— Fresno: 7-Day Sequoia, San Simeon, & Monterey Loop —

Big Sur's beaches are so romantic

Big Sur's beaches are so romantic—even Tim may have held my hand!

Big Sur

Big Sur has some of the most picturesque coastline

Monterey Bay Aquarium jellyfish

Monterey Bay Aquarium jellyfish

You'll be dwarfed by the majestic sequoias

You'll be dwarfed by the majestic sequoias

Clouds below Sequoia

The road from Three Rivers to Sequoia National Park is breathtaking the day after a winter storm

Tim in the Tunnel Log

Snowshoe through Tunnel Log

Drive up to Sequoia

The drive up to Sequoia National Park from Three Rivers has some incredible overlooks

Three Rivers view

The lower elevations in Sequoia National Park typically don't have any snow

Hearst Castle indoor pool

The extravagant Hearst Castle indoor pool

Creepy carvings at Hearst Castle

Creepy sculptures at Hearst Castle

Ornate dining room ceiling at Hearst Castle

Even ceilings are over-the-top at Hearst Castle (ha ha!)

Hearst Castle guesthouse

The Hearst Castle guesthouse isn't any less ornate

Elephant seals

Young male elephant seals hang out on the beach near San Simeon in December

Young elephant seals fighting

Young elephant seals fighting—you gotta see it to believe how funny it is

Elephant seals at sunset

Female elephant seals give birth & raise young on a beach rookery just north of San Simeon

Elephant seals fighting closeup

Elephant seals fighting—the longer the snout the older the seal

An adorable young elephant seal

An adorable young elephant seal trying to wiggle up out of the water

Fresno 7-Day Sequoia San Simeon Monterey map

Loop Overview:

650 miles, 7 days, 14 hours driving                                       Best Time to Go: Dec - Mar

Day 1:  Arrive in Fresno, drive to Three Rivers, rent chains, and then head into Sequoia National Park, check out the giant General Sherman sequoia and other sites, then head back to your hotel in Three Rivers.

Day 2: Eat breakfast in town, and then drive back into Sequoia National Park, rent snowshoes at the lodge and take the shuttle to some trails near General Sherman tree or Tunnel Log.  Return snowshoes and head back down the mountain to Three Rivers.

Day 3: Take a 2 hour and 15 minute scenic drive to Paso Robles wine country, sample wineries, shop, eat, and relax.  Maybe see some museums—pioneer, air, or auto.

Day 4: Drive to San Simeon on the California coast, visit Hearst Castle, see elephant seals on the beach near Piedras Blancas, drive back to San Simeon for the night.

Day 5: See elephant seals one last time, walk among redwood trees, look for sand dollars on the beach, eat lunch on the coast, drive through Big Sur, and go for a hike. Spend the night in Monterey and hit Cannery Row for dinner.

Day 6: Go the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, rent some kayaks, take a whale watching tour, or go for a 2-hour sailing tour.  Then make the 2-1/2 hour drive back to Fresno.

Day 7: Spend whatever time you have before your flight exploring Fresno, then fly back home.

— Trip Details by Day —

Day 1:

Head to the village of Three Rivers, California from Fresno.  Once you get to Three Rivers, find somewhere to rent some chains for your rental car.  Make sure you're 100% certain if the car is front- or rear-wheel drive before you put chains on it.  We've seen too many people have difficulty driving up into Sequoia National Park even though they have chains because they have them on the wrong tires—put them on the 2 wheels that have power!  And please don't get snippy with people like us that try to help by pointing out your mistake.  A driver of an expensive Mercedes argued with us about it. I guess it's not common knowledge even among owners that many high-end luxury cars are rear-wheel drive.     

 

The Park Service has a chain-up area in a parking lot near the south entrance.  Stop here and put on your chains if the Park Service says it's required. Then stop along the way as many times as you can as you drive up into Sequoia National Park.  There are some great overlooks and things to see.  Once you make it up into the park be sure to visit General Sherman area and any other areas accessible in the winter like the Wolverton Meadow snow play area. Parking is severely limited in the winter, so we recommend parking at Wolverton Meadow and just taking the shuttle around so you don't have to deal with the total mayhem of Californians trying to circle around parking lots looking for spaces and causing traffic jams.  We were once stuck in a traffic lot parking jam in Sequoia for about 45 minutes, so learn from our mistake.

