October '19: Hiking California's National Parks

Updated: May 30

Thanks SO much for stopping here to learn about our memorable trip to California! And what a trip it was! This trip route was full of differing terrain, challenge, and adventure-and in my opinion-an incredible way to see the golden state! Let's get after it!

Day 1: San Francisco

Day 2 & 3: Napa Valley and Yosemite National Park

Day 4: Kings Canyon National Park

Day 5: Sequoia National Park

Day 6 & 7: Joshua Tree National Park

Day 8: Los Angeles


This trip we opted for the Big Sur Model at Escape Campervans. On our previous Utah/Arizona trip we had the Maverick model. Both models claim to sleep up to 5 people (though the thought sounds kind of miserable to me). The only difference I noticed was Big Sur had another row of seating we used for storing our suitcases.

Obligatory Golden Gate Bridge Picture ft. our Big Sur Campervan


Random Recommendations for San Francisco:

After filling up the van with the week's groceries, we walked around the piers trying local food before our Alcatraz tour. We bought tickets through a company called Alcatraz Cruises (~$45 dollars/person). We loaded up on a boat (which had a small bar/cafe) and sailed the short ride to the island while watching the sun set over the city. I remember being so pumped to tour at night- it added an extra creepy element that got me super into it (any MFM podcast listeners out there?)

I'm not much of a history buff, so I didn't know a lot about the prison prior to the tour. And in a way, I liked that I didn't do much research on it ahead of time, too. It allowed me to really immerse myself in the tour. What really surprised me about the experience was that it was an audio tour. After a ranger walked us up to the entrance, we were each given a headset. The voices navigating us around the cells were previous inmates and guards of Alcatraz itself! It was so eerie to hear stories told directly through prisoners.

San Fran is home to what seemed like endless steep inclining and declining streets. Driving through the city immediately triggered memories of Princess Diaries, when Mia fails at driving up a steep street. Sometimes I thought we were going to live out that scene ourselves chugging along in our big van.

Surprisingly enough, Lombard Street, the WINDIEST street in the U.S. can be found here. It isn't very long, so I didn't get a great pic of Colton white-knuckling down it. The steepest street in the U.S. is actually Canton Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA....we've driven it, too. It's

a weird quirk we've got, I know.



Day 2 & 3: Napa Valley and Yosemite National Park


Normally San Francisco to Yosemite is about a 3 hr and 15 minute drive. We did take a quick 1 hr and 20 minute detour north through Napa Valley, which made our arrival to the park much later than planned.


Being a huge childhood fan of the Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap, I couldn't be that close to Napa Valley without at least checking it out. Dennis Quaid made the winery life appear too beautiful to miss out on! We stopped at a winery called Castello di Amorosa for a self-guided tour and complimentary wine tasting (about $30/person). We were even given free dark chocolate to pair with one of the wines I chose to try. SO GOOD!


Yosemite National Park


Knowing we were attempting Half Dome early the next day, we wanted to be as close as possible to the trailhead. Colton decided to splurge on a "cabin" reservation in Curry Village for our 2 night stay! We were more rushed in out planning for this trip. There are close campgrounds for cheaper available, but they were all booked up by the time we were looking! The cabin made for a cool addition to the experience, though, so I'm happy things happened the way they did.





Cost: $160 per night

Bathroom Situation: Flush toilets & shower houses available nearby

The cabin: Very minimalistic, the walls are a thick material like tarp held up by a wooden frame. There were 2 wooden chairs and a metal shelf for luggage.

Bear Beware: The entire park is very strict on food & scented toiletry storage. Each cabin has an outdoor locker for these items.

We would find this to be a commonality throughout the entirety of the trip.




TIPS & TRICKS OF THE TRADE....

-For bigger hikes with early morning starts: pack as much of your gear, food, and water the night before. Sleep = energy & you need as much as you can get!

-On trips like these, you never know who your neighbors will be...or if they have sleep apnea. Invest in a pair of earplugs! I learned the hard way this night!


