The night before our trip felt like deja vu. We stared at our screens and watched as a new fire popped up south of Big Bear, where we had planned to camp the next day. Just as the Dolan Fire cancelled our Big Sur road trip, the El Dorado fire would cancel our Big Bear trip.
This time, however, we were prepared. Learning from our last trip, Kevin had already booked a backup plan the week before, “just in case”. Despite the challenges, we were determined to spend a day outdoors. Our new destination? Sequoia National Park!
The reason why we didn’t originally plan on staying in Sequoia was the huge drive. A trip from the IE to Sequoia takes a whopping 5 hours, with no traffic. This was a long drive just to spend one night. Thanks to the El Dorado Fire, however, we didn’t have much of a choice. We were too stubborn to accept the possibility of not going anywhere. Our thirst for the outdoors had ballooned more and more as the months we spent in quarantine passed. What’s an adventure without a little spontaneity anyways?
The next morning, we rushed out of bed, finished packing, and headed on our way. Pau’s brother gave us banh mis that turned out to be a very convenient and tasty snack for the road. As we continued along, we made a brief stop at Bakersfield for the only hot pot restaurant we could find in the area. We took it to go, as we planned to use it as our yummy dinner for the night! After driving on the highway for what felt like forever, we made a pit stop for food and supplies in Porterville. The area was very hot, ashy, and not very social-distance friendly so we made it out of there as fast as we could.
Eventually, we would reach Three Rivers, the area right before the entrance to Sequoia. The road up the mountain started to become long and windy. Service isn’t great so we recommend having some music downloaded before you drive up.
Soon enough, we began to enter Sequoia National Park. We paid the mandatory entrance fee at the gate and worked our way up the mountain, where the foliage slowly began to change. We started to become surrounded by tall green and shady trees, which proved to be a stark contrast to the hotter and blander Three Rivers area below.
Conveniently, there were pockets right along the highway to stop and admire the scenery awhile snagging some pictures. We drove past a lot of other tourists stopped along the road, which made sense since it was a holiday weekend.
Driving through Sequoia’s Giant Forest is quite the experience, as you’re greeted with tree after giant tree. Gazing around the forest, we were filled with a sense of awe from the sheer magnitude of the trees, both in size and age. Actual ring counts on many fallen trees show that some of the oldest sequoia trees can reach 3000 years in age. An ethereal and somewhat mystical ambiance filled the air. These trees felt as if they were full of wisdom — if only we could speak to them!
Time to Kick the Feet Up
Finally, after a long day of driving, we finally made it to Lodgepole Campground. The first thing we did after arriving was open a can of beer. Since it was Sunday, most of the campsites around us were already filled with people enjoying their Labor Day weekend. We sipped on our beer, relaxed, and took in our surroundings. We watched as chipmunks scurried all over the place, trying to snag pinecones on the ground.
When we did our research beforehand, we found out that this was a highly sought after campground. As we explored the area, we started to see why. This campground is in a convenient location within the park, with many areas for camping. Even though some campsites are right next to each other, you still have a sense of privacy thanks to the many tall trees scattered throughout.
The whole area sits in a mountain canyon-y area, and even has a river that runs through it (although this river was mostly dry when we went). They even had a large convenience store INSIDE the campground! The store was pretty large; it basically felt like having a mini grocery store just 5 mins beyond your campsite. This campground also had a variety of other great creature comforts, such as showers and flushable toilets.
Once we were done vibing out for a bit, it was time to set up camp. Picking a spot for the tent was trickier than usual, since pine cones would periodically fall from nearby coniferous trees. If you ever visit the campsite, be sure to look up and make sure your tent is not in danger of getting hit by a pinecone! Pine cones may be small, but when dropped from a 5+ story tree it poses a serious danger. While Kevin took charge of the tent situation, Pau began preparing the burgers for dinner.
Dinner was as easy as setting up the stove, seasoning the ground meat, cooking up the onions, spreading some (…or a lot of) butter on brioche bread, and toasting it all on the pan. After shaping the ground meat into patties, we fried them in butter and melted swiss cheese on top. Once done, all that was left was assembling it and, of course, eating it! The best part of eating our freshly made burgers was the beautiful scenery and vibes surrounding us. Moments like these are really what make our trips worthwhile.
We took a quick walk around the campground to get a sense of the area before it got dark. We made a last minute plan to hike out to the General Sherman tree early the next morning, so we decided to take it easy that night and rest. Hitting the trail before 9am was the surefire way to avoid crowds if we wanted to hike the General Sherman trail.
