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Explore the famed national parks of the Golden State's San Joaquin Valley – including Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Death Valley – starting in the Raisin Capitol of the World.
Day 1: Fresno
Fresno is the marketing center of San Joaquin Valley and known as “The Raisin Capitol of the World.” Noted author William Saroyan was a native. The Fresno Metropolitan Museum, 1555 Van Ness Avenue, (559) 441-1444, has special sections devoted to him and renowned photographer and former resident, Ansel Adams.
Two restored turn-of-the-century mansions worth visiting are Kearney Mansion Museum, 7160 W. Kearney Blvd., in Kearney Park, (559) 441-0862, and Meux Home Museum, 1007 R Street, (559) 233-8007. Both are open for guided tours only. The Kearney mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Meux home was built by a former Confederate Army surgeon who settled here after the Civil War.
Numerous antique shops makes the city a favorite spot for collectors. Also worth seeing is the elaborate Japanese Garden in Woodward Park, a 300-acre city park and bird sanctuary, at Audubon Dr. and Friant Road, (559) 840-1264. The area offers great fishing in nearby lakes and rivers.
Depart on 180 east to Three Rivers (Sequoia/Kings Canyon area). Three visitor centers are along the way: Grant Grove, Lodgepole, and Foothills (main one for Sequoia) near Ash Mountain. Pickup information (Sequoia & Kings Canyon Magazine) to augment handouts from entrance gate. The per car fee is good for both parks.
Day 2 & 3: Exeter / Sequoia National Park
Explore the sites in Sequoia National Park, (559) 565-3341, and Kings Canyon National Park, (559) 335-2315, two of the premier, less-crowded national parks in the state. Guided tours are available during summer months, (559) 565-3381. Significant portions of the parks are wilderness and only allow foot traffic. The Sequoia trees are generally over 200 feet tall and more than 3,200 years old. They only put down roots three to five feet deep.
In Sequoia, visit Moro Rock, Triple Tree, Crescent Meadow, General Sherman Tree, Giant Forest, with more than 8,000 sequoias included, and Crystal Cave. Maps for the trails are available at trail heads or Visitors Centers. Continue northwest on 180 (Generals Highway) to Grant Grove Village and Kings Canyon’s sites.
The General Grant Tree is the third largest in the world. Panorama Point, 2.5 miles northeast of Grant Grove Village and less than 1/2 mile round-trip hike, offers awesome views of the surrounding peaks. Following 180 through Kings Canyon to Cedar Grove Village is an incredible drive in one of the deepest canyons in North America. Boyden Cavern, (888) 965-8243, is located in the canyon.
Day 4: Tulare / Porterville
Take 198 to Exeter where you can view area history through murals displayed throughout the downtown area, (559) 592-2919. Browse the wonderful antique stores before continuing on 198 to the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, (559) 734-5876, along Kaweah River, where early settlers built homes. Continue on 198 to the Visalia Visitors Center, 800-524-0303, where you can pick up brochures on the Chinese Cultural Center, (559) 625-4545, and other area attractions.
From Visalia take Mooney Blvd./Highway 63 south to the Tulare County Museum in Mooney Grove Park, (559) 733-6612 or (559) 733-6616, where museum displays present the history of the Old West. West of the museum is a replica of the “End of The Trail” statue donated when the original went to Oklahoma City’s Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Continue south on 63 to Horizon Outlet Mall and Crafters Outlet Mall, (559) 688-6471, largest in the Valley. Check out the mural depicting buggy traveling days in Tulare County. Take 137/65 to historic Porterville. Visit the Lubking Gem & Mineral Collection of over 5,500 gems and minerals, (559) 784-0177. The Porterville Historical Museum, 257 North D Street, (559) 784-2053, has excellent exhibits. Continue south on 65 to Bakersfield.
Day 5: Bakersfield
Bakersfield was founded in 1869 by Col. Thomas Baker, an engineer of the state militia who was exploring the idea of a navigable waterway from Kern Lake to the San Francisco Bay. He gave the land for the town site. Oil was discovered in the county in 1865. It is home to the largest Basque community in the U. S. Kern County Museum & Lori Brock Children’s Discovery Center, 3801 Chester Avenue, (661) 861-2132, includes 50 historic buildings and artifacts from 1860 to 1930 and interactive hands-on exhibits for children.
California Living Museum,14000 Alfred Harrel Highway, (661) 872-2256, includes botanical gardens, zoo, and a natural history museum. In Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, Sillect Avenue, (661) 328-7560, you can enjoy dinner, theater, live country entertainment and viewing memorabilia from Owens and other country music stars. Plenty of opportunities for water sports at Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area, (661) 861-2063, Lake Ming and Hart Park, (661) 872-3179, on the banks of the Kern River.
