Pinecrest Lake, Tuolumne County

Our adventure began at Pinecrest Lake in Tuolumne County. After a delicious lunch at Mia’s restaurant nearby, we parked our car and stepped off excitedly for our first hike of the trip. The loop trail around the lake is about five miles with a very small amount of elevation change, and you can extend the journey by taking a side trail up to a spot called Cleo’s Baths. The weather forecast called for rain, so we opted to stay near the water, but nonetheless, it was a fun hike in a beautiful area. We returned to the car hungry, and we couldn’t wait to change into clean clothes and head out for dinner!

Pinecrest Lake in Tuolumne County

Downtown Twain Harte, Tuolumne County

We checked into our B&B a short time after we left Pinecrest Lake, our hosts at the McCaffrey House–Stephanie, Michael, and their Golden Retriever named Oliver–were incredibly welcoming. After a quick shower, we were back in the car and on our way to dinner in a charming town called Twain Harte. The Rock of Twain Harte came highly recommended by our hosts, and when we sat down to eat, we could see why. Everything we ordered was huge and the atmosphere was carefree. We left happy after arriving hungry.

McCaffrey House

Rim of The World, Tuolumne County

We found ourselves back on the road again early in the morning, heading south towards Yosemite National Park. I’m a huge fan of Yosemite, and I could not wait to get back after a long hiatus. Our first stop along the way was a coffee house and art gallery called Mountain Sage. We spent a few minutes checking out the gorgeous photos from the Yosemite Valley that hung on the walls in the gallery before I got a cup of cold brew for myself and a few teabags for the road. We wanted to make another pit stop at the Rim of the World overlook as the sun came up, and we made it there not long after to boil some water and enjoy our green tea. Next, we arrived at the trailhead for Carlon Falls, a 3-mile out-and-back that leads to a pretty waterfall at the edge of the Yosemite Wilderness. The trail is mostly flat until the end when you ascend about 200 feet to the falls. We were lucky enough to have the entire trail to ourselves and we spent about an hour at the waterfall snapping photos and enjoying the beauty.

Carlon Falls High Sierra

Taft Point to Sentinel Dome, Yosemite

I’ve been coming to Yosemite for years, but for some reason, I have never been to Taft Point for sunset. I could barely contain my excitement because I knew it was finally happening. We entered the park through Big Oak Flat and headed up to Glacier Point Road after a quick loop around the valley and a much-needed snack at the Basecamp Eatery.

An hour or so later, we found ourselves stepping off on the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trail for the second hike of the day, a 5 mile loop to a couple of the best viewpoints in the park. The walk up Sentinel Dome wasn’t as bad as it looked, and we were rewarded with an incredible view of the Yosemite Valley. Half Dome stood tall to the North and Yosemite Falls hung gracefully in the distance to the west. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. It was such a distracting sight that we lost track of time for a while and found ourselves trying to make up for it on the next leg of the hike out to Taft Point.

Sentinel Dome Yosemite High Sierra

Those 3 miles came and went, and then we found ourselves emerging from the woods at the Taft Point Fissures just in time for sunset. There were a few groups of people around; a wedding party and a few small bunches of hikers, but everyone was too busy watching the setting sun to notice each other. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

Mariposa Grove, Yosemite

I was so excited over the Taft Point hike that I had a hard time sleeping that night. I was up so late fiddling with photos that I barely noticed the time flying by while Heather rested. The next morning, we grabbed coffee and breakfast burritos at a place called Pony Expresso in Mariposa before hitting the trail and the road once again.

Then, we stretched out and took a walk at the nearby Stockton Creek Preserve before heading south once again towards Oakhurst. We stopped for lunch at the South Gate Brew Co and we were blown away by how good everything was. We knew we’d be riding bikes up a mountain a short time later and we didn’t want to pig out, but we ordered the crab dip and it was so good that we needed more. We ended up getting the shrimp tacos, which were also excellent, as was the beer they made on site.

South Gate Brewing Co Tacos

Our next stop was at nearby Pedal Forward Bikes and Adventure where we met with the owner, Mike. We got to talking, and it turned out that Mike was a former executive who found himself displaced by the pandemic like so many others. He decided to move to the mountains and reinvent himself, opening his bike shop and establishing himself as a trusted voice in the local community. He was extremely helpful and we left Pedal Forward with a couple of top-of-the-line Niner bikes and a new friend.

