A Weekend in Sequoia National Park

The Mission: Spend a weekend at Sequoia National Park with my mom!

The Prep: I booked our campsite 3 weeks in advance for Potwisha campground and got the last campsite available! Book as early as possible and don’t count on just showing up and finding a spot.

The Gear: Please see my post on Camping Essentials

The Execution: We arrived at Sequoia National Park in the morning and paid our $30USD entrance fee, good for 7 days. Not far from the park entrance, we found our campsite at Potwisha, a small, quiet campsite equipped with flush toilets. We set up our tent and secured all of our food and scented items in the bear locker provided.

After getting our campsite settled, we drove roughly 40 minutes from Potwisha to the General Sherman Tree parking lot. Mileage wise, this is not far, but the roads are very windy and speed limits are slow so it took us awhile to get all the way up the mountain.

Once we found parking, we hiked a quick half mile down to the General Sherman Tree. There is also a shuttle that goes from the parking lot down to the tree area if you are unable to walk that distance.

After checking out General Sherman, we started hiking along Congress Trail (2 mile loop) to explore some more of the Giant Sequoias. We veered off onto Alta trail for a while to get away from the crowds before turning back and finishing Congress Trail.

Back at the General Sherman Tree, we hopped on a shuttle that took us to the Giant Forest Museum. After a few minutes in the museum, we hopped on another shuttle up to Moro Rock. We stopped to check out the Auto Log and then continued on to the rock.

The steps to the top of the rock are rather steep, but there are safety rails that lead the way. At 6,725 ft, the view from the top was magnificent, but I wouldn’t recommend this hike if you’re afraid of heights!

After Moro Rock, we hopped back on the shuttle, grabbed our car and headed back to camp for the night. Unfortunately, we were hit with a major thunderstorm that evening, complete with flashes of lightning and heavy rain. We stuck it out through the night, but were soaked by daylight.

We decided after a long sleepless night to give ourselves a break and do a short hike near the campsite on our last day before driving home exhausted.

The Highlights:

  • Campsite cost about $22USD.
  • If you want to camp, book a campsite as early as possible. Backpacking is also an option, but requires registration and a bear canister.
  • Crowds are heavy around the major sites, but if you hike just a short distance off a main trail, the crowds thin out and you will get to enjoy more of the park.
  • Take advantage of the shuttle as parking is scarce. Shuttles run every 10 minutes so you never have to wait long.
  • There is a small restaurant and store at Lodgepole Visitor center for food and firewood.

Backpacking Big Sur- Ventana

The Mission: Camp at Big Sur Memorial Weekend with no reservations!

The Prep: We found parking near the Big Sur ranger station on the side of the highway. Parking is also available in the lot at the trail head for a fee, but there are very few spaces.

The Gear: Please see my post on Camping Essentials

The Execution:  We started off down Pine Ridge Trail toward Ventana, passing a rather loud campsite at Pfeiffer Big Sur. The sign states that there is no camping before Ventana and there really was NO camping before Ventana. The trail is rather narrow and cut into the side of the mountain… so there really is nowhere to camp before you reach Ventana camp.

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The trail out was mostly uphill with small stretches of downhill to flat. We were met with sweeping views of the valley and higher mountains surrounding us with giant redwoods stretching low from the valley to high above our heads. The fog from the coast rolled in through the mountain peaks keeping us cool and shaded on our hike and the sound of rushing water from the stream in the valley below provided our soundtrack.

After plenty of steep uphill hiking, we reached a sign for Ventana camp, just one more mile away.

We were now sent all the way down to the valley through a series of switchbacks winding down the mountain. When we finally reached the bottom, we were greeted by groups of campers dotted around the valley on both sides of the stream. Although it was a holiday weekend, there were not as many campers here as we had anticipated. We found a nice little clearing away from the water and set up camp for the night.

We built a small fire, ate some dinner and listened to the sound of the rushing water as we sat under the stars.

The next morning, we got an early start to tackle the switchbacks up the mountain. We were dreading these switchbacks all night, but they weren’t nearly as bad as we had anticipated. We knew if we made it through the switchbacks, the rest of the trail would be mostly downhill and easier than the previous day on our hike out.

We had a gorgeous, cool morning for our 5 mile hike back to the ranger station as we enjoyed the fresh air and beautiful redwoods surrounding us. We’re looking forward to returning to this area and doing a longer hike next time!

