Who doesn't love the grandeur of Sequoia's redwood trees? But this year for a more adrenaline-spiked adventure, we traveled farther north to Kings Canyon National Park. An eight-mile round-trip hike up Mist Falls Trail offered cascade views alongside the rapidly rushing, muscular Kings River. A scenic drive featured breathtaking vista points to view deep, river-bottomed canyons and opportunities to visit other falls such as Grizzly, where we stood on rocks to get wet with natural mountain rain. A stroll through breathtaking Zumwalt Meadow provided glimpses of grazing deer. A chaparral-dense switchback trek up Cedar Grove to a forested ridge and rocky outcrop rewarded us with an overlook of the deep canyon. The tab: Our two-night stay cost $358 for lodging and meals; the nature was free with an America the Beautiful Pass ($80).
Montecito Sequoia Lodge (63410 