— Fresno: 5-Day Sequoia, San Simeon, & Paso Robles Loop —

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 the 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 5-Day Sequoia San Simeon trip map

Loop Overview:

600 miles, 5 days, 13.5 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.  Check out some museums—auto, pioneer, and air.

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, and then drive 3-1/2 hours back to Fresno and a late flight 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 all because they have them on the wrong tires—they have to be 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.  The driver of an expensive Mercedes argued with us about it even though the rear wheels were spinning while the chain-covered front ones went nowhere. I guess it's not common knowledge amongst owners that many high-end luxury cars are rear-wheel drive.

 

The Park Service has a parking lot near the south entrance for tire chain-up if 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 the 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 don't normall need reservations in the winter.  (You do other times of year though.)  There are first come first serve sites as well.
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.  You won't be needeing them on the remainder of the trip.

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.  Big Sur proper is only about 25 miles north, but you probably won't have time for that today.

Then head back to Fresno and a late flight home.

Lodging: N/A since going home today

 

Camping: N/A since going home today

 

Food: Breakfast in San Simeon, Lunch in or around Lucia, dinner will unfortunately probably be at the airport

Heather's Trip Tips:

1) Large RVs are NOT allowed in Sequoia National Park.  You will be turned around at the gate.

2) Chains are usually required in Sequoia during the winter. You can rent them at the towns outside the park.

2) You can typically go snowshoeing or skiing in Sequoia through March.  You can rent snowshoes & skis in the park at the lodge/store. 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 fresh trails all to yourself.

3) 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 get to see a birth.

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—it only became a National Park 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 (86).  We highly recommend you take the time to hike the High Peaks Trail while you're there.  It's stunning and the easiest way to see some of the condors roosting in tree tops or circling overhead near the top 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.

Add Big Sur & Monterey

The 5-day trip above takes you into the southern most part of the Big Sur area.  So, why not just add 2 days to the trip and see all Big Sur has to offer and Monterey, California including its famous Monterey Bay Aquarium?!

 

There are a bunch of State Parks along this scenic drive north, great hiking, gorgeous beaches, and wonderful food and drink.  So, just take a couple more days off from work and soak up the California life!

 

You can see full details of this trip variation here.