Depart northeast on 178 into the foothills of Sequoia National Park, where Lake Isabella, (760) 379-5236, one of California’s largest man-made lakes provides boating, fishing, windsurfing, board-surfing and skiing. Nearby at Bodfish, visit the Silver City Ghost town, 3829 Lake Isabella Blvd., (760) 379-5146, with 23 historic buildings. At Kernville, north of the lake, the Kern River Valley Historical Museum, (760) 376-6683, has Native American, ranching, lumbering and gold mining exhibits. West of the lake is Shirley Meadows Ski Area. The Kern River Valley Visitor Council, (760) 379-3867, in Lake Isabella has information.
Continue east on 178 to junction with US 395 and go north to Lone Pine at the base of Mt. Whitney, 14,494 feet, the tallest peak in lower states. Whitney is the most climbed peak in the Sierras. Maps, information and permits are available at the Ranger Station, 640 S. Main, P.O. Box 8, Lone Pine, 93545, (760) 876-6200. Many well known movies have been made in the nearby Alabama Hills Recreation Area, (760) 876-4444. (For a side trip, take 136 east, 94 miles one-way, to enter Death Valley National Monument and the lowest elevation in the country, 282 feet below sea level.)
Continue north on 395 to Manzanar National Historic Site, where 10,000 Japanese U.S. citizens were interned during WWII. At Independence, the Eastern California Museum, (760) 878-0364, has Native American and pioneer artifacts. Head to Bishop. Inyo National Forest headquarters are at 873 N. Main, (760) 873-5841. Inyo has 1,100 miles of hiking trails including the John Muir, Pacific Crest and Mt. Whitney trails. It also includes the White Mountains and Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forests, with the oldest known pine tree, Methusela, 4,700-years old. Laws Railroad Museum and Historical Site, Highway 6, north of town, (760) 873-5950, features the narrow gauge train, The Slim Princess and other railroad memorabilia. The Paiute Shoshone Indian Cultural Center Museum, (760) 873-4478, is north of town on the Bishop Reservation.
Day 6: Yosemite
Take 395 north to Mammoth Lakes, (800) 367-6572 or (760) 934-2712, one of California’s all-season resort communities, with its 2,500-acre ski area. The Visitors Bureau is at 3393 Main Street, P.O. Box 48, 93546. Mammoth Mountain Tram, (760) 934-2571, runs in the summer to the top of the mountain. It gives access to a spectacular view and hiking trails. The U. S. Forest Service Mammoth Ranger Visitor Center, Highway 203, three miles west of 395, has area information.
Nearby is Devils Postpile National Monument, (760) 934-2289, an incredible molten lava formation of three and eight-sided shaped columns, formed over 100,000 years ago, that resembles posts standing in the earth. Visit is only by shuttle bus from Mammoth Inn. Continue on 395 to Lee Vining, then 120 west over Tioga Pass to Yosemite.
Day 7 & 8: Oakhurst / Fresno
Stop at the Southern Yosemite Visitors Bureau Information Center, 40637 Highway 41, P.O. Box 1404, Oakhurst, 93644, (559) 683-4636, for maps and information. Inside Yosemite at Wawona visit the Pioneer Village History Center. Drive portions of the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway, the “Hidden Heart of the Sierra”, made up of two major over-lapping loops. Access is from Sky Ranch Road at the Ranger Station on 41. Unbelievable vistas, formations, historical buildings and markers, hiking, mountain climbing, and biking are accessible.
On the Byway visit the Ross Cabin. Built in the late 1860s, it is used by the Forest Service to teach the skills of restoration and log cabin stabilization. It contains many artifacts from the 19th century. The geographical center of the state is near Redinger Lake on Road 225. Beautiful Bass Lake is on the southwestern segment of the loop, down Road 222 from the local Best Western. Take the one-hour tour on the Bass Lake Queen II, (559) 642-3121. Fresno Flats Historical Park shows life in Madera County dating back to 1870. In North Fork, visit the Sierra Mono Museum, corner of 225 and 228, (559) 877-2115, for artifacts and spectacular baskets of the Mono Tribe.
In nearby Ahwahnee, visit the Wassama Roundhouse State Historical Park, (559) 683-3631, an authentic ceremonial facility still used and maintained by the Miwok Tribe. At Fish Camp enjoy the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, 56001 Highway 41, 93623, (559) 683-7273, a 4 mile excursion through Sierra National Forest powered by a real steam engine. Erna’s Elderberry House, Highway 41 & Victoria Lane, (559) 683-6800, is a five-star restaurant and one you don’t want to miss! For evening fun (during summer weekends only) enjoy a good old-fashion melodrama at the Golden Chain Theatre, (559) 683-7112. Depart on 41 south to Fresno and stop in the historic town of Coarsegold and visit Yosemite Gallery and Indian Territory, (559) 683-8727 for hands-on experience of gold rush days lifestyle.