Pedal Forward Bikes Mariposa Grove

After a short drive, we were back in Yosemite once again, this time arriving through the south gate. We pulled our bikes off the rack we’d rented from Pedal Forward and started up the access road to Mariposa Grove. It was a short ride–only two miles–but it took a lot out of us! The altitude was something we still weren’t used to. Still, we made it to the Grizzly Giant Trailhead not long after and started a walk through beautiful Mariposa Grove.

Bass Lake, Madera County

On the way out of Yosemite, we talked a bit about the reservation system that would be implemented the following week, from May 21st all the way until September 30th. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, guests must first purchase day-use tickets from the website in order to gain access to the park. The passes are good for 3 days and allow reentry into the park if guests find the need to leave.

You can also gain access to the park if you have a reservation at a campground, private residence or hotel within the boundaries of the park, so a day-use reservation isn’t the only means to get in.

Can’t get a reservation? You can also come in the fall! The ticketed-entry system is only temporary, so the autumn months will see a more accessible park for those that couldn’t make it in the summer.

We stayed that night at a cozy lakeside cabin at the Pines Resort at Bass Lake. After another long drive and a few long days of hiking, we both finally got some sleep. That morning, we took our time waking up and made our way to a tasty breakfast at Ducey’s restaurant on the lake. It was the first time we’d eaten indoors in over a year! We really enjoyed getting reacquainted with what used to be so ordinary. After breakfast, it was time for a relaxing paddle on the lake. We headed down to the boathouse to pick up a tandem kayak, and spent the next two hours floating around carelessly on the turquoise water of Bass Lake, looking for nesting Bald Eagles.

Kayaking at Bass Lake, Madera County

Kings Canyon National Park, Visalia County

After we returned our Kayaks, we once again headed south. Our next stop would be in King’s Canyon National Park, and we were extremely excited to see the big open space and the giant Sequoia trees once again.

After a long while, we passed through the gate and headed down to stop at the General Grant Grove. It had been a while since the last time I looked up in awe at the massive, red-barked trees there, and the feeling of “humanity is so small” never fades when you look at them.

Kings Canyon National Park

Next, we drove down the highway into the canyon proper to stop at Grizzly Falls and Roaring Creek Falls for some photos. The snowmelt had grown the river into a bright blue torrent and yellow wildflowers speckled the hillsides as we descended. It took about an hour to reach the falls and another to hike around and snap the photos we wanted, so we decided that the best course of action was to get back up to higher ground and hike the short Buena Vista trail to catch sunset.

About two hours and a few miles later, we were cresting the top of the trail through the large pine trees as we once again looked into the golden sunlight at the end of the day. There were so many layers of Sequoia-covered landscape unfolding in front of us that we couldn’t believe what we were seeing and we stopped for a while to take in the beauty. The view of the Sierra Mountains in the distance was unobstructed and the reddish alpenglow accompanied us on the way back down to the car.

Sequoia National Park, Visalia County

We arrived at our hotel in Visalia late that night and got into bed almost immediately. It had been another long and exciting day and we knew we had another ahead of us. When we woke up the next morning, Heather slept in while I went and grabbed breakfast at the Component Coffee Lab a block away from the hotel. The coffee was excellent but the breakfast burrito was even better. I took a walk around the area to have a look at some of the colorful murals painted on the buildings in town. I also came across a small sequoia tree that was planted in the 1930s by a local man outside the post office. The more I walked, the more I fell in love with the town! I couldn’t wait to wake Heather up and show her around.

We packed up our things and moved them all back to the car, then went for a drive around the area. For lunch, we stopped at a popular gastropub called Pita Kebab, the baklava was the best we’d had in a long time. Continuing around town, we also stopped at the Brewbakers Brewing Company for a quick drink. The bar is set up in a 100-year-old building that archeologists believe used to be visited by ancient locals who were also there looking for a good time.

We had one last place to explore: Sequoia National Park. We got on the road right in the center of town and drove directly there, taking the General’s Highway all the way to the top. Our first stop was at the world’s largest tree, General Sherman. Nearly 40 feet in diameter and 275 feet tall, it dwarfs everything else in the forest.

Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park

Our next stop took us a few miles down the road to the High Sierra Trail, our objective was Eagle’s View. It’s a short out and back that offers a great view of the western divide. Next, we headed in the opposite direction down the road, drove through the tunnel log, and found ourselves at the base of Moro Rock for sunset. We walked up a set of stairs that were carved into the granite rock and witnessed the third idyllic sunset in a row. We had a hard time deciding which view was our favorite and we barely scratched the surface. Driving back down the General’s Highway, we headed back home in the dark, excited to look back at the photos we took and tell the story of our adventure.

Author: Jackie Calvert

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