Get ready for Day 3 of our California to Oregon road trip recap!
In May 2013 we drove 1,840 miles from San Diego, California to Portland, Oregon. Just two states but we covered such a significant part of the west coast which included over five national parks, three breweries, three factory tours, a visit to one of the best restaurants in the world, and countless other amazing things along the way. As you can see we avoided Los Angeles and the coast, which was done on purpose to diversify our California experience. Check out our route:
Bright and early on Day 3 we headed to Bakersfield’s local natural food store. We got juice for breakfast and filled up a cooler with snacks and a picnic lunch. We were about to head into the wilderness, after all.
About 2 hours into our drive we hit the outskirts of the Sequoia National Forest. Instantly the landscape changed from arid California desert to overcast and mountainous.
We instantly began to climb in elevation. As we drove higher and higher I mused to John at how overcast it had become and he said “We’re at an elevation of 7,000 feet, we’re IN the clouds!” And we were. It was pretty unreal.
We drove higher still and the forest became thicker and thicker. All of a sudden we got our very first glimpses of the sequoia tree. Pretty incredible!
Sequoia National Park is located in the southern Sierra Nevada region of California. The park is over 404,000 acres and includes the highest elevation point in the entire US (Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft. above sea level). The park is also famous for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman tree which is the largest living tree on Earth.
Once we crossed into the park we visited the Foothills Visitors Center. We were informed that due to some construction, the road ahead was closed and would not be opened for another 30 minutes. Since we had some time to kill we decided to have our picnic lunch then. During lunch we made our first woodland creature friend!
After lunch we drove on into the park. Another 30 minutes later we arrived at the Giant Forest Museum and decided to take a look around. This was our very first up close and personal look at a sequoia tree and it felt really special.
The Giant Forest Museum is aptly located right next to the Sentinel sequoia tree, the 42nd largest sequoia in the world.
The museum itself was pretty small but the exhibits were cool and the staff was very nice.
Visiting the Sentinel tree was a real highlight though. We would go on to see even more magnificent trees over the course of the day but the Sentinel was special to us because it was the first “famous” sequoia tree we saw.
Onward! Another 30 minutes drive and we arrived at the Sherman Tree Trail.
The Sherman Tree Trail is roughly a mile and takes you down to see the General Sherman Tree. Going down the trail was fine but coming back up was rough – it’s at an incline the entire way and at 8,000 ft. elevation, I felt like my lungs might combust.
What a beautiful thing to see, this tree. I would not stop yammering on to John about how awestruck I was and how I could not fathom how on earth this tree was even discovered in the first place. It’s in the middle of a dense forest 8,000 ft. above sea level. It’s not even off the paved road, it’s a 1 mile walk downhill to get to. Unbelievable.
On the way back up the trail we got to see a few more trees in the same vicinity as the General Sherman. These were not blocked off to people so John happily gave it a hug. The exterior of the sequoia tree is very interesting – it wasn’t hard and knobby like tree bark we’re used to, it was fibrous and almost shaggy.
Continuing on through the park we began to decline in elevation. At about 5,000 ft. the trees began to thin a bit and give way to the spectacular views in all directions.
Sadly, we left the park and headed on to our next destination – Clovis, California. We thought about stopping in Fresno (it’s just 15 minutes from Clovis) but we didn’t have anything specific planned so we headed right to Clovis.
In Clovis we had dinner at Trelio which was a lovely New American bistro. We both had fantastic dinners but the cheese plate was the standout here. It was served with a balsamic jelly which I need to try making at home. So good!
Steps outside of the restaurant we stumbled upon the Old Town Clovis Farmers Market. There were tons of people, vendors, live music, and was an awesome after dinner activity.
We hit the road, happy and full, watching the sun melt into the horizon. Little did we know we were about to experience the lowest point of the trip…
We book all of our hotels in advance for a road trip. We vet them thoroughly between Yelp, Trip Advisor, and other internet sources. Some are less than ideal – not modernized, few amenities, uncomfortable bed, etc. – but never too offensive. After dinner in Clovis we had an hour drive to our final destination for the night – the Mountain Trail Lodge in Oakhurst, California. I got a bad feeling the second we pulled up. One look at the room and John and I realized there was no way we could stay in this place. It was offensively awful; it was filthy, the bed linens were musty, everything was broken, the faucets were rusty, it smelled. It was hell. Ultimately we ended up leaving and driving an hour and a half to Merced, California to the Hampton Inn which thankfully had a vacancy. John and I felt guilty for leaving (and bad about soaking the cost of the hotel) but this was an unpredictable thing that we just had to roll with. We could have stayed there and been uncomfortable or just admit that it wasn’t for us and move on. As much as we plan and research a trip like this, there is absolutely no way to know for certain if what you’ve planned is going to be awesome or awful. Thanks to the internet we have about a 99% success rate but for the other 1%, in situations like this, it’s good to gut check. We made the best decision we could have given the circumstance.
Stay tuned for Day 4 where we drive to Napa and, at long last, dine at The French Laundry.