We get a lot of folks on our Los Angeles bike tours spending a few weeks in California, and heading to the National Parks. I’m just back from a trip to Sequoia/Kings Canyon and have a few tips for folks planning to visit California’s National Parks.
Tip 1: Spend the money to stay in the park. There are cheaper and nicer options outside our National Parks that claim proximity, but are actually hours or more drives to get into the parks. National Park Ranger programs take place morning noon and night; don’t miss out because you’re driving to and from the park. Also, you’re more likely to spot wildlife early morning or evening. The parks are more magical without the day crowds, and campfires crackle in the distance, or enjoying early morning coffee watching the mist rise on a river.
Tip 2: Decide among your group how much or how little you’re willing to do in regards to hiking. The National Parks have trails for everyone, from paved shorter routes appropriate for small children and mobility challenged, to several hours of hard hiking. Once you decide that, don’t plan too much in a day, the logistics driving between attractions, parking and eating take up more time than you think in National Parks. They’re big, and full of people looking to all do the same thing at the same time.
Tip 3: If you’re short on time, plan a few days in one park rather than trying to hit as many as possible. Many visitors to California set their sites on Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia. If you want to do all 3, you’ll need a minimum of 5-6 days. If you only have 2-3 days, choose either Sequoia/Kings Canyon (these two border each other) or Yosemite. Yosemite has more amenities and may be more scenic, but for that reason it is also more crowded. Sequoia/Kings Canyon is less crowded, with less amenities, but with more opportunity to find yourself alone with nature. If I had to choose one, I’d go with Yosemite, and stay in Yosemite Valley.
One of my favorite spots in Yosemite is Housekeeping Camp. It is half tent/half cabin with real beds(no bedding), a picnic table and kitchen prep area, plus 2 electrical outlets. The camp also rents bedding, stoves and just about everything you need to “camp”. If you have the money, a cabin at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel would be the ultimate Yosemite accommodation. Yosemite also has several paved bike paths, a bike share program, and you will definitely see bear and deer if you stay in the park.
That being said, I just returned from Sequoia/Kings Canyon and was surprised at how less crowded it was than Yosemite, making it easier to get around the big tree attractions and trails. Food options were limited, but good quality for snack bar counter service. There was not much biking in either of these parks, and no where to rent bikes, but plenty of low key 1-2 hour hikes.