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate to strenuous
  • Trailhead  begins near the ranger station: Big Sur Station, 47555 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
  • The hike to Ventana is 5 miles. The next camp area after Ventana is an additional 5 miles (10 miles total).
  • If you plan on building a campfire, get a free permit in advance.
  • Watch out for poison oak, it’s everywhere!!
  • Bring a water filter if you plan on drinking from the stream.

M*A*S*H Site Hike

The Mission: Hike to the site where the hit show M*A*S*H was filmed.

The Prep: I parked on Mulholland Drive to avoid the parking fee and started from the trail head along the road. You can also park at the main parking area for $12. There are restrooms and water fountains in the parking lot.

The Gear:
Trail shoes
Shades
Sunscreen
Hydration pack
Hat

The Execution:
I grew up watching reruns of the hit show M*A*S*H on television and couldn’t resist the opportunity to hike out to the site where the show was filmed. I arrived early enough to find street parking and avoid paying the fee at the park entrance. I entered the park through a trail head on Mulholland Drive and was quickly met with myriad forks in the road. I didn’t have a trail map so I pulled out my phone and looked for “Crags Road”. The actual site lies on this road so it was a good directional reference point.

A short way down the path, I ran into a lot of families heading towards the swimming hole. It seemed as though the majority of the people I saw were not here to hike, but rather to picnic and swim. I came to a fork in the road where the majority of the crowd veered to the left towards the water and I stayed right towards the M*A*S*H trail. The scenic hike took me up a short hill with expansive views of the canyon and mountains in the distance. As I descended, I was met with more trail heads in a variety of directions, I continued straight on hoping I was still on the correct path.

Eventually I was met with the sign above, and relieve washed over me as I realized I hadn’t strayed from my course. I crossed over a small bridge that was desperately trying to hide the smelly, stagnant water below. As the path grew narrower, I continued through the trees until the trail opened up to reveal the site I had been waiting for.

I strolled around the site admiring relics of a past life that were now overgrown and rusted. Informational plaques dotted the area offering a glimpse into the bustling past of the secluded site. It was hard to imagine this dense, dry habitat as a former home of Hollywood magic. I sat at a picnic table to enjoy my lunch and bask in the history and drama of the scene before leaving my old television memories to the past and heading home.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual
  • Trail is mainly exposed so it gets quite hot. Wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water.
  • Trails are not well-marked, but if you have your phone, use google maps to ensure you are heading towards or on Crags Road.
  • Park address: 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Malibu Creek State Park, Agoura Hills, CA 91301

Solstice Canyon Loop

The Mission: Explore the ruins of Solstice Canyon.

The Prep: Once you turn onto Corral Canyon Rd, turn left into the parking area. There are very few parking spaces here so continue on over the one lane bridge to additional parking. This is also where the trail heads, bathrooms and trail maps can be found.

The Gear:
Trail shoes
Hiking shorts
Tank top
Hydration pack
Shades
Sunscreen
Trail map

The Execution:

I had read about Solstice Canyon and the “eerie abandoned ruins” as a must see so I decided to check it out for myself. Upon arriving at the park, I saw multiple trail heads so I grabbed a map and scouted out the Solstice Canyon trail head. The trail started out easy, flat and with plenty of tree coverage. As I continued on, I was met with several forks in the road and no trail signs. I consulted my trail map only to be more confused. I decided to continue straight on and went up and down a few inclines before I reached “the ruins”.

I walked up a few stairs to an old, demolished building now covered in graffiti and overgrown with foliage. A few old chimneys stood tall and an old stove lay idle in a corner, but otherwise the site was unrecognizable as a former home. As disappointment sent in, I heard someone talking about a waterfall close by. My excitement grew as I climbed the steps to the “falls”. I was met with a trickle of water cascading down boulders looking thirsty and aching for its’ former glory to be restored to pre-drought conditions. As I descended the falls, past the crowds that had amassed, I yearned for a quieter hike back and decided to connect to the Rising Sun trail to loop back to the parking lot.

