embarking on a 1 year around the world trip this Sept and New Zealand is definitely on my list.
Hi Hung, morning greetings from Saigon! So you are a big fan of street food as well? When you miss them, remember my blog :)) Thanks for your tips, I have a Canon and I just got a EF 70-300mm lens, L-series, my biggest investment but I didn't have a chance to test it yet, hope I will do it very soon. Admired that you decided to quit your job and to travel the world. Wish to see your lovely photos of the new lands. In photography I'm very amateur, not keen on technical features, more on my personal instinct. Few years ago, I've been to New Zealand, I took a lot of photos and I lost them all as my hard disk has gone! The nature is so beautiful there, the blue in your photos reminds me of that place. I would love to see your photos if you've been there! Cheers
Hung On The World
Thank you Nguyen. I love your website as well, your pix of street food in VN looks delicious. I was just in Saigon a few months back and looking at your pix makes me want to go back again. All of my photos, landscapes and macros, are taken with a Nikon 28-300 lens. I love it because of its versatility to go wide, long, and closeup. A great lens if you are shooting full frame. If you are using a crop sensor camera, Nikon's DX lens 18-300 will provide even a longer range. For a less expensive alternative, Sigma's 18-250 Macro is also a great option, especially for shooting close up of foods and whatnot. I hope that helps and if you have any other questions, feel free to shoot me an email on my contact page. I be happy to a fellow photo enthusiast.
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