1. Sequoia National Park
The trip begins in Fresno, where Route 180 east climbs out of the wide-open Central Valley and toward Sequoia National Park, winding through thickets of lodgepole pines and red fir with occasional gaps revealing panoramic vistas of jagged mountain peaks. The cedar and stone Wuksachi Lodge makes a civilized overnight stop and a good base for exploring both the Giant Forest and Crystal Cave’s impressive stalactite formations. A 400-stair climb to the top of dome-shaped Moro Rock pays off with astounding views of the Great Western Divide, and the open clearing of nearby Round Meadow is a known hangout for marmots, black bears, and woodpeckers. As giant trees go—and Sequoia, as its name suggests, has plenty—the 275-foot General Sherman Tree is top dog: a cinnamon-bark beauty that is among the largest and among the oldest living things on Earth.
2. Kings Canyon National Park
Pre-order a box lunch from Wuksachi and start day two with a zigzagging descent east continuing along U.S. Route 180 into the heart of Kings Canyon, Sequoia’s companion park, where towering old-growth sequoias give way to one of the deepest canyons in the United States. Don’t miss the plunging waters of Roaring River Falls or the sheer granite walls of Zumwalt Meadow, best seen from an easy 1.5-mile walking trail. At Roads End, dip your feet in the pebbly shallows of Kings River and pick out a picnic spot on the flat, sheer surface of John Muir Rock.