Why I Hate Yosemite National Park

I hate to be a hater, but nobody should visit Yosemite in the summer. I don’t care if that’s your only free weekend, if the President is going to be there, or you got in for free. Visiting Yosemite in the summer is a recipe for frustration. It’s just not worth the hassle.

I say this from experience. We visited Yosemite because it was a stop on the National Park toPark Highway, but it was by far my least favorite park.

The crowds were the worst. Perhaps it would’ve been different in another year. This is the National Park Service centennial, so naturally more people have been visiting the National Parks. In addition to that, one of Yosemite’s main attractions – the Mariposa Grove of Sequioas – was closed this summer for renovations. Had that been open, maybe the crowds of people on the trails, in the parking lots, in the campgrounds, at every lake, turn out and road would’ve been a bit smaller, but I doubt it.

I get it, Yosemite Valley is beautiful. The sheer cliffs and exquisite waterfalls are breath taking. But with so many people crammed into the relatively small space of Yosemite Valley the prevailing feeling was one of claustrophobic encroachment, not peaceful wilderness. Call me jaded, but I don’t like my National Parks to feel like city streets.

I wonder what John Muir would think of this wild space now. On one hand it is protected from people who want to exploit the natural resources, but on the other it’s been ruined by the huge numbers of people. I know, I contributed to that crowd. I know, everyone has a right to our public lands. I don’t have great answers, but I do think the shuttle should be mandatory and a parking area should be available at the entrance of Yosemite Valley.

The one redeeming activity we enjoyed in Yosemite was riding our Woom Bikes along the well developed bike trail system on the Yosemite Valley floor. On a bike you can visit Mirror Lake, ride over to Yosemite Falls, travel between campgrounds or visit a Visitors Center without having to fight traffic or tour buses. The trails are flat, paved and offer great views of the valley. I just wish there was a little more solitude. No, actually a lot more solitude.

At every National Park on this Park to Park Highway journey, I’ve tried to get out on bikes with the kids. Little G first learned the art of pedaling at the Grand Canyon. Now that I’ve had a taste of my whole family on wheels, I want more and more. 

The key to our success with biking as a family has been our Burley D’Lite Bike Trailer and Woom Bikes (pronounced Voom). Baby L rides in the trailer along with extra bike tires, a pump, snacks, water and often times Little G as well. Since the Burley D’Lite can handle up to 100 lbs and has adjustable suspension I don’t worry about how the ride is for them, I just worry about how much it’ll work my thighs. No uphill please!

Ideally Little G would ride her Woom bike along with Big E. Woom designs their bikes with kids in mind, even down to eighteen month olds on their tiny balance bike. Their bikes are light weight, easy to handle and durable.

Big E is already a pro, and even though Little G gave up on the Yosemite bike ride before it really began, I know she’ll get the hang of riding her Woom 3. The bike seems perfectly made for her. Others must feel that way too, because a family we passed cheered when they saw our bikes saying, “We love our Woom bikes too! Woohoo!”

After the valley bike ride, I was ready to get away from the crowds and explore Tioga Pass. The Tioga Pass road was purchased a century ago by Steven Mather, the first National Park Service director and one of the advocates of the National Park to Park Highway. Because of that I was interested in driving through the northern part of the park. I also hoped the crowds would dissipate further from the valley. Not a chance.

Unfortunately we got stuck in traffic. A car accident held up a long line of cars for more than an hour. Even after that, any parking along the Tioga Road was taken, including near Tenaya Lake, which looked like a fun place to swim, but not worth the hassle of fighting the crowds.

Our trip to Yosemite included being stuck for an hour on the road to Tuolumne meadows because of a car accident, and another hour of trying to find a place to park in Yosemite Valley. Once we did find a spot, we rode our bikes along with a million other people to Mirror Lake, which was more of a wide spot in the river than an actual lake.

All in all I was glad to get out of the park and to the peaceful campground at Devil’s Postpile National Monument. Although the bike ride was fun, if we ever visit Yosemite again it will be in the spring, fall or winter. I’m done fighting crowds to see beautiful spaces, there are more beautiful spaces in the world with less people.

Don’t Miss Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are close neighbors and always have been, but of the two parks I think Sequoia gets all the glory. It’s like Kings Canyon is Sequoia’s less popular cousin that mom insisted Sequoia bring along to the party to be nice. 

Sure, Kings Canyon doesn’t have THE largest tree, only ONE OF THE largest trees in the world. Okay, it doesn’t have the steep waterfalls of Yosemite Valley, but Roaring River Falls is an easily accessible, pristine alpine waterfall. Don’t discount the wallflower park just because its neighbor is more popular. Kings Canyon has lots of great scenery, hikes and adventures to offer. Don’t miss it.

At the time of the original National Park to Park Highway, Kings Canyon National Park was known as General Grant National Park and it mostly centered around the General Grant Grove of giant sequoia trees. But like many National Parks, beautiful places are nearby other beautiful places and when they expanded the park in 1940, they combined the General Grant Grove with nearby Kings Canyon to create Kings Canyon National Park.

The Cedar Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park is a one hour drive north of the General Grant Grove. That one hour of driving along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway was one of the prettiest parts of the trip so far, even with the aftermath of last year’s forest fire. The tall cliffs of orange and gray shone in the setting sunlight while the Kings River rushed below, tempting us with its promise of fun swimming spots.