 

Lodging: Stay in the town of Three Rivers, California just outside the park and away from the snow.
Camping: There's a nice, civilized campground within Sequoia National Park near the south entrance called Potwisha Campground.  It usually doesn't get much (if any) snow in the winter, so it's open year round.  However, just know if it's snowing high up where the sequoias grow, it'll probably be raining at the campground.  You shouldn't have to reserve a site in the winter, but you do any other time of the year. There are always some first come first serve sites regardless.
Food: There's some food available in the town of Three Rivers and on the way to Sequoia National Park.

Day 2:

Eat breakfast in town, and then drive back into Sequoia National Park.  Rent snowshoes or cross country skis at the store/lodge.  Then go to Wolverton Meadow to take the shuttle to some trails near either the General Sherman tree  We really enjoyed the Congress Trail. We sort of made it into a loop (go figure!) with a couple other trails to maximize the number of sequoia groves we'd pass by.

Or, if you'd rather and have the extra energy you can take the shuttle a little farther down the road and hike into the Tunnel Log and Moro Rock.  Just be super careful—people have slipped and died at Moro Rock before.  These trails don't go by nearly as many sequoias.

When you're thoroughly exhausted, just return your snowshoes or skis and head back down the mountain to Three Rivers and return your chains.

Lodging: Spend  a second night at the same place in Three Rivers you stayed the previous night.

 

Camping: Spend a second night at the low-elevation Potwisha Campground near the south entrance to the park.

 

Food: For lunch you need to either pack a lunch or you'll have to eat something from the store/lodge within Sequoia National Park. For dinner, try a different one of local restaurants in the San Simeon area.

Day 3:

Get up early and have breakfast in Visalia or one of the surrounding towns.  Then head southwest on a scenic drive through California's gorgeous grassy and mountainous countryside to Paso Robles.  If you haven't heard of it, Paso Robles is a beautiful hillside town known for its wineries, olive groves, hot springs, and almond orchards.  So relax, drink some wine, shop, & eat your fill.  (This is one of the laziest days you'll ever find on any of our trips, so take full advantage!)

 

Also, Paso (as the locals call it), is home to the Estrella Warbird Air Museum, a Pioneer Museum, and the Woodland Auto Display.  So take a stroll through one of these museums as you try to sober up between wineries.

 

Lodging:  There are lots of lodging options in Paso Robles.

 

Camping: There's no camping that we know of really close to Paso Robles.  However, there is some on the coast near Morro Bay or in Cambria.  The campgrounds around Morro Bay have one big thing going for them in our book—bioluminescent plankton—under the right conditions it can cause glowing blue waves!  If you're lucky enough to see this, send us some pics.  We haven't gotten to see it in person yet.

Food:  There are lots of options in Paso Robles.

Day 4:

Head to the town of San Simeon along the California coast and take a tour of Hearst Castle. This was the enormous, extravagant home of the Hearst Publishing family until they went bankrupt. It gets decorated beautifully for Christmas each year.

 

Just north of Hearst Castle on Route 1 is an observation deck overlooking an elephant seal rookery near Piedras Blancas.  Stop and watch their funny, wiggly, jiggly movements and listen to the hilarious sounds coming out of them. They're enthralling.  We could watch them for days.  They wiggle across the sand and chest bump each other.  Somehow the chest bumping is fighting—it's just the most ineffective fighting of any species.  Late January is peak season for elephant seals at the rookery—you may even get to see an elephant seal being born. To get more information about the wonderful elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, click here.

 

Keep an eye out for zebras (Yes, really!) on the left side of the road as you head back to San Simeon for dinner and the night.  Hearst Castle used to have a zoo of sorts.  Most of the animals are gone, but they do still have zebras roaming the fields below along the road.

 

Lodging:  Stay in San Simeon.  The hotels aren't great, but beggars can't be choosers.

Camping:There's camping at Hearst San Simeon State Park.  Make reservations in advance.

 

Food: There are a few decent restaurants around Three Rivers and on the way to Sequoia National Park.

Day 5:

Stop in and see the elephant seals one more time as you drive north on Route 1.  Once is never enough of the hilariousness, plus they're more active in the mornings.

Then continue north to see the Southern Redwood Botanical Area.  This is the farthest south Redwoods can be found in California.  Take a walk through these majestic trees and be amazed.  Redwoods are remotely related to sequoias, but live in very different climates.  While sequoias only grow at high elevations, redwoods only grow on the coast because they need the humidity and mist coming off the ocean.