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The Rising Sun trail started out on a fairly steep incline and continued up, and up and up. Most hikers go out and back on the Solstice Canyon trail and already I was relieved to shed the crowds and enjoy the serene peacefulness of the Rising Sun. The trail was completely exposed with no tree cover and became very hot very quickly. I stopped a few times to hydrate and look back down at the ruins I had just explored and take in the sweeping canyon views.

As I continued on, I was met with an amazing panoramic view. Ocean on one side, canyon on the other. By this point, the trail had leveled off and I was able to stroll along easily while taking in the views. Eventually I reached the TRW overlook trail, from here you can take the TRW loop the long way (to the right) back to the parking lot or the short way (to the left) back to the parking lot. I chose to go left, went down a steep grade and then descended some stairs before arriving back at my original starting point.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate
  • Many parts of the trail are exposed and can be very hot, pack enough water and sunscreen.
  • Trails are not marked well so be sure to grab a trail map before beginning your hike.
  • Restrooms and water fountains available at trail head.

A Weekend in Yosemite

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The Mission: Spend a weekend camping at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley.

The Prep:
Depending on the year, the valley may not open until June based on that year’s snowfall. Accommodations in peak season are booked months in advance so plan ahead. I made a reservation for the Curry Village canvas tent cabins, but regular cabins with private bathrooms are also available.

The Gear:
Sleeping bag (blankets, pillows and towels are provided, but I prefer to use my own sleeping bag)
Headlamp
Hiking boots
Merino wool socks
Padlock
Camelbak
Extra layers
Earplugs

The Execution:
Living in central California, I was lucky enough to have Yosemite National Park at my doorstep. Only an hour from the park entrance, I traveled to the park most weekends for day hiking and exploring. When family came to visit, I decided to make a reservation at Curry Village so we could spend a long weekend in the park. I booked my reservation 2 months in advance and got one of the last tent cabins available. A tent cabin is basically a wooden platform and frame draped in canvas. Unlike typical tents, the tent cabins have an actual door. Inside, the tent is outfitted with cots including blankets, pillows, and towels. Outside, each tent cabin has its own bear proof storage locker. Communal bathrooms and showers are available for those staying in the village.

Upon arriving at the park, a fee is required for entry. The entrance fee is per vehicle, not per person and around $30 USD. I however possess an annual pass for all national parks which is a great deal at $80 USD/year. After entering the park, it’s about an hour drive down to the valley and Curry Village.  On the drive to the valley, we passed through a long tunnel opening up to one of the most magnificent views of the park, rightly named “tunnel view”. Here we got our first glimpse of the famous El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls.

After arriving and checking in at Curry Village, we went through all of our belongings and put aside ANYTHING that may have a scent to it. This includes all food, beverage, toiletries, chap-stick or anything else that has a scent and we stored these items in the bear locker outside of the tent. The bears in the park are very savvy so we secured our locker with our padlock and checked our car to ensure nothing scented was left behind. This may sound dramatic, but check out the car on display in the valley where a bear ripped the door off of a car because it smelled something inside!

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We spent the rest of the day exploring the park and taking in the natural beauty surrounding us. The park offers something for every activity and skill level; from short walks to the falls, rock climbing, rafting, bus tours, biking and long hikes there is something for everyone. One of the most famous viewpoints is at Glacier Point. Visitors can either make reservations for a bus tour or drive to the top where there is an amazing view of half dome.

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The next day, we decided to wake up early to conquer one of my favorite hikes in the park. This trail starts at Glacier Point and ends down in the valley. This is a one way trail so we took the bus up to Glacier Point so we could hike back down to the valley. There are two trails, but I prefer the 8.5 mile panoramic trail. While it sounds like this trail would be mostly downhill, it is quite the opposite. The trail is very strenuous and takes somewhere between six and eight hours to complete. Although this hike is demanding, it provides some of the most beautiful views of the park including panoramic views of the valley and an up close and personal encounter with Illilouette Falls. The trail eventually merges with the Mist Trail where you guessed it, it’s quite misty. Prepare to see some beautiful waterfalls, but also to get a little wet.

After an intense day of hiking, we spent our final evening in the park relaxing in the valley. That night, the valley turned intensely dark, ideal for star gazing and on this perfectly clear night, the stars were nearly bright enough to light the whole camp. A perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

The Highlights:

  • Make reservations early.
  • Take earplugs as the tents are close together and can be noisy.
  • Be sure to put all scented items in the bear locker.