Family Road Trip: Sequoia National Park

After the Grand Canyon, I point Bertha’s nose back west and quickly retrace my route earlier this spring along I40 to Keyesville Rec Area in Lake Isabella, CA. There I spend six days working hard so that I can have my two weeks of vacation relatively work-free.

โ€œWait, vacation? Isn’t your whole life like a vacation?โ€

An evening at Keyesville Rec Area. Yes, my toenails need to be repainted.

This is a common misconception among people who haven’t learned much about full-time RVing yet. For those who are wealthy enough it could be treated as a perpetual vacation, but for those of us who still need to make a living the answer is no. My life has a better balance between work and play than the average nine-to-fiver and I love that about what I’ve built, but treating full-time RVing as a perpetual vacation is a recipe for disaster if you’re pre-retirement. If you’re spending more than you’re earning, you won’t be on the road for long.

I like to say I’ve built a life that I don’t need a vacation from because of the better work/play balance. I don’t experience burnout at the same level as I did back when I worked a more traditional job. But that doesn’t mean full-time RVers don’t benefit from taking vacations, and I’m greatly looking forward to mine!

May 26, Saturday

Early in the morning, I roll into Fresno, CA, where this new adventure is going to start. My first order of business is getting the Casita stored away, since my parents, brother and I will be road tripping with a rental SUV big enough to fit all of us and staying in hotels.

It surprised me that I couldn’t reserve a spot in the storage lot ahead of time. The planning side of my nature wanted to have a spot locked down months in advance just to be absolutely sure it was taken care of, but none of the places I called allowed me to do that. Instead I call my first choice bright and early to see if they have room, and I’m there by 10 am, signing the paperwork, paying for two weeks (around $20), and then parking, unhitching, and generally getting everything squared away. Naturally I’d emptied my tanks before arriving (although it turns out this storage lot has a dump station on site) and had planned my food situation so that I’d run out of perishables before today.

Leaving Keyesville on the 25th, on 178 west to Bakersfield

I’d be lying if I said I feel perfectly comfortable with leaving my home with most of my possessions behind in a storage lot. It bothers me more than leaving Cas unattended for the day while boondocking. But I take care in choosing a gated lot with security cameras, and really the chances of someone breaking into it or stealing it are quite slim. I do what I can to make it secure, excuse myself from worrying about that which I cannot control, and then I move on.

My family is flying into the Fresno airport. Since I’m in town before them, I go stock up on groceries and other essentials we’ll need for our road trip. As their arrival time approaches, I drive to the long-term parking area at the airport, where I’ll be leaving Bertha behind (at considerably more than $20). I have a one-way ticket from Portland back to Fresno at the end of this vacation, and I’ve packed so that all I have with me fits in a carry-on.

The plane arrives on time. There are hugs and greetings. We pick up the rental without issue and drive a little ways south out of town on 99 to Visalia for the night.

May 27, Sunday

198 heading into Sequoia National Park is a beautiful road.

99 runs north and south along California through a large, flat, grass-covered valley with a lot of agriculture. As you take 198 headed east, the land gets hillier as you approach the Sierra Nevada range. Grasslands morph into savannah with dotted oak trees. Streams flow out of the mountains and are dammed to make reservoirs surrounded by pretty parks. Eventually the savannah becomes a true woodland as the hills get higher and become true mountains. The transformation is dramatic.

It being the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I’m a bit concerned about crowds, but there’s no wait to get into the park. It’s not until we reach the popular area of the park near the Giant Forest Museum that the crowds increase and parking becomes impossible to find.

Fortunately, Sequoia has a free bus system. We park at Wolverton picnic area off the main road for an early lunch, then catch the bus to see the sights.

Meet the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world by volume. It stands 275 feet tall, and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base.

General Sherman is the one farther back on the left, see the tiny people at it’s base?

Have I mentioned lately that I love big trees? Well, my dad does too. This is the first time he’s seen giant sequoias and he points out how strange they look, that they don’t seem to have enough foliage up top to support their massive size. But somehow they must, because here they are.

When I tell my parents I want a nice picture of them. Now you know where I get my penchant for ridiculous faces from! My brother is pretending he’s not related.

Fun facts learned later at the visitor center: Scientists have not been able to determine the maximum lifespan of the giant sequoia. They seem to keep growing until they die from other causes and the oldest known is about 3,500 years old by ring count, making them among the oldest known living things on Earth. They require fire to reproduce and their thick bark is very fire resistant.

How do you take a photo of something this big? I haven’t mastered the knack yet

Giant sequoias were once a widely distributed and common species in prehistoric times, but their range was greatly reduced at the last ice age. Today they are listed as endangered, growing naturally only in a small region in California on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada range at 4,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation.

Their bark is also oddly spongy when damp. I know this because I poked one.

A more “average” giant sequoia. If any of these trees can be considered average.

After a fun afternoon of short walks among really big trees, we get back to our rental car around 4 pm. From there we continue north on 196 until it becomes 180 at Kings Canyon National Park. From there we turn back west to Fresno, and then take 99 north to the town of Merced, the staging point for the next leg of our trip, Yosemite National Park!