You can also stop at the Alder Creek Botanical Area or Sand Dollar Beach (one of the few worthy surf spots in Big Sur) before getting lunch around Lucia.  Keep heading north on Route 1 and stop at any of the amazingly beautiful spots you see along the way and go for a hike at one of the many trailheads.

Drive to Monterey and have dinner on the infamous Cannery Row.

Lodging: Monterey and the surrounding area have tons of hotels.

Camping: There are several state parks with campgrounds south of Monterey.  There just isn't anything near Monterey except for RV parks.

Food: Monterey has tons of good restaurants.  We recommend getting seafood!

Day 6:

Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium—don't worry it's not very large so you'll also have some time to schedule an adventure like a whale watching trip, renting some sea kayaks, renting stand-up paddle boards (SUPs), scuba diving, or going on a 2-hour sailing tour.  Just check the internet for guide services and/or rental shops.

 

Once you're sufficiently worn out by this crazy week, make the 2-1/2 hour drive back to Fresno.

 

Lodging: Stay near the airport if you're flying out early, otherwise stay close to whatever site you want to explore in the morning.

 

Camping: Millerton Lake State Recreation Area isn't far from Fresno if you really don't want to stay in a hotel.  From our experience though, it's best to have a shower before you get on a plane.

 

Food: Monterey has lots of restaurant choices.  Just check Yelp for the best ones.

Day 7:

Spend whatever time you have available this morning exploring Fresno.  It has several museums and a zoo.  Unfortunately, the most incredible place in all of Fresno is closed December through February—Forestiere Underground Gardens.  It's not to be missed if it's open while you're in town!

 

Lodging: N/A since going home today
Camping: N/A since going home today
Food: Eat a good breakfast because overpriced airport food might be all you get for the rest of today.

Heather's Trip Tips:

1) Large RV's are NOT allowed in Sequoia National Park.  The one and only road into the park in winter is VERY winding, narrow due to the snow piles, and has some steep drop offs.  The Park Service will turn you around at the gate. 

2) Chains will usually be required in Sequoia during the winter. You can rent them at the towns outside the park. Snowshoes and skis will be available for rent at one stores or lodges up top.

3) You can typically go snowshoeing in Sequoia through March.  The Park Service does a great job keeping the roads in good condition, so head on up the morning after a 20 inch snow storm—you'll have the park and trails to yourself.

4) Different elephant seals are on the beach at different times of the year. Late January or early February is one of the peak times of year for adults and babies.  If you're really lucky you'll get to see a 5000 pound male or a baby being born.

Tim Says:

 

 

 

Snowshoeing in Sequoia is amazing—but, hearing elephants seals fart and belch is even more amazing!

— Recommended Trip Variations —

Add Pinnacles National Park

Extend the trip by a day or two so you can go to Pinnacles National Park. It's one of the newest National Parks—created in 2013! It's not a terribly large park, but it's gorgeous and is home to the largest group of California condors left in the country.  We highly recommend you take the time while there to hike the High Peaks Trail.  It's stunning and the easiest way to see some of the condors.  They typically hang out in tree tops or are circling overhead near the high point of the trail.

 

California condors are basically hideously ugly giant vultures—they can have a wingspan of up to 10 feet.  For those of you too young to remember the hype back in the 80's, the California Condor almost went extinct due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction.  So, in 1987 the government caught all remaining wild California Condors (27 in all), and started successfully breeding them in captivity.  In 1991, they started releasing some back into the wild, but California condors still remain one of the rarest birds in the world—there are only 463 in all today.

 

Camping at Pinnacles National Park is a delight.  It's like being in a Disney movie—our campsite was visited by bunnies, California quail, California thrashers, Stellar's jays, and so much more.

Add Yosemite National Park

You can easily add a drive into the iconic Yosemite Valley from Fresno—it's only about 75 miles away (one-way).  I'm not gonna lie though—Yosemite National Park is one of our least favorite places.  It's beautiful, no doubt about it, but most days going to the Yosemite valley is like going to the mall on Christmas Eve—too many damn people.

 

If you felt you just had to go though, winter is one of the better times—actually, all the way up to mid-May is less crowded.  We wouldn't be caught dead in the Park on Memorial Day weekend or later though.  Unless rock climbing—well, probably not even then.