CALIFORNIA, SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK WITH KIDS – If you want to show your kids some seriously big trees this year, pack your bags and make way for Sequoia National Park in southern California. Sequoia is not simply home to some of the largest living organisms on earth; it’s also home to “the world’s largest tree” based on volume.
Yet Sequoia has more to offer than just spectacular trees. Here are my top 4 recommended activities to get the most from your visit to Sequoia National Park with kids, along with recommendations for 1 great place to stay and 1 great place to eat while you are there.
Activity 1: Tour Crystal Cave
It’s a bit off the beaten track and missed by many visitors to Sequoia National Park, but I encourage anyone who is physically able to take the guided tour of Crystal Cave. With its polished marble underground streams and cream puff stalagmites, it’s a fascinating world to explore beneath Sequoia National Park.
You must buy tickets and sign up for your tour in advance, and the process of getting to the cave and getting in is surprisingly complicated but worth it, so be sure to read this post first on Important Tips for Visiting Crystal Cave. You can buy your tickets and reserve your tour time at Recreation.gov’s Crystal Cave tours page. Once you have your tour time set, you can plan the rest of your activities around it.
Activity 2: Enlist in the Junior Ranger program
As in many National Parks, Sequoia offers a Junior Ranger Program where kids completing certain tasks during their visit to the park can earn a badge and the distinction of being a young protector of the park. For us, it involved visiting a minimum number of sites from a list, picking up some litter we found in the park, completing a few activities in the guide, and attending a ranger talk at the Visitor Center–which we all enjoyed more than expected and admit we wouldn’t have done if the kids hadn’t wanted to earn their Junior Ranger badges.
With these tasks accomplished, the kids had to answer a few on-the-spot questions from a park ranger to demonstrate their knowledge of the place before getting sworn-in and receiving their badges. Ask for details and your Junior Ranger Guide at the Lodgepole Visitor Center, or read more here on the Visit Sequoia website.
Activity 3: Visit the Giant Forest and say hello to the General Sherman Tree
This is where you’ll not only get your family’s photo op with the world’s largest tree, but you’ll find great paths meandering through some of Sequoia’s most famous and picturesque groves. It’s all a moderate hike from the parking lot above or shuttle stop below. Although it’s the most trafficked tree trail in the park, you’ll actually make quite a descent and ascent back up again to the parking area, and many people are caught off guard by the effects of the altitude.
Bring your camera, bring water, go slowly, and enjoy the trees.
Activity 4: Hike to the top of Moro Rock
Perhaps one of the most photographed locations in the park, the top of Moro Rock provides panoramic views of California’s Central Valley and the Western Divide. The hike up is actually short but very steep. Cement staircases give way to textured slopes at times, though it is do-able with a toddler.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to enjoy a park ranger’s talk at the top, as he points out the treasures hiding in the sweeping expanse around you (check times at the Visitor Center). For tips on Hiking Moro Rock with little kids, be sure to read this post.
1 Great Place for Families to Stay: Wuksachi Lodge
The one and only official lodge of Sequoia National Park is the very comfy and well-appointed Wuksachi Lodge. Situated at 7,200 feet and spread between three buildings and the lodge, your family will have plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife on strolls around the grounds and to the dining room.
Guest rooms range from standard rooms sleeping 4 in beds to superior rooms. The latter of the two can sleep 6 in beds with two in a sitting room, which can be closed off with sliding doors (shown above). Wuksachi Lodge also hosts free family-friendly weekly activities, such as wildlife viewing clinics, flashlight hikes, astronomy talks, and more.
1 Great Place for Families to Eat: The Peaks at Wuksachi Lodge
Yes, there are basic lunch options and a small market by the Lodgepole Visitors Center. But for a “great” dining experience, you’ll want to check out The Peaks restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge. Kids under 12 years have their own menu ($6 – $8), and parents can enjoy a simple Caesar salad or a more sophisticated meal, all while taking in a forest view from the dining room. See the current menus and hours here.
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An earlier version of this article first appeared May 21, 2014.