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Upriverdavid on July 5, 2018 at 1:19 am

    Since your post is almost a month ago I don’t know if you will get this comment…WTHeck?..Your pics didn’t show up for me and I thought no big deal, I’ve been there..Then again I went WTH?..I pushed reload, and I’m glad I did to get the pic of your parents and “not your brother”…….My family is just as “normal” as yours…..Better than being “that” boring

    • Becky on July 5, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      I’m not sure there really is a “normal” family out there David, someone’s always going to be different. In my family, it’s the majority of us. ๐Ÿ˜›

  2. Hรผ on June 14, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    I imagine it’s strange to switch to a commercial RV with company?
    How did you find $20 storage? Maybe you’ve already done a blog on storage.

    • Becky on June 14, 2018 at 5:15 pm

      We didn’t travel in an RV. We rented an regular vehicle (SUV) and stayed in hotels. I’m not sure we would have survived in an RV together, haha.

      The Casita is small enough to fit in a car-sized storage spot, which was $40 per month at this particular location. I only needed it for two weeks, so $20.

  3. Mac on June 13, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Do hike to the top of Yosemite Falls! It’s arduous but so worth it!

    • Becky on June 14, 2018 at 5:13 pm

      More on Yosemite Falls coming up soon!

  4. Jodee Gravel on June 13, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    What a fun vacation plan – you’re going to have a great time. Your folks look like the kind of people I’d want to road trip with!!! Love those majestic trees, there’s just nothing like them anywhere else.

    • Becky on June 14, 2018 at 5:13 pm

      Yep, my parents are pretty awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Ann in Tacoma on June 13, 2018 at 4:17 am

    Oh you mastered the knack of taking a photo of the giant sequoia wonderfully! That photo looking straight up one of them was stupendous! Thank you.

    • Becky on June 14, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      Thanks Ann, glad you liked it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Norm H. on June 12, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks for sharing your family vacation adventures. Love the redwoods, both coastal and sequoias. Looking forward to your Yosemite visit as it was (and remains) such a special place to my DW and me.

    • Becky on June 14, 2018 at 5:04 pm

      You’re welcome Norm.

  7. mike german on June 12, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    Love pic of family lol

    • Becky on June 12, 2018 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks Mike! It was quite humorous. I got a ‘real’ photo of them later, but liked this one more. ๐Ÿ˜›

  8. Kit on June 12, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    And BTW, I too dislike leaving my camper behind in storage. I have done that in the Winter in AZ while driving home to Durango without the rig.

  9. Kit on June 12, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Becky, When you and your father get a chance, read Wild Trees. Although not the same as the General Sherman, the sequoia vs. coastal redwoods info is great about Redwoods and the life in the canopy. I too love trees and before taking a three week trip to the Northern California trees I read the book. I HAD to see the General Sherman when I was in college in the 1970’s. Wow. I plan to see those sequoia for the 4th time soon.

    Enjoy vaca.

    • Becky on June 12, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation Kit. I get to see coastal redwoods later this trip, that post will be coming up. ๐Ÿ™‚

      It was mentioned by a ranger in Sequoia the amount of weight General Sherman gains in the average year. Sadly I cannot remember the number now, but it was impressively high. I wonder if you’ve noticed any visible difference from the 1970’s.

  10. Robin on June 12, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Thank you for sharing! Love this!

    • Becky on June 12, 2018 at 3:29 pm

      You’re welcome!

  11. Liz on June 12, 2018 at 10:45 am

    Great pictures!
    We can’t wait to visit these awesome trees!

    • Becky on June 12, 2018 at 3:30 pm

      You won’t be disappointed Liz!

  12. KJ on June 12, 2018 at 8:53 am

    Thanks Becky. I love the sequoias too. They are magical. Enjoy your vacation.

    • Becky on June 12, 2018 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks KJ!

  13. Dennis on June 11, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks Becky for all the pics of the giant trees for us at home! ๐Ÿ˜

    • Becky on June 12, 2018 at 3:33 pm

      You’re welcome Dennis, always happy to bring a little adventure to those at home. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Jeff Pierce on June 11, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    At one time we’d rent a cabin in the Grant Grove for Thanksgiving weekend. We’d have most of the place to ourselves, but the LA traffic on the return home is a pain. Glad you found a place to park and experience the magic of the ‘Big Trees’. Is this the first trip to Yosemite for the family?

    • Becky on June 12, 2018 at 3:35 pm

      Renting a cabin, I bet that was fun Jeff. Yes, I’ve been to Yosemite once before but the rest of my family has not.

  15. Mary Patten on June 11, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Super pictures! Thanks for sharing how you secure your Casita when away for other adventures. Your family looks like a lot of fun! Look forward to next updates! Yellowstone is Magical…

    • Becky on June 12, 2018 at 3:36 pm

      You’re quite welcome Mary! It’s funny, as I was typing up that paragraph on storing the Casita it occurred to me that most people who own an RV are part-timers and for them, storing an RV when not in use is nothing worth mentioning. But as it was the first time I’d stored mine since I moved into it in April 2012, it was a huge deal. Glad to hear you found it helpful.

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