Exploring the Sierra Nevada

Located within the Sierra Nevada mountains are the gorgeous Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Sequoia National Park is the nation's second oldest national park. Nested into it is the Kings Canyon National Park. Together, these two parks make up over 760,000 acres of land, of which, 97% is wilderness for backpacking. So if you're looking to really get out in the woods with no cell service, this is the place to be.

As you drive through the area, you'll go through thick forests, majestic meadows, beautiful canyons, gorgeous glaciers, and drive through crazy mountains towering some 14,000 feet up. The elevation varies from park to park as you go through low-elevation foothills, mid-elevation forests, and high-elevation alpine mountains. In this blog, I will cover the highlights of both parks, you lucky ducks.

Sequoia National Park

If you're coming from Southern California, you'll likely drive through the Foothills Visitor Center entrance after passing through Three Sisters. If you're driving up through the park in this direction, you'll come across the Tunnel Rock attraction first.

Next you'll drive through some epic mountain scenery. There are various viewpoints and overlooks to pull over at to learn more about the history of the area or enjoy the amazing views.

These giant Sequoia trees can live over 3,000 years and its bark alone can grow to be three feet thick. These massive trees are resistant to disease and fire, which help them to claim the throne as one of the oldest living organisms on Earth. What's crazier is that Sequoias only grow in the Sierra Nevada range in California at about 5,000-7,000 feet in elevation. These massive giants are similar to the Redwood trees in that they can only grow in the particular climates that California has to offer.

I've been lucky to see both the Redwoods and the Sequoias in my lifetime. Much like their cousin, the well-known Redwood trees, these Sequoia trees grow very old and tall. Redwoods can grow an average height of 380 feet compared to Sequoia trees growing 311 feet. However, Sequoias can live over 3,000 years whereas Redwoods tend to live an average of 2,000 years.

While both trees have thick bark to protect from fire or disease, Redwood bark can grow 12 inches thick in comparison to Sequoia bark that grows roughly 31 inches thick. How crazy is that?! As far as the trunk base goes, both kinds of trees have some seriously thick bases. But Sequoias take the cake on size, growing an average of 40 feet in diameter compared to Redwoods at 22 feet in diameter.

One of the interesting things I learned while in the Sequoia National Forest is how these trees are born from fire. What humans view as destruction, is actually a necessary process to bring life into this amazing place. Sequoia pinecones can hold seeds up to 20 years and release them when a wildfire occurs. The Sequoias rely on fire to release these seeds from the pinecone for germination. Yes, you read that right - fire breathes life here.

Here I am standing with the infamous General Sherman Tree. This is the world's largest living tree by volume. For reference, a Redwood tree holds the record for the tallest tree, but Sequoias win second and third place by volume alone. The General Sherman Tree is estimated to be about 2,200 years old and towers about 275 feet tall.

This world record-holding tree is said to weigh about 1,385 tons with a circumference of 103 feet. Although this tree does not get taller, it still continues to grow wider. Can you believe that?! You can find the awesome Sherman tree in the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park.

The infamous drive-through tree! Yes, the Tunnel Log exists, and yes you can still drive through it... as long as you're under 8 feet tall and 17 feet wide. A few more mods and my Jeep, Bella, won't make the cut! 😅 The tree itself fell back in 1937 and is a whopping 21 feet wide. As you can imagine, I was super excited to cross this one off my bucket list. Be prepared to wait in line when you go to this attraction. You're not the only one who wants a picture here.

Another fairly easy hike I would recommend if you are physically capable of taking a lot of stairs is Moro Rock. You hike all the way to the top for this awesome view about 6,700 feet above sea level. Moro Rock began forming over 100 million years ago when molten rock cooled into granite. The stone-carved steps were created thanks to FDR's New Deal back in 1931 and is now listed on the national registry of historic places.

Although the Moro Rock hike is about a half-mile roundtrip, it's going straight up the mountain and right back down, so keep that in mind. Additionally, the path is very narrow so you often need to take turns letting people through. Plus, it makes a great excuse for catching your breath! Just make sure you turn your pedometer on before you hit those stairs 😜

If you want to keep hiking, you can continue from Moro Rock and head to Crescent Meadow on the Sugar Pine Trail. This is a beautiful spot to see the wildflowers during the summer. I enjoyed the meadow mostly because it was less traveled, so I was able to relax in nature without someone's kid screaming in the background.

Another cool touristy-tree thing to see around Crescent Meadow is the Auto Log. Back in 1917, cars actually could drive on it! The park's idea behind this was to showcase how large the fallen Sequoia was by allowing cars to be on top of it. Although you need to park next to it these days, you can still walk on top of it.