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Redwood/Sequoia/Yosemite national parks, California

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Did You Know … ?

  • Mount Whitney, at 14,497 feet, is America’s tallest mountain outside of Alaska.
  • Ribbon Falls, in Yosemite, is the highest waterfall (1,612 feet) on the continent.
  • The world’s largest living thing is a sequoia, and it is big enough to build 120 average-sized houses.
  • Evidence of redwoods on the California coast dates back 20 million years.
  • A mature giant sequoia adds enough wood yearly to make a 60-foot oak tree with a three-foot diameter.

A trio of parks

Three of America’s most popular national parks — Redwood, Sequoia and Yosemite — are located in central and northern California. They encompass some of the most amazing examples of nature’s grandeur, ranging from the tall redwoods and still larger (but shorter) sequoias in the eponymously named parks, to the waterfalls and granite domes of Yosemite.

These outsized wonders were the reason parks were created, but the parks are important as complete environmental systems where even the smallest plants and animals enjoy a respite from human development. Some of the animals aren’t so small either; they include black bears, mule deer, mountain lions and Roosevelt elk, as well as whales off the coast where the Redwood park abuts the Pacific.

For visitors, there is much to see, whether as a passenger in a car taking a scenic park road or a hiker or rock climber getting a closer look. For all visitors, the National Park Service spells out ground rules for things like when and where one can camp or fish and when permits or licenses are required. The purpose, of course, is to protect visitors from harm while preserving the parks’ integrity for the long term. The parks’ Web sites provide the details.

About the threesome:

  • Redwood National Park is in the northwest corner of California. It was created in 1968 after the loss of nearly 90% of the country’s original 2 million-plus acres of the unique redwoods. It is jointly managed with three adjacent state parks. Birds are among the park’s beneficiaries, too: Offshore islets provide nesting for about 40% of California’s seabirds.
  • Sequoia National Park, in the middle of the state, abuts the Kings Canyon National Park. For tourism purposes, the two are generally treated as if they were one. Their 865,952 acres harbor nearly half the world’s sequoia groves, including the General Sherman, the world’s largest tree by volume (52,500 cubic feet).
  • Yosemite, 761,266 acres of striking landscape east of San Francisco, came early to the park system (1890), helped mightily by author and naturalist John Muir, who taught much about the wisdom of preserving nature for its own sake.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Hike in any of the parks. Camp in the parks as well. Choices for hikes vary by season, and types of camping options and permit requirements vary from park to park.
  • Or, make climbing Mount Whitney your hike of choice. The mountain’s western face is in the Sequoia park. Permits are required in Sequoia to hike in the Mount Whitney area, even for a day hike.
  • Go rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, an outstanding climbing destination. But, the National Park Service, in urging safe practices, is clear that there’s no guarantee everyone who gets into trouble will be rescued. You may work on your skills with Yosemite Mountaineering School guides. Or, head to Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks for climbs of similar quality but with fewer crowds.
  • Do an Ansel Adams and photograph the parks. Imitate his Yosemite shots if you can.
  • Trail rides with horses and pack animals are an option in all the parks.
  • At Redwood National Park, cycle through the forests or along the coast. Unlike many national parks, this one offers some options for backcountry cycling.
    At Yosemite, cycle the 12 miles of paved bike paths. You can use regular roads, too.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Strap on cross-country skis or snowshoes for fun in the snow in Sequoia and Kings Canyon or at Yosemite. Or, try the downhill skiing at the Badger Pass ski area in Yosemite.
  • Obtain a California fishing license and fish in any of Yosemite’s lakes or reservoirs. Or, fish in the park’s stream and rivers depending on the fishing seasons for each.
  • Join a ranger-led program at any of the parks. At Redwood, choices include nature walks and campfire programs at specified campgrounds. Sequoia and Kings Canyon have similar options, plus seasonal ranger-guided snowshoe walks.
  • Unpack the binoculars and spot birds by the dozen in Yosemite, which provides essential habitat for more than 165 species and is a way station for another 100 or so species.
  • Kayak in the rivers or on the ocean that abuts Redwood National Park. Or, kayak on Tenaya Lake in Yosemite.
  • Get married in Yosemite Chapel, the oldest building in Yosemite Valley (1879).

Things to do for Authentics

  • Watch for gray whales at the Redwood National Park, which has a 37-mile Pacific shoreline. Many are migrating seasonally, but a resident population can be seen any month at the Klamath River Overlook.
    Also, look for Roosevelt elk, one of the largest members of the deer family, in the park.
  • In Yosemite Valley, see the one-person theatrical presentation devoted to the story of John Muir and his role obtaining national park status for the area.
  • At Redwood, see dance demonstrations presented by the Tolowa and the Yurok tribes.
  • Overnight at the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. The hotel is a National Historic Landmark. If you are there at the holidays, attend the Bracebridge Dinner, a Christmas pageant staged annually, using a story written by Washington Irving.
  • Picnic in any one of the parks. In addition, you may swim in most bodies of water in Yosemite or raft on the Merced River.
  • Choose a scenic route for a leisurely drive through any of the parks. If in Sequoia, also drive through a fallen sequoia log in the park’s Giant Forest. Alternatively, in Yosemite, you may choose from a number of half-day or full-day motorcoach tours.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit California at