Our main hike: Half Dome

Length: 16.4 miles out & back via The Mist Trail / 4,800 ft elevation gain

Difficulty level: Strenuous

Time it took us: 15 hours / 3:30 am - 6:30 pm

About 6 miles in, our first glimpse of Half Dome in the background


Don't let the smiles fool you. This hike was THEE hardest thing I have ever accomplished. We stopped constantly. I prayed for willpower to keep moving forward at times. I didn't know if I had anything left in the tank to even attempt the cables when we finally reached them. It was terrifying and exhilarating. Truly a mammoth of a challenge.


Climbing The Half Dome Cables

300 passes are awarded daily to climb the cables to the mountain's summit. You have to pay $20 dollars to enter this lottery (apply far in advance & for multiple days to increase your chances) Passes & IDs must be on your person the day of to show to a ranger before climbing the Subdome.

Cables are only open through specific dates/weather conditions

(Mid May- Mid October)

Gloves and climbing harnesses are not required, but people have fallen off and died. Attached are links to the ones we used and they worked great!


Click here to browse other climbing harnesses: https://amzn.to/346xZxo


You don't have to get the same equipment Colton and I had but please, if doing the cable section of this hike, invest in a pair of thick/grippy gloves. I thought ours were a little too intense prior to the climb, but you are holding on and pulling yourself up metal wire the entire time! The tread on gloves took a beating!

Trying to work up the nerve to start the climb to Half Dome Summit

Colton and I at the top of Half Dome. The most heavenly view I've ever seen!

Taking a much deserved lunch break on the summit. The peak itself is much bigger than I anticipated. We spend a good hour up here resting our legs, eating, and basking in the most incredible view of the wilderness below us.


Browse some yummy hiking goodies to add to your hiking experience here: https://amzn.to/3e1wSDU


We ran out of water once we reached the summit. The Merced River is the first water source you'll pass on the trek back. Don't get caught without a water filtration system. This is the one we always carry in case of emergencies: https://amzn.to/2RoNRq7


My dare devil husband, pushing the limits

Check out this quick cell phone video I took at the summit!


Hike Summary

We started our hike via Happy Isles Trailhead. We hiked in the dark, following the Merced River up hundreds of steps to Vernal Fall via The Mist Trail. (In the spring and summer when the river is full, these stairs can be slick! Proper hiking boots are a MUST).

Next came more inclining stairs to the top of Nevada Fall. After this, Little Yosemite offered a flatter hike for a short while through the wilderness. Here is the last available water source via The Merced River. 4 miles later is the Subdome- which I found to be just as nerve wracking as the cables! Finally, the cables. 400 feet of exposed granite stood between us and the summit.

Hiking earlier in the day decreases the likelihood of getting into traffic on the cables. Be prepared to wait on the cables for other climbers. In my experience, once we started the cables, I felt a peace wash over me. Colton and I became a team, warning each other of slippery areas and making sure our harnesses were always hooked. I knew we would be fine, but it was obvious this was not the case for some. Be kind to other climbers, not everyone has climbed a mountain before!

Visiting Yosemite was extraordinary, but stepping on the summit of Half Dome was like stepping into Heaven. I have never been so in awe of God's creation. This hike was life-changing and one I know I'll be talking (and bragging) about for the rest of my life!


We knew we'd been running on empty for our second day in the park. We took the shuttle to El Capitan. Here we were able to look through telescopes to see free climbers on the side of the epic mountain. We also hiked 3 miles on Valley Floor Trail to see the rock formation known as Three Brothers (shown below)


Three Brothers



Day 4: Kings Canyon National Park


Drive time from Yosemite: ~4 hours

First hike: General Grant Grove

Length: 0.5 mile loop / 29 ft elevation change

Difficulty level: Easy

Time it took us: 1 hour



I was worried that Kings Canyon and Sequoia would be more on the slow paced, boring side. We were still so incredibly sore from Half Dome, this change of terrain and pace was just what we needed.


General Grant Tree is the 3rd largest tree in the world by girth, 40 feet! It would take around 20 people hand-in-hand to reach around it completely!