Traffic was nonexistent and the views were gorgeous. As we drove to this secluded area I thought, Why isn’t this as popular as Yosemite? The cliffs and mountains were just as beautiful. The clear blue river dances over granite boulders and the area is a jumping off spot for all kinds of back country adventures.

I’m telling you, don’t miss Kings Canyon National Park. Not only can you hike to the General Grant giant Sequioa (which is prettier than General Sherman, although not quite as large) you can also camp in the Cedar Grove area, swim below Roaring River Falls, hike the Zumault Meadow or drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

We loved jumping in the pool of clear blue water below Roaring River Falls. The large rocks made great spaces for sunbathing while the water felt clean and cold as we dove in. Mountain Dad rode the rapids. I swam with Big E. The girls tossed rocks and climbed. We all had a blast.

So here’s my one piece of advice for you. Don’t make the mistake that so many others do and skip over Kings Canyon National Park. It’s a beautiful place well worth a visit on its own.

Kings Canyon National Park Photo Journal

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Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are so close together that they are operated as one unit. That may be great for administration reasons, but I think it gives Kings Canyon the shaft. In 1920, Kings Canyon was known as General Grant National Park and it was much smaller, primarily to protect the General Grant Sequoia Grove. Now that the park has grown in size, I hope it grows in reknown as well. 
Kings Canyon
There’s so much beauty in Kings Canyon National Park, I wish it got more of the glory. With cliffs as impressive as Yosemite and giant Sequoia trees, Kings Canyon National Park is worth a visit on its own, not just as an afterthought to Sequoia.
I loved exploring Roaring River Falls and seeing the General Grant giant sequoia grove. The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway was one of the most scenic sections of road on our entire National Park to Park Highway tour so far. Kings Canyon National Park is beautiful and well worth exploring on its own. Here are some of our favorite photos from our tour, I hope you enjoy! 

Little G explores a sequoia log tunnel.

Mountain Dad and Big E
Roaring River Falls
Her hair makes me think of a woodland troll.
Clear water, gorgeous setting – you know we jumped in!
Beat the summer heat.
Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
Giant Sequoia Grove
Giant Sequioa with burn scar.
Giant Sequioa
He’s a study stud.
Trees so tall you have to shoot in panorama mode.

Sequoia National Park Then and Now

In 1920, the National Park to Park Highway inaugural tour visited Sequoia National Park to see the largest trees in the world. Their tour brought them through Visalia in late October and unfortunately was cut short due to an unexpected snow storm. Still, their experience at Sequoia National Park has some similarities to what we experienced at this historic place.

National Park to Park Highway tour on Auto Log, 1920
Logging
Giant sequoia trees take thousands of years to grow. I have little doubt that if early national park advocates hadn’t acted to save the giant sequoia trees they would’ve been cut down and used for boring things like houses and firewood. Thanks to the foresight of previous generations, I get to see these beautiful wonders. 

More than in any other National Park, I felt a gratitude to people who came before me. I’m proud that at some point in our American history we made the good decision to protect these amazing natural wonders. Being in the giant forest reminded me that humans are just a small part of the natural world, even though our impact can be massive.

Auto Log
Why is driving through/on a tree so fun? In the 1920 National Park to Park Highway tour, the drivers parked on Auto Log for the iconic photo seen above. The massive Sequoia Log doesn’t allow cars on it anymore thanks to a car partially falling through on a rotten spot in the 1930s, but I still stopped to check it out. We loved Tunnel Log, the only tree you can drive through in Sequoia National Park. The Ultimate Adventure Vehiclebarely fit – the life jackets scraped through on the top.

Crystal Cave
The 1920 National Park to Park Highwaytour had planned a trip to Crystal Cave but was forced to change plans when an early snowstorm rolled in. We got to visit this unique subterranean space and really enjoyed it. The formations are truly impressive, some still shiny with the crystals that gave the cave its name. Some parts of the tour had tight spaces (nothing like at Mesa Verde) so baby carriers weren’t allowed, but Baby L did great in my arms.

Swimming

Our favorite part of Sequoia National Park was swimming in Crystal Creek. I doubt the 1920s National Park to Park Highway group even considered this as an option since they visited in October. For us it was the highlight of the trip, even though it was a bushwhacked scramble to get there. The natural water slide empties into a clear cold pool. The creek flows over granite, tall trees grow all around and in the summer it’s a beautiful place to play.

Roughing it

Another similarity between the 1920s National Park to Park Highway tour and our stay at Sequoia National Park was the accommodations. The drivers on the inaugural trip mostly stayed in hotels and stopped in towns along the route, but here in Sequoia, the lodge was closed for the season so superintendent John R White gathered mattresses and blankets for the party to sleep on the floor. Our whole trip we’ve been sleeping on camp mats, so I can definitely relate.
General Sherman
Of course we hiked the General Sherman Trail to see the largest tree in the world. That’s the main attraction at Sequoia, and it’s definitely not to be missed. The General Sherman trail connects to several other hiking trails in the area. I was worried about crowds around the General Sherman tree, but the trails nearby circle other great trees so it seemed like the crowds were able to meander without becoming too thick. I loved that we each got to experience the peaceful forest together.

Me walking on Auto Log
Can You Feel It?
Visiting Sequoia National Park meant feeling awed walking under the largest trees in the world. Looking up takes on a new meaning when the trees seem to go on forever. Sequoia National Park was a special place back when the 1920 National Park to Park Highway tour visited and it’s a special place today. I’m glad I got a chance to experience it with my entire Mountain Family. People coming together for a cause can do great things.