CAMPING IN SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, CA
Travel Date: August 2016
Location: Sequoia National Park, CA
Accommodations: Buckeye Flat Campground
General Sherman Tree Trail, Congress Trail, Giant Forest Loop Trail, Crescent Log and Meadows Trail, Big Trees Trail, Tokopah Valley Trail to Tokopah Falls
The drive into Sequoia National Park from the south is full of natural beauty and breathtaking vistas as you wind your way up the mountain. Our first stop after the Visitor’s Center was our campsite at Buckeye Flats Campground. After missing the turn out on our first pass we found the narrow dirt road leading into Buckeye Flats and immediately fell in love with the secluded campground shaded by countless oaks and adjacent to the Kaweah River. After setting up camp we headed North to the famed General Sherman Tree Trail. The trail begins with a steep downward trek that drops you 200 feet and often ends in a long line of hikers waiting to have their photo taken with the 275 foot tall redwood (yes…we waited in that line, it was worth it to see the largest living tree int he world! Sometimes you have to be touristy!). From here multiple trails shoot off into the vast area of surrounding redwoods including Congress Trail and Giant Forest Loop Trail, both of which we followed as they meandered through the giant trees. We passed only a handful of hikers on these secondary trails, as it seems most visitors get to General Sherman, turn around, and head back.
After climbing our way back to the truck we headed south intending to stop at Big Trees Trail but its small parking lot was overflowing, as it was a holiday weekend. We drove a few minutes further south to a larger parking lot across the road from the Giant Forest Museum. This is adjacent to magical Crescent Log and Meadows Trail, which we adored! It is nearly flat offering no physical challenge, so normally we would have skipped right past it, but the meadow that the trail circles is too perfect to miss. The contrast was unreal as we followed the shaded tree line around the border of this untouched and sun-drenched meadow. After completing the fairytale loop we went back to camp eager to wash off the day’s dirt and grime. Buckeye Flats has no showers, so you can find nearly every camper swimming in the river in the afternoon. After traversing a few hundred feet off extraordinarily slippery river rocks, there is a picture perfect swimming hole complete with 20+ foot rocks to jump from and even a natural water slide! Needless to say this is where we spent the remainder of the day sitting in the sun until we were too warm to handle, then diving into the chilled water to cool off, repeating the cycle over and over. After making our favorite chicken tacos for dinner we read and relaxed, until it was time for bed. Unfortunately no campfires were allowed this season due to the drought that California was experiencing.
The next morning we work up early, made our usual campground breakfast of eggs, bacon, and avocado toast to go with our morning coffee and tea, and set out on our longest planned hike of the trip. We headed North up Generals Highway 198 to the Tokopah Valley Trail to Tokopah Falls trailhead, which begins just outside of Lodgepole Campground. We stopped at the Lodgepole Market (which is definitely worth a visit) to grab a snack and some ice for our CamelBacks before heading to the trailhead. This popular trail attracts all levels of hikers and is often crowded but the scenery is worth it. As you climb the trail that follows another fork of the Kaweah River you pass multiple quiet pools of crystal clear water that make for perfect places to stop and wet your feet or eat a picnic lunch. The waterfall at the end of the trial is a stunning sight. Unfortunately for us, our visit fell in a severe drought year and the falls were completely reduced to a tiny trickle.
Once back at Lodgepole, we debated heading to a second hike but the swimming hole back at camp was just too tempting after hiking 4 miles and 700 feet of elevation gain (plus exploring off trail of course) under the ninety five plus degree sun! We definitely made the right call, we can not begin to describe how refreshing that mountain water felt!! After some delicious cheeseburgers we read until it was dark, then climbed into the tent to talk through the weekend’s events until we fell asleep.
On our last morning we ate a quick and simple breakfast of Greek yogurt with granola and berries in an effort to dirty as few dishes as possible. We almost always do this on the final morning as it makes packing up that much easier. After loading the truck and taking one final sweep around our site we hit the road south back to Huntington Beach. As we descended and quickly fell bellow the redwood line we both instantly missed the magic of the giant forests. We decided there and then to make Sequoia National Park an annual trip and to stay at Buckeye Flats each year because the river and its swimming hole stood out to both of us as the clear highlight of the entire experience. Returning home from a place as incredible as Sequoia is always a bit uninspiring. But we brush that feeling away by sitting down, after we’ve unloaded and started the first load of grimy dirt covered laundry, to plan our next adventure. We try to have at least one, if not multiple small trips scheduled over the coming months. This serves two purposes; to give us something to work towards and look forward to but also to ensure that we never go longer than intended without heading out of town away from the daily grind, getting essential time together to keep our relationship happy and healthy, and, of course, finding our next adventure.