A Weekend in Visalia, the Perfect Base Camp for Kings and Sequoia
Meet your jumping-off point for a summer’s worth of outdoor fun
Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The 4-Hour Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
Visalia is the launchpad for expeditions into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks — and all the spectacular views, towering trees, Class V rapids and interpretive nature trails they offer. Nearby you’ll find lovely lakes, bouldering spots and some of the Central Valley’s tastiest food (plus a surfeit of locally brewed beer).
Set up here, and then make the foothills of the Sierras into your personal playground, like so.
WHAT TO DO: WITH KIDS
Sequoia hits the family-fun aspect of national parks hard, with a free shuttle from Visalia right to its Giant Forest Museum. From there, easy walking trails lead through Round Meadow — it’s not hard going, but it is gorgeous, and the visual distinction between the flat meadow and the towering sequoias makes it easy to appreciate the old-growth trees (both in person and on your — vertical — Instagram Stories).
WHAT TO DO: HIGHER ALTITUDE
If you’re more interested in seeing the top of the Sierras than a canopy of sequoias, head instead to Mineral King Valley — noting that the valley is itself at an elevation of 7,500 feet. The best of the day hikes may be the challenging 12-mile out-and-back along the Sawtooth Trail. Mind the 4,300 feet of elevation gain and a sandy, slippy descent. The view from the top (of the mountain range, Monarch lakes, and Columbine Lake) is worth it.
WHAT TO DO: ON THE WATER
Lake Kaweah and the Kaweah River offer a spectacular Sierras backdrop while supporting basically any water-based (and water-adjacent) activity you might want. Fishing? Of course. Barbecue? Allowed. Within Sequoia, the Kaweah’s Middle Fork offers Class V rapids. And then Slick Rock Recreation Area, on the river’s southern bank as it enters the lake, includes a boulder field for climbers.
WHERE TO STAY
You can find literally every major corporate hotel brand in Visalia — Marriott, Best Western, Wyndham, Fairfield Inn, Motel 6, etc. etc. — so your best bet here would be the array of private rentals. These range from “bunkhouse on the ranch” (sleeps three) to “charming pool house” and cabins right at the parks’ entrance.
WHERE TO EAT
If you want Michelin stars, go back to S.F. That said, the Vintage Press has one of the best dinners in the Central Valley, with stick-to-your-ribs dishes like grilled rib eye with herb butter and a baked potato, or steak au poivre with green peppercorns. Otherwise, try a flight of the locally made brews at the Sequoia Brewing Company, with drinks on offer like the Half Dome, Sequoia Pale Ale, and Peak Pilsner.