Define Fettle Travels: Channel Islands, Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
A recap of our travels to 3 National Parks in Southern California including our favorite spots in each park, packing recommendations and more!
Even though I’m legitimately MONTHS behind on getting my Bali Recap Series up & live, I’m bypassing that for the moment in order to bring you a recap of the Schachtners most recent adventure which took us to 3 different National Parks within one long weekend getaway!
Let me back up a minute to fill you in on some key information regarding our travels as well because if you haven’t noticed, I’m slowly (as with everything I do on this site -- ahem I have a full time job or 3) adding information about all of our travels to the interweb so that when y’all ask how we plan it or where we stay or how much it costs… I can have more resources to share than me just trying to jog my poor excuse for a memory for all of the details.
Next up, another key piece of information -- as of this year, Austin & I have officially made it our life goal to travel to every single National Park in the United States! Woot, woot! SO FREAKING STOKED! So far we have just barely scraped the surface but we are already soooo in love -- mother nature is a bad ass little b & it’s amazing that we have dedicated all of these parks across the US (61 to be specific) as protected land in order to preserve the natural beauty of this world and allow people like us to really ground down and fully experience nature! And just in case you’re counting like we are, with the completion of these 3 parks, we are now at 9 of 61 for our US National Park Tour.
Detour over. We’re back en route to the original reason for this post… to share the details of our trip to Channel Islands, Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks.
Our decision for this specific trip was fairly easy because I was already going to be in Southern California for work (remember I got married in Jamaica & then honeymooned in Bali earlier this year so I need to be very strategic with my remaining vacation haha). The original plan was to head out to Joshua Tree, however since the timing of this came at the tail end of July and into early August, we rerouted the trip to a cooler area due to the insane desert heat that comes with the desert that time of year.
Channel Islands National Park (Ventura, CA): On Friday, after I finished up all of my work stuff, Austin met up with me in the Irvine area and we began our drive north to Oxnard, stopping along the way in Santa Monica for dinner at an amazing farm to table restaurant called Rustic Canyon to kick off our vacation. After dinner, we finished our drive and arrived at our Airbnb in Oxnard (didn’t have a great experience otherwise I’d link it for you) and went to bed. Saturday morning we woke up early, repacked our bags and drove a few minutes to Hollywood Beach to link up with Island Packers for our day trip out to Anacapa Island. Tickets are something I’d recommend reserving ahead of time and although they will tell you to check in early, you will have plenty of time to grab coffee and/or breakfast at one of the local shops along the harbor as you wait for your boarding time.
We did a half day trip (which was plenty for the size of the island) but you could also do a full day trip if you’re interested in snorkeling, kayaking or swimming or you can also buy an overnight pass which allows you to camp at the island overnight. The boat ride out to Anacapa Island was about 1 hour and although we didn’t see a whole lot of marine life, whale/dolphin/etc sightings are common. PRO TIP: If you get seasick easily, you’ll want to take something before the ride (ahem austin). Once there, you can either join a park ranger for a guided tour or just explore the island yourself. We opted for the later because the trails on the island are less than one mile in total and we also wanted to beat everyone to the best photography spots too;)
If you travel in early spring (February - April), the native plants on the island will all be in full bloom which would be gorgeous! We traveled mid summer, roughly 8 weeks after the western gulls hatched their young so the island was FULL of gulls and their young. We’re talking thousands and thousands of birds. This was not something I was prepared for and although it was a bit overwhelming at first, it was a really cool experience too.
No matter the time of year, if you’re taking a morning boat, I’d recommend bringing layers of clothing because the boat ride can be a bit chilly but once on the island, you will warm up quick. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, snacks, water and your camera or phone!
Kings Canyon National Park: (Fresno/Tulare Co. CA): After we finished up at Channel Islands, we grabbed a quick lunch, stopped at Whole Foods to stock up for the rest of our trip (during our stay in Three Rivers, we cooked all of our own meals -- LOVE doing this on vacations) & then started our drive to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. This is roughly a 3hr 45min drive, but there was a fire blocking the one & only highway so there was about an extra 1-1.5 hours of traffic -- moral of the story: fires like this are pretty common so I would build in some extra travel time so that you’re not super stressed if something does come up.