Second Hike: Big Stump Loop Trail

Length: 1.8 mile loop / 236 ft elevation gain

Difficulty level: Easy

Time it took us: 1.5 hours

We recommend Grant Grove Restaurant for dinner. It's right inside the park and tasted so good after living off of snack food on the drive here!


Our Campground: Potwisha Campground

We had reservations for all sites prior to this trip

Cost: $22 per night, tent site

Bathroom Situation: Outhouse only- take bath wipes on trips like these!



*This campsite is actually located in Sequoia NP. The two parks are only separated by 10.3 miles. We had to take a very windy road up and down the canyon, which took Colton nearly 30 minutes to drive! Take some Dramamine if you're prone to getting car sick, you'll thank me!




Mid October mornings were crisp here in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks (usually around the mid 50s). Pictured is Colton, bundled up, after cooking us breakfast of scrambled eggs, peach fruit cups, and hot chocolate. The campervans all have a gas stove and pump sink.









Day 5: Sequoia National Park


First hike: General Sherman Tree Trail

Length: 0.8 mile out & back / 154 ft elevation change

Difficulty level: Easy

Time it took us: ~45 minutes

General Sherman is the biggest tree in the world by volume. With a circumference of 103 feet and a height of 275 feet, we were told looking up at the top is comparable to a mouse looking up at a 6 foot human!


Second hike: Moro Rock Full Trail

Length: 3.6 miles out & back / 600 feet elevation change

Difficulty level: Easy

Time it took us: ~1.5 hours

This hike takes you through the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, where giant Sequoias are around every corner before walking you to the trailhead of Moro Rock itself!


Third Hike: Moro Rock Trail

Length: 0.4 miles out & back / 187 feet elevation change

Difficulty level: Moderate

Time it took us: ~45 minutes


​​

We climbed 352 steps to the top of the rock, which sits at 6,725 feet! It offers a phenomenal view looking over the Sierra Nevada and the windy road we drove to get us to the park!



There is a parking lot with bathrooms available, if you wanted to drive directly to Moro Rock for the 0.4 mile hike only. That was our original plan, but we didn't know about the parking lot. I wouldn't change it, though, the full trail was beautiful.







Day 6 & 7: Joshua Tree National Park



Drive from Sequoia: ~5 hours 45 minutes

First hike: Lost Palms Oasis Trail

Length: 7.2 miles out & back / 1,026 feet elevation change

Difficulty level: Moderate

Time it took us: ~5 hours

Since we went in October, hot weather wasn't an issue. This trail has no shade and very exposed to the weather. If going in hotter months, water is essential!

The oasis was exactly that- a grouping of giant palm trees in the middle of no where, it made for a great stop for lunch!





Connected to the Lost Palms trail was a sign for Mastodon Peak, which added an extra 1.5 miles onto our hike




If hiking Mastodon Peak ONLY:

Length: 2.4 miles loop / 367 feet elevation change

Difficulty level: Easy




Our Campground: Jumbo Rocks Campground

Cost: $15 per night, tent site

Bathroom Situation: Outhouse only

This campground was so stinkin' cool. Sites are right within rock formations and only a short walk to the famous, Skull Rock. Our last night we even climbed up to get a bird's eye view of the area. It was awesome to hang out up here and watch the sun creep below the rocks.

The past few pictures are taken just walking around our campsite!


Second Hike: Ryan Mountain

Length: 3 miles out & back / 1,069 feet elevation change

Difficulty level: Moderate

Time it took us: ~1.5 hours

*Plant life and Joshua Trees are scattered all throughout this hike. The summit provides a beautiful vantage point of the desert landscape below. It is one of the more popular hikes in the park and we definitely saw why! We highly recommend this hike!


Colton via Ryan Mountain hike



Third Hike: Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail

Length: 0.2 mile loop / 6 feet elevation change

Difficulty level: Easy

Time it took us: ~15 minutes




Cholla Cacti are such a unique species. I truly felt like we had left the park altogether and stepped onto some other planet!


Until next time-thank you for following us through the life-changing trips we've been blessed to go on. I hope sharing our journeys have sparked the wanderlust within your own spirit.

"Travel far enough, you meet yourself" -David Mitchell

22 views