Best of the Big Three: California’s High Sierra Trio of Parks
The ultimate guide to Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks that California’s High Sierra has to offer.
Yosemite National Park, the jewel of the High Sierra. Famous for waterfalls, granite masterpieces, camping, wildlife and some of the best sky-gazing known to man, Yosemite remains a must-see for any California visitor. On a guided tour of the valley floor, you’ll catch a glimpse of the landmarks Ansel Adams made famous, including Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil falls and more. You’ll also learn fascinating facts about Yosemite’s history, geology and wildlife. With nearly 1,200 square miles, there are parts of Yosemite still to be discovered. If you travel in June (peak wildflower time), you’re bound to catch a glimpse of nature’s carpet of many colors in meadows throughout the park. Travel home with visions of mountains in your head.
- Float down a river: In Yosemite Valley, Merced River’s summer flow is typically so gentle that your raft lazily meanders.
- Pedal the valley: Rent a bike, or bring your own, and ride the Yosemite Valley Bike Path, admiring El Capitan’s majesty as you pedal 12 miles of level paved trails. Park your bike at the convenient bike racks and walk your way up the short trails to Lower Yosemite Falls and Mirror Lake.
- Gaze at the night sky: Pack a picnic and head up to Glacier Point in time for sunset.
- Watery wonders: Yosemite is filled with spectacular waterfalls. Take the challenging 5.4 mile loop hike to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, its worth the work!
- Hike and be awed: The spectacular 8.5 mile Panorama Trail is mostly downhill and offers nonstop views.
Sequoia National Park is California’s first national park and America’s second oldest, next to Yellowstone. Late spring/early summer is one of the most beautiful times to visit, with fields of wildflowers and abundant wildlife. Rivers and waterfalls run crystal clear, while higher parts remain a snow-capped testament to the recent winter. The giant sequoias are an impressive reminder of nature’s beauty and resilience, while the oak chaparral is second only to the rainforest in diversity of plants and animals. Enjoy lunch at the historic Reedley Opera House, built in 1903.
- Thrilling drive: Surrounded by 11,000 foot summits, Mineral King Valley makes and unforgettable destination. The white-knuckle drive makes for a spectacular payoff. Beautiful trails to alpine lakes and glorious high country.
- Family hike: The easy 1.7 mile hike from Lodgepole Campground to Tokopah Falls crosses a footbridge and and winds past meadows populated with seasonal wildflowers. At the trails end the falls cascade down a granite wall.
- Jaw-Dropping Sequoias: Be humbled by the General Sherman Tree, the largest living tree on earth. Trails provide great views of dozens of sequoias as wide as your living room.
- Go for a dip: Paradise Creek is a bather’s dream. Small falls and large swimming holes parallel Paradise Creek Trail.
The canyon of the Kings River is carved to a depth of 8,000 feet, making it one of the deepest in North America – Even deeper than the Grand Canyon. The Kings Scenic byway (Highway 180) winds its way through the canyon, uncovering wonderful travel destinations, such as tree-covered mountains, never-ending canyons, rolling hills, and breathtaking vistas.
- Saunter by the river: The 1.5 mile self guided trail loop around fern-filled Zumwalt Meadow shows off the best of Kings Canyon, including a close up look at the master carver, the South Fork Kings River.
- Tour a cave: Magnificent Boyden Cavern hides beneath the 2,000 foot high marble walls of the Kings Gates. Take a 45 minute guided walking tour to explore the caves.
- Catch a big one: Lucky anglers brag about a catch-and-release rate of more than 100 trout per day in the South Fork Kings River at Cedar Grove. To avoid crows, hike the Mist Falls Trail from roads end. Just below the falls the water swirls with trout.
- Take a stroll or roll: The Roaring River Falls make a powerful noise as the boisterous cascade hits the water. The short 1/2 mile ascend is the perfect choice for explorers of all abilities.
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