We arrived at our Airbnb in Three Rivers (roughly 10 minutes from the 198 entrance to the park) late in the evening so we basically unpacked and called it a night so we could get up early and get going in the morning. Our Airbnb was perfect; Full kitchen, great location comfortable beds and a bit of mid century modern decor that definitely had me swooning. Sunday morning we cooked a big breakfast at the Airbnb, packed our lunches in the car and headed out to explore the parks.
Our first stop was General Grants Grove located in Kings Canyon National Park. This grove is home to many giant sequoias, but the main attraction is General Grant, the 3rd largest tree in the world. As most of you know, photography is a very big part of our travels, so while this loop is roughly a half mile long, we spent some decent time here photographing the first sequoias we’ve both seen and learning as much as we could about these giants living among us.
Once we got back to our car, we headed towards Hume Lake, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you stop at. We honestly did a poor job of researching this and were expecting a secluded lake in the mountains when in reality this lake is a very popular recreational lake with many campgrounds, retreats & summer camps on it. There were a few cool overlooks to stop at along the way so it wasn’t a total wash for us, but nonetheless an unnecessary stop in my opinion.
By this time it was well past lunch so we stopped at one of the visitor centers, popped open the trunk of our SUV and had our own picnic of sandwiches, carrots/hummus, apples & chips.
PRO TIP: Something that we didn’t even think about until arriving in CA was containers to transport meals in while we were away from out Airbnb -- this was KEY to our successful day long trips because otherwise we’d have been stuck eating bars, fruit, jerky and more than likely experiencing a bit of hangriness. We bought a few stainless steel containers that fit sandwiches without smashing them & also used mason jars/reusable silverware for things like our breakfast hash.
After our late lunch, we headed towards the Big Stump Trail. This hike was a short 1.5 mile loop trail but was filled with so many awesome trees. Some fallen (naturally and by loggers back in the day), some dead and still standing, some struck by lightning and many of them are still very much alive, towering over the rest of the forest. The main sight on this hike is the Mark Twain Stump which lies in a gorgeous meadow about a half mile in. This tree took 13 days for 2 loggers to fall back in the early 1900s -- 13 days! The most insane feeling was crawling up onto the top of the stump and seeing/counting all of the growth rings. It is so hard to fathom how old these trees really are. FUN FACT: Sequoias don’t die of old age, they die either from fires, lighting or being blown down in high winds because of their shallow root systems. The hike took us around an hour (but again, we stop for a lot of photos during our hikes) and was rated ‘easy.’ It’s definitely one of the less busy hikes/stops within the park, with some really great sights so for that reason alone I’d recommend it 100%.
To end our first & only day at Kings Canyon, we trekked up to Panoramic Point to watch the sunset. For this trail only being about a half mile in length, completely wheelchair accessible & it being sunset… this trail was empty. Maybe 2 other cars in the parking lot which is unheard of when it’s sunset at a great view in a national park. From Panoramic Point we were able to take in views of Hume Lake, Buck Rock, Kings Canyon & the High Sierras. I’m always a sucker for sunsets/golden hour and this spot did not disappoint even a little bit.
The drive from Panoramic Point back to our Airbnb was roughly an hour and a half so by the time we got back, we ate dinner and tucked ourselves into bed to rest up for day 2!
Sequoia National Park (Tulare Co, CA):
Day 2 aka our Sequoia National Park day started bright & early! We woke up on the 5 o’clock hour, made a breakfast hash & sandwiches for lunch, packed everything in the car and headed out to the Giant Forest. We arrived at the main parking lot for General Sherman (lots of signs to direct you here) around 6:30a and started the half mile trek down to the largest tree in the world. PRO TIP: The earlier you get here, the less people you will have to navigate around while you’re taking in the truly unreal experience. Get your butt up, it’s so worth it to be some of the only people there! The General Sherman tree is over 2100 years old, stands at a height of nearly 275 ft and has a diameter of over 36ft. Although this tree is neither the tallest, oldest, nor widest tree in the world, it has been named the largest tree in the world based on overall volume and is not something to be missed.
