National Park Road Trip 2011: Sequoia National Park's Wuksachi Lodge

Wuksachi Lodge is the only lodging in Sequoia National Park. But it's well-located near the major areas of interest in the park's front-country. Relatively new, having been built in the late 1990s, the lodge is comfortable and its dining room offers spacious views of the surrounding mountains and forest. Photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: Snow continues to dog David and Kay Scott as they forge their way across the West to update their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges. But that didn't deter them from enjoying a stay in Sequoia National Park.

Greetings from Sequoia National Park’s Wuksachi Lodge, where we have completed a two-night stay. The bright, sunny morning is most welcome after a day of fog and cold. It is still early in the season and snow remains on the ground here at the lodge, which is at an elevation of 7,000 feet.

Wuksachi is the only lodging facility in Sequoia, although sister park King’s Canyon has guest lodging at Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. Lodging is also available in the section of Sequoia National Forest that borders on the two parks.

Following our stay at Zion Lodge, we drove southwest to hit I-15 that took us around the south end of the Sierra Nevada where we could loop back north to Sequoia National Park. Unlike Yosemite, Sequoia has no east-west through road and is accessible only from the south or the west.

Between Zion and Sequoia we spent a night in Barstow and a night in Bakersfield. On the way we heard a radio advertisement for a local bookstore that the announcer reported ‘carried a large selection of religious books for people who were searching, and a large selection of regional titles for people who wondered where they were.”

We also spotted a billboard for a business in the small town of Baker, California, that advertised “alien fresh jerky.” We didn’t stop to find out where the aliens were from.

Baker is best known for a giant thermometer that must be ten stories high. Barstow has what is perhaps the best restored Harvey House in the country. Fred Harvey built a series of upscale dining establishments along the route of the Santa Fe Railroad. The restored facility in Barstow now contains a Route 66 museum and a railroad museum. The building is quite impressive.

Between Mojave and Bakersfield, California, we took a short side trip to visit the Tehachapi Loop, one of America’s most famous sites for railroad buffs (sometimes called “rail foamers”). Completed in 1876 by the Southern Pacific, long freight trains snake through a tunnel and around the loop on a 2 ½-percent grade. From a viewing area above the site, rail fans watch trains emerge from the tunnel and slowly creep around the 360-degree loop to continue south. This was the last section completed when the Southern Pacific was connecting San Franciso by rail to Los Angeles.

Wuksachi Lodge is quite new by national park standards. Completed in 1999 following the dismantling of an older lodge at Giant Forest, the current facility was intended to be the first segment of a three-stage development. From what we have heard, the NPS wasn’t able to find a bidder that would agree to take on the complete project, and only four buildings of Wuksachi have been built. Interestingly, the roads and other infrastructure for additional buildings have been in place for over a decade.

Delaware North Parks and Resorts won the initial 15-year contract and currently operates the lodge. A new contract will open for bidding prior to completion of the current contract in 2014.

The lodging complex consists of a registration/dining building plus three nearby buildings with 102 guest rooms. The complex sits in a heavily forested area of the park and views from the rooms are generally quite good. We are writing this from our room beside a window that offers a view of cedar and fir trees on the nearby hillside. The buildings are cedar and done in a rustic style that fits well with the terrain. None of the rooms has a balcony.

Three classes of rooms are available; Standard, Deluxe, and Superior. Deluxe are a little larger than Standard, while Superior rooms have a separate sitting area. Even the Standards are quite roomy. Rates vary considerably by season, but peak prices are $199, $219, and $249 respectively. Substantial discounts are often available depending upon occupancy, so it is worthwhile to have some flexibility in the dates you plan to visit.

Our stay occurred during a period when there is some question about the water quality in the park. Thus, the lodge has been providing bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth, and making coffee. I’m certain the coffee we make is strong enough to kill any foreign substance, but have been using bottled water anyway. Also, the ice machines have been shut down. No problem, we fill our ice chest with snow that is right outside the building.

The NPS operates free shuttles from Wuksachi to Lodgepole, a small commercial area two miles down the road, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A shuttle at Lodgepole services the museum at Giant Forest. From Giant Forest, another free shuttle offers transportation to Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow.

Our next stop is Kings Canyon and a night of camping at Cedar Grove where, at 4,600 feet, where it should be warmer. Then it is back to Grant Grove for a night in a cabin. The drive along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove is outstanding. It is also a drive that many visitors either don’t know about or don’t have time to take. That is their misfortune.

Comments

Thanks for visiting! If you have any questions at all about Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks to assist you in your guidebook preparation, feel free to email me. I lived in the parks as a child and these days my husband and I own and publish the weekly newspaper in Three Rivers, Calif., Sequoia's gateway community. I know and love this area well.

I have fond memories of staying at a Giant Forest Village cabin. It was the first time we'd ever seen a bear, and I can admit (now that any statute of limitations is long over) that it was probably due to a member of my family. I think they had grills and each porch had a free-standing cabinet to temporarily store stuff. Well - a family member decided to store sliced bread in the cabinet. We went out and came back at night only to hear people screaming that there was a bear in the village. I had my flashlight out and could make out the outline of a bear in the distance, with what looked to be a plastic bag hanging from its mouth. When we got back to our cabin, we found something had slashed open the cabinet door.

A ranger took down a report and remarkably enough, we didn't get fined. I think we were warned that it wasn't a good idea to store food outdoors. Remember this was back when they used standard metal trash cans without any special bear-resistant feature. These days the cans have a heavy duty cover attached to a firmly planted pole, or perhaps a latched bear-resistant enclosure. The lodge handyman showed up in the morning to fix the cabinet. It didn't look very good, but remarkably enough we weren't asked to pay for it. I would think the same behavior today would have yielded at least a $500 fine.

There's a guy who waxes poetic about Giant Forest Village, and apparently would like to see it rebuilt.

http://giantforestvillage.com

As far as Wuksachi Lodge goes, I never stayed there. We did have lunch there once. I thought it was pretty good and not a bad value for lunch. I might have felt differently about dinner. We actually drove all the way to Visalia and Fresno for dinner.

The other lodging options were mentioned. Grant Grove Village does have reasonably priced primitive cabins in addition to Muir Lodge. In Giant Sequoia NM (Forest Service) there's Stony Creek Lodge and Kings Canyon Lodge. Kings Canyon Lodge sells fuel with a twist. It's dispensed from 1920's era gravity-fed pumps. The fuel is pumped into large glass vials, and the fuel is dispensed into each vehicle via gravity. I don't recall if it's possible for private parties to stay at Hume Lake Christian Camp. The other thing is that there aren't any public gas stations at the NPS areas. I understand they removed public access some years ago. I distinctly remembered Chevron signs there when I visited as a kid. I think the old fuel pumps might still be in use, but only for fueling park and concessionaire vehicles.