Since northern California is an area where neither of us have spent time, and we ultimately wanted to start making our way north for the summer, we decided to spend a few weeks exploring northern California on our way to Oregon/Washington/Idaho. As always with our lifestyle, our timeline also gets dictated by work, so although we explored Mammoth, Tahoe, Sierra Buttes, Lassen National park and Sha...
We hit the road from Denver at July 4th and made the drive west for a film project in California. Here’s how our lives typically go while spending time in LA. We drive out to whatever film project we’re working on, which normally means parking the camper at the client or studio site (and often sleeping there). We try to get all of our errands done while in the city – laundry, grocery shopping, and picking up packages from wherever we found an address that works that week (a couple friend’s work addresses or Amazon lockers). Then we immediately try to head out of LA because it is 100 degrees in town, overcrowded, full of angry drivers, and with poor air quality.
Here’s the typical dilemma we face though. We often get our next jobs with little to no notice. Rarely do we ever know where we’ll be two weeks ahead of time, and we’re always still figuring out details until the last minute. That means it’s in our best interest to stick to areas where we get cell service. We’d love to just disappear into the forest between gigs, but it doesn’t always work like that. So instead, sometimes we end up waiting out wherever we are in order to figure out what our next move should be. And by the time we know where our next job is, we only have a day or two (or none) to go explore new areas in between. We always end up debating at that point if it’s still worth our time to drive anywhere if we know we have to be back in a couple days. But then we remind ourselves that those two days might still be more than most people have on a regular weekend to get out and explore, so we convince ourselves to get out there and enjoy whatever time we have to see everything new around us.
For example, this was our dilemma when we were parked in Lake Isabella, California, for a couple days in 100 degree heat, waiting to hear on scheduling for a job that ended up canceled, but ended up flying to Quebec and Michigan the next week for a completely different job. (Mont Tremblant and Marquette, MI were really beautiful in the summer, but I actually ended up having to travel on crutches because I fell off my dirt bike and screwed up my knee the day before flying!)
Even with our crazy schedule, we did get to explore a lot of southern and central California this summer and fall months, including the Sequoia National Forest and National Monument, Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP, and Yosemite NP.
We went to the Kern River area in Sequoia National Forest to check out a few dirt bike trails. The trails ended up being a bit above my skill level, and it was so hot Blake didn’t want to end up having to haul my bike over every obstacle, so instead we opted for some dual sporting on one of the passes through the national forest that took us to some high up viewpoints. We gained a couple thousand feet between our camp site and the top of the pass, which was the only way to get some cool relief.
The Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Monument was our first experience seeing the giant sequoia trees, and we were blown away. When you first see the giants by car, it’s so impressive it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road. Then you get to walk beneath them. One of the giants had fallen on part of this trail, completely wiping it out. We saw the 1st largest and 3rd largest giant sequoias in the world while in the national park, but there’s also a less traveled trail among the sequoias that were cut down and logged in the 1800s, leaving behind a bunch of giant stumps. You can walk on this stump and see just how wide it is. We figured it was even bigger than the living space in our camper. The sequoia area is also full of really great lookouts, either granite domes or old fire lookouts that we got to hike.
We were extremely impressed by Kings Canyon NP as well, not having heard much about this park before. The granite walls are not quite comparable to Yosemite in size, but still very impressive when hiking right below them. Kings Canyon is the deepest canyon in the US (measured from the surrounding mountains), but you can’t quite tell when you’re in it. We only spent a couple days in the park, and mostly did all the small stops with viewpoints or hikes less than a mile, but will have to return for longer hikes.
We visited these parks in late October, which was amazing in terms of fewer crowds, but also meant that a lot of the park had already been shut down. Lots of campgrounds were closed. We don’t normally like to pay for campgrounds, but when in national parks we think its always worth it to pay for a couple nights so you don’t have to leave the park every night.. We got a spot in upper Kings Canyon for a couple nights, but when we entered Sequoia NP, so many campgrounds were closed for the season that most RVs were forced to camp in a big “overflow” parking lot, but at least this was free.
In Yosemite, most everything was still open, but trying to enter the park without a camping reservation means you have to get on the first-come, first-serve waiting list. You have to get your name on the list as early as possible in the morning, and then come back to the campground at 3 to see if you get a spot. This kind of controls your whole day, so again we just did several small hikes so we could be back in time. Visiting the park in late October meant that a lot of the waterfalls were dry, so we didn’t bother hiking to Yosemite Falls even though it had been recommended by several friends. We did hike to Vernal falls and even though it wasn’t flowing as much as in the spring, the granite backdrop was really cool to see.
We were somewhat nervous to enter Yosemite after reading their vehicle height restrictions on the website. There are tunnels at each entrance to the park, and the website lists two different height clearances for entering or leaving the park, and they list the clearance at the curb, which is not an accurate measurement for where a vehicle will be driving. It’s listed as a 10’ 3” clearance if you enter the park a certain way, which would obviously be too short for our rig (we are 12’6”). So we drove all the way around the park to enter through the 12’10” arch rock tunnel. We talked to a ranger in the park about the website description, and they said that the website is super misleading. Any California highway legal vehicle could go through the tunnel (which means any vehicle less that 14 ft. So we had no reason to worry and could’ve gone through the other entrance. But at least we got to see two different areas of the park this way.
When we originally planned our one year road trip, we didn’t think we’d have time to see these California national parks, because we thought that we would be coming back from Alaska at the end of the summer. It’s funny how our plans REALLY changed though, and instead we got to spend a fall in the Sierra Nevadas. It wasn’t the fall we are used to from Colorado, and being our favorite time of year, we had to make sure we got a bit of leaf peeping in.