General Sherman lies in a gorgeous grove filled with many other sequoias, endless wildlife and a paved path that offers both the .5 mile trek and a handicap accessible option as well. In 2006, the largest branch on General Sherman (length of 98ft and diameter of 6.6ft) broke off and crushed both the fence and pavement that surrounds the tree. There were no immediate witnesses to the fall, however the branch still lies in the exact place it fell today, allowing visitors to climb on top, walk beside and truly grasp the magnitude of this tree.
After we finished at General Sherman, we picnic’d to eat the breakfast hash we packed before heading off to our next stop. We initially were planning to hike to Heather Lake, however it was already fairly late in the morning to start a 8+ mile hike so we opted for a shorter route instead. I If we would have had more time in the park, we absolutely would have done the 11+ mile hike to hit Heather, Emerald & Pear Lakes -- next time!
The alternate option we chose was to head over to the 1.5 mile hike to Eagle View. On the drive over we stopped by the Giant Forest Museum, which I wasn’t initially super stoked about, but it turns out that learning more about the park/these trees was so interesting! FUN FACT: Sequoias are fire resistant and they also need forest fires to thrive. The heat from the fires opens sequoia seed cones and releases hundreds of seeds from each cone. On the forest floor, the fire clears extra debris and other trees so that the seeds have little competition and can easily begin to grow. Without these fires, seed cones do not open and even if they are able to drop some of their seeds, the chance of a sequoia seed growing through a fully covered forest floor is very slim.
After the museum, we stopped by the Parker Group (one of my favorite stops) and Tunnel Log, which are both right along the road. With such convenient accessibility, these are busier areas, but still worth the stop in my opinion. The parking lot for Eagle View wasn’t far up the road from these two scenic stops and although the lot was full at and the hike was on the shorter side, the trail was empty. My guess is that most people stopped only to view Crescent Meadow and skipped the hike all together, which was fine by me. The hike to Eagle View was so peaceful and beautiful, with the best view of the Sierra Nevadas that we saw the entire trip! We turned this into a 3-4 mile out & back because we missed Eagle View on the way up (the sign is tiny) but we didn’t mind. Once we realized we were a bit too far, we decided to eat lunch and literally stepped a few feet off the trail to set up a picnic in a shaded area on the edge of a cliff with the most gorgeous view! After lunch we headed back towards the parking lot, taking in a breathtaking view of Moro Rock and stopping at a few other giant sequoias and Crescent Meadow along the way.
By this time it was mid afternoon and we made the decision to head back to our Airbnb for some R&R. We had seen everything we wanted to outside of places that required lengthy hikes that we just didn’t have time for so we decided to relax at the pad, whip up a homemade dinner and afterwards we headed out to Three Rivers Brewing Co. for a drink and some chill time before our travels back to LAX the next day.
Overall, we both loved this trip. I’ve never been so blown away by trees in my life OR been so interested in learning about the history of the park/the sequoias! As with most National Parks, the opportunity they afford you to be one with nature and be fully present with both yourself & those you’re traveling with is something that just can’t be put into words. Experiences over everything people, experiences over everything.
PACKING LIST FOR SEQUOIA/KINGS CANYON DAY HIKERS
-bug spray/lotion/wipes (linking the ones I use -- NOT natural in any way but it works like a dream)
-snacks: some of my favorites are EPIC bars, RX bars, apples, jerky, trail mix, nut butter, etc.
-reusable water bottle or bladder
-layers of clothing (it’s chilly in the morning but will heat up fast once the sun comes out)
-camera, tripod, phone… whatever vessel you prefer to capture the BEAUTY!
-map of the parks (service can be spotty & if you’re doing any hikes, you will want a map or at least take a photo of one so you have it with you)
If you have questions about anything, I am more than happy to help so please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you and help in any way possible.
Have you ever been to any of these National Parks? If so, which was your favorite & why? If not, are any on your bucket list? No matter where your most recent travels took you, drop the deets in the comments below -- I’m dying to hear about it!
P.S. Head over to my Instagram to follow along with my everyday life and find even more recipes, workouts and motivation!