We winded down in our cozy campsite after our long day. For the rest of the night, we watched shows, drank wine, and ate the hot pot we got in Bakersfield as a snack (lol).
Hot Pot Spot ★★★
Hot pot was not bad, but also not memorable. We got the lobster pot to-go, as a “treat yourself” kinda thing, and boiled it at camp. The hot pot had flavor but there was no real significant kick out of it, if that makes sense. Overall okay but would probably skip this place next time. On the bright side, the owner was very friendly and hospitable!
We woke up the next morning to the sound of our alarms, mixed in with a few chipmunks scurrying around. The morning was cool but not cold, as the ash had blocked off a decent amount of morning sun. We had set up an alarm to wake up early and check out the nearby General Sherman Tree before the tourists got there. A quick bite later and we were ready to head out.
The General Sherman Tree parking lot was only a short drive from our campground. We were rewarded for our early arrival with a prime parking spot right in front of the entrance. Not that it mattered, however, since we were on a hike anyway.
The early morning did not bring many visitors at all. When we walked through the entrance, we only saw a handful of people standing around. On the trail, we saw a couple more, but it was a far cry from the overcrowded mess this trails brings during the day.
The hike started out with an easy descent into the forest. It’s a mostly downhill hike to get there, which is good for the beginning of the hike but bad to hike back up. While walking down, we were greeted with tall Sequoia trees to our left and right. Seeing the morning lights filter through the trees was such a beautiful sight!
As we continued our way down, we were greeted with a distant view of the General Sherman Tree. You could tell how massive the tree was, even from where we were. After more walking we would eventually end up up right at the base of the tree.
The view from the base was truly awe-inspiring. The huge tree made us feel so tiny. We strained our necks looking up, took a few pics, and continued to walk around the area.
We climbed back up towards the parking lot and back to our campsite once we were done exploring the area. By this time, the tourists were really starting to come in. We hurried up as quickly as we could to avoid the crowds. When we reached the top, the sun was a little more hazy than before. Very light ash could be seen here and there. Our hike really ended at the right moment.
We were feeling hungry and it was time to make a dish that we had never tried to make before while camping: French Toast! Our pan was a little too small to cook multiple pieces of toast, so we had to settle for one at a time. Next time, we are definitely going to bring some sort of griddle. It would also be convenient to bring a bowl or tray where you can easily dip the bread in the egg/milk mixture prior to frying.
After snacking on our french toasts, we were ready to head home. At this point the ash had gotten stronger around the campsite. We quickly took apart our home for the night, brought our equipment into the car, and drove off. On the way back, we decided to check out a few sights.
Our first stop was Parker Group. This group of Sequoia Trees could be reached by a small detour while heading away from our camp. We were greeted with more green forests, tall trees, and empty roads. Once we reached Parker Group we saw its namesake before us: about 5-6 Sequoia trees packed tightly together. This was a really interesting area to see. It looked somewhat similar to a city skyline: as the trees looked like skyscrapers packed together. Further up, we saw a fallen tree with a hole you can drive through. We looked at the tree and saw a huge line of cars waiting to go through, so we decided to take a U-turn and head back out.
Before we left Sequoia National Park for good, we decided to have one more stop: Moro Rock. To be honest, we were not very familiar with this stop and decided that we might as well check it out. We pull up to the parking lot and were greeted by a warning sign about thunder risks, since the trail is high and exposed. We quickly realized that Moro Rock wasn’t a drive-by-and-take-pictures area. It was an actual (albeit short) hike on Moro Rock, that winds through stairs and steep cliffs to eventually bring you on top of the rock itself.
If you are REALLY REALLY afraid of heights, we recommend you skip this one. There were multiple times where looking left or right made me queasy. Palms sweaty (mom’s spaghetti), we made our way up the rock. Finally at the top, you are treated to a beautiful view. Well, at least what WOULD have been a beautiful view, if there was no fire nearby. The ash and smoke in the sky made the top too hazy to really see that far.
We chilled up there for a bit and caught our breath, just glad to have made it to the top. Afterwards, we slowly made our way back down, while encouraging others who were on their way up. This wrapped up our trip in Sequoia National Park. We headed down the mountain, saying our temporary goodbyes to the Sequoia trees around us.
On the way back, we had a quick stop for some yummy birria tacos, and continued the long journey home.
Los Arbolitos ★★★★★
We decided to hit up this spot shortly after we left the Sequoia/Three Rivers area. We had the birria taco platter: tacos with a sizable cup of birria on the side. The birria tacos changed our lives. The tacos alone were pretty good but when they mixed with the rich and slightly oily they were amazing. Definitely would come back and eat these tacos at this place again. So worth the stop.