I just got back from a trip to SeKi and Yosemite. We had a great trip, in large part due to the very helpful advice I got from several people here.
There were four of us in our group - my wife, our five year old, one of our adult friends, and me. We flew into San Francisco and were originally scheduled to be in Yosemite for a week, but due to the Ferguson fire we changed the plan to three nights in Sequoia and four nights in Yosemite.
We left San Francisco mid afternoon last Sunday and stocked up on food and other random things in Fresno. This may have been a fluke, but both gas stations near Squaw Valley were out of gas - they said they missed the same delivery - so you may want to top off your tank in Fresno or not too far outside of it if you are headed in on 180.
We arrived at the Wuksachi Lodge around 9pm. My son got out of the car and was wowed by the stars. The person at the front desk was extremely helpful in combining three different one night reservations so that we didn't have to switch rooms every day.
On Monday morning we woke up, had the breakfast buffet at the lodge - it wasn't great, but respectable and not too expensive given the location - and drove down Kings Canyon. We hiked through Zumwalt Meadows, which we all enjoyed. It was a good, short hike to start the trip and there is a lot of bang for your buck - great views through the meadow and the chance to scramble up some boulders with pretty much no elevation gain. My friend through it was one of the five best hikes of his life. I highly recommend it to anyone, particularly those with kids or prefer something fairly easy. We had lunch at one of the picnic tables in the shade near the trailhead. After the hike we hoped to wade in the river, but it looked like it might rain and we wanted to head out.
We then drove back up and out of the canyon. A word about the drive - my wife gets bad motion sickness, although she is able to control it with a patch, and is also afraid of heights. The drive to Kings Canyon was probably the worst of the trip for her, but she was able to make it and said she is glad she went. It also helped that on the way out we saw a cub climbing up to the top of a tree. A ranger said it was probably looking for honey. A lot of cars stopped and were taking pictures before the ranger asked everyone to leave because we might scare the young cub, who by this time was at the top of a large tree.
That afternoon we stopped at Grant Grove and got our first taste of a sequoia grove. The only other place I have seen really big trees is the redwoods at Muir Woods, and Sequoia blows it out of the water. It was amazing to walk around and see how massive the trees actually are. Pictures don't do them justice. On the drive back to the Wuksachi we saw two cubs playing with each other as (presumably) their mom, who had been tagged, watched. I was thrilled there was a bear sighting, let alone four in one day. We also saw a lot of deer throughout the trip, including several near the pathways surrounding the lodge.
On Tuesday we drove to the General Sherman tree. After reading and hearing about how packed the park was we thought about taking the shuttle for fear of not finding a parking spot, but decided to drive. At around 9am (I don't remember the exact time, but it wasn't too early) there were maybe 10 other cars in the entire parking lot. We walked down to the tree and spent a bit of time there. After 30 minutes or so we started to see a lot more people coming down the path and it started to get crowded. We then did Congress trail. This was a real highlight for me, particularly when you get to walk so close to so many giants. Even though it is paved, you go up and down enough hills that it is still a decent workout. And while there were a lot of people near the Sherman tree, we had the little House and Senate groves to ourselves. Originally I had planned on doing the Sherman tree only but not the Congress trail or anything else until one of you rightly pointed out that it would be a mistake to skip it - thank you very much! By the time we left there were a lot more people in the area around the Sherman tree and the parking lot was packed.
After seeing more trees we drove to Lodgepole to have a picnic lunch and hike to Tokopah Falls trail. My wife and son decided to play in the river and then drive back to the lodge while my friend and I hiked. The hike was enjoyable and walking on the rocks at the end was a highlight, including seeing a massive marmot, but in reviewing the five hikes/walks (Zumwalt Meadow, Grant Grove, Congress Trail, Tokopah Falls, and Beetle Rock) we did in the parks, this would probably rank last. We took the shuttle back, which was easy and a short ride.
That night after an early dinner we drove to Beetle Rock for sunset (this was again another suggestion from one of you). It is an exceptionally short walk from the parking lot and the views were amazing. Somehow we were the only people there. My son loved running around and it was a great place to watch the sky turn different colors.
We then went back to the Wuksachi Lodge for "Telescope Tuesday," which was my son's favorite part of the entire week. They had two telescopes and we got to look through them to see Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, another star or two, and a nebula. The guide was knowledgeable and did a great job explaining what we were looking at and answering questions, and it was free.
After breakfast on Wednesday we left for Yosemite. We had not initially planned on going to Sequoia or Kings Canyon and only ended up there as a backup when Yosemite Valley was closed for part of our trip. However, I'm very pleased we went. The trees were amazing and a couple of the hikes were stellar. We easily could have stayed another day or two, but it is small enough that two full days there were enough to make it worth our while and see a lot of the highlights. And while it was pretty busy in terms of a lot of people being diverted there due to the Ferguson fire, there were only a couple of times that it felt crowded.
I will post a trip report for the Yosemite portion of the trip in that forum for anyone who wants to continue reading. Again, thanks to everyone who made suggestions to our last minute trip.