California is shockingly and practically embarrassingly large. It could easily be split into three or four states without anyone batting an eye. That makes visiting and exploring the state a challenge at times, especially when one is caught up seeing only the major cities. While amazing, cities like L.A. or San Francisco don’t have what the state is perhaps most known for, its incredible natural treasures. On a recent trip along the Majestic Mountain Loop I had the great opportunity to visit some of these parks and to finally see for myself the destinations that sparked the modern conservation movement as we know it today.
I was hosted on this trip by but as always, my thoughts and strong opinions are entirely my own.
Majestic Mountain Loop
I love this idea and am so glad the tourism folks came up with it because it neatly bundles together three of the most incredible National Parks not only in California, but the entire country. The Loop is meant to reinforce the fact that visitors can experience the best of all three parks easily and in as short a time as three days. Honestly, that’s an incredible fact and really accentuates how close to each other and how easy they are to visit. The three parks of course are Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, all natural reserves I’ve wanted to experience first hand for a long time.
The logistics of it are easy enough. If you’re flying in, then Fresno will be your airport and from there you can start either at Sequoia or Yosemite as they’re just about equidistant from the airport. If you’re driving, both LA and San Francisco are both just a few hours away, making the parks a great weekend excursion. I traveled first to Sequoia from Fresno to see those mighty trees in person, using the oddly fascinating city of Visalia as my home base.
On arrival day, I would honestly head straight to your hotel in Visalia and spend the afternoon exploring the city, there’s a lot to see and do in and around the city center. Visalia officially became a town in the mid-19th century and early growth in the area boomed thanks in part to the gold rush. It was later added to the Overland Stagecoach route, making it a logistically important city. Today nearly 200,000 people call the city and environs home, and there’s plenty to do even if you only have a day or two. My advice is to stay downtown, which is lively and vibrant, and stop by the tourist office to see what’s new and exciting in this not so sleepy community.
On your first full day, get up early and make the easy drive to what has become one of my favorite National Parks, Sequoia. To make the most of my limited time, I was accompanied by one of the incredible guides from Sequoia Guides. Her knowledge not only of the parks but of the natural underpinnings was remarkable and since she knows the parks so well, she was able to easily and quickly lead me to all the best spots. So in Sequoia what are those spots? Start off with a visit to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest single-stem tree. You’ll also find the Giant Forest Museum where you can learn more about the unusual biology surrounding you. There are two more spots to visit before leaving the park though, both Tunnel Log and Moro Rock are practically rites of passage for all visitors.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia are usually lumped together for good reason, they actually conjoin and driving from one to the other is so seamless one doesn’t even notice the transition. In my opinion Kings Canyon doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should. It’s just as great as Sequoia, especially if you love wandering around the forests of giants.
You did it! You experienced two incredible parks in less than two days! But now it’s time for the most famous of the three parks, the indelible Yosemite. So much has been written about Yosemite that I find it daunting to put together just a short paragraph, but I’ll start off by saying no description or photo can do this place justice. The enormity of its beauty is on a different scale and for once I was left speechless, a rarity for anyone who knows me. Yosemite is also massive and a lifetime could be spent exploring all of its nooks and crannies. If you don’t have a lifetime, it’s still very easy to visit in only a day, as I did. Bridalveil Fall, Cathedral Peak, the U-Shaped Valley, Half Dome, Glacier Point and El Capitan are just some of the park’s most notable spots. Give yourself plenty of time to explore, especially if you plan on doing some hiking. Base yourself in nearby Oakhurst, which has its own litany of fun things to see, do and eat. I stayed at Bass Lake, which is an entire vacation unto itself so the options here abound.
How Everything Went in Practice
Some may scoff at the fact that I visited these three parks in only three days, but for me it was the ideal first introduction to the region. Sometimes National Parks are so large and interesting that they can be daunting to visit that first time. How does one prioritize their time to see the best that the park has to offer? The common theme for the parks along the Majestic Mountain Loop is how easy they are for first timers to reach and explore, even if on a tight schedule. Even better, both Oakhurst and Visalia have so much to offer visitors aside from the parks that an entire vacation could easily be spent in the area. Just do yourself a favor and don’t wait as long as I did for that all important first trip – this part of California isn’t just majestic, it’s magical too.