Our trip begins today in Fresno, California. Meet your guides and fellow hikers at 7:45am at our host hotel. After introductions, we load into our private van and set out on the three-hour drive towards the great national parks of the Sierra Nevada. From the flat Central Valley, we climb thousands of feet to the western slope of the Sierra, the only place where the giant sequoia grows naturally. Arriving first at Kings Canyon National Park, we stop to explore Big Stump Grove and learn why Kings Canyon was protected as the nation?s third national park. Heading next to neighboring Sequoia National Park, we begin an afternoon hike along a series of rolling, interconnecting trails to the Giant Forest, home of General Sherman, the largest Sequoia on Earth. After spending time in the shade of these gorgeous, enormous and ancient trees, we make a quick transfer to our comfortable campsite for a delicious guide-prepared dinner and a crackling campfire. Lunch and dinner included.
Hiking: 7.5 miles with 1,800? of elevation gain/loss. Transfer: 3 hours.
After a hearty breakfast in camp, we set out to explore Sequoia National Park. We stretch our legs on a short but stout hike through thick forests to the top of Little Baldy, a granite dome with 360-degree views that encompass some of the tallest peaks of the Sierra Crest, with some of the steepest vertical relief in North America. After our hike, we continue to Halstead Meadow, a wildlife-rich wetland habitat. We stop for a picnic lunch in this beautiful meadow before heading to the park?s visitor center for a quick educational stop, learning more about the natural history of the Sierra region. Today?s final adventure takes us underground to the Crystal Cave, where a Sequoia Parks Conservancy naturalist enlightens us on how this rare marble karst cave came to exist. Returning to the surface, we head back to camp for dinner under a blanket of stars twinkling through the forest canopy. All meals included.
Hiking: 5 miles with 900? of elevation gain/loss.
Today, we descend into a deep river canyon that makes Yosemite Valley look small in comparison. Kings Canyon, the mile-deep cousin of the more famous glacially-carved valley to the north is a breathtaking sight to behold. After switchbacking our way to the canyon bottom, we drive along the mighty Kings River, staring up in awe at towering granite walls until we reach Road?s End trailhead. Our hike today follows along the canyon floor to the confluence of the South Fork of the Kings River and Bubbs Creek. We hike alongside the river up a rugged granite trail, past sparkling cascades and swimming holes, through cedar and pine forests to the base of Mist Falls. The falls are a perfect lunch spot and turnaround point but, before returning to the trailhead, we make one final stop for a cooling swim in the Kings River. This section of river is postcard-perfect, as the green-blue waters, rimmed by white granite boulders, flow past stands of towering conifers. All meals included.
Hiking: 9 miles with 800? of elevation gain/loss.
We ease into the day with a stroll through a nearby Sequoia grove. After some quiet time with these arboreal giants, we break camp and begin our three-hour drive north towards the wonders of Yosemite National Park. We head to Tunnel View for our first classic panorama of magnificent Yosemite Valley and then take a short, steep hike up to Artist?s Point, a great spot to drink in the grandeur before us. Stopping next at El Capitan Meadow, with the largest granite monolith in the world before us, we look for big wall rock climbers scaling the rock feature?s imposing face. The meadow is also a great place from which to imagine the incredible geological forces required to form this breathtakingly beautiful valley. With our appetite now whet for more exploration, we continue on to our camp and imagine what amazing discoveries await in the coming days. All meals included.
Hiking: 3 miles with 600? of elevation gain/loss.
We enjoy a hot breakfast before setting out for our trailhead along Tioga Road. Today?s hike descends along a trail winding its way through a forest of massive pines. We discover an improbable natural granite arch along the way to our final destination, the summit of North Dome. Standing atop this granite lookout, Half Dome lies at eye level directly across the canyon from our lofty perch. This vantage point also offers unsurpassed views of Glacier Point, Clouds Rest, Mt. Watkins and many other landmarks of Yosemite Valley and Tenaya Canyon. After lunch, we climb back up to the trailhead, imagining what it was like when members of the Miwok, Paiute, and Ahwahnechee tribes explored, traded and lived in these mountains, laying down the foundations for the trails we hike on today. Back at camp, we savor another fabulous dinner and relive the day?s adventures around our cheerful fire. All meals included.
Hiking: 9 miles with 1,400? of elevation gain/loss.
On our last day in Yosemite, we set out on one of the most iconic hikes in the park, the spectacular Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. Our trail starts out flat but soon begins to climb, up steps hewn from granite, alongside the roaring Merced River. As we approach 318-foot Vernal Falls, the river turns to a raging torrent of whitewater and mist as it siphons through massive boulders near the bottom of the falls. Continuing our climb to the top of Vernal Falls, the river becomes surprisingly calm, along with the trail, until our next ascent begins alongside Nevada Falls. After climbing past this larger, narrower waterfall, we eat lunch on the granite slabs surrounding the river. Our descent follows a different path, along the John Muir Trail. This is just a small section of the historic trail that links together John Muir?s various mountain rambles from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. Once back on the valley floor, we take a victory lap of Yosemite Valley before beginning our late afternoon drive back to Fresno where we bid farewell to our guides and newfound friends. We plan to arrive back in Fresno by 8pm this evening. All meals included.
Hiking: 9 miles with 2,100? of elevation gain/loss. Transfer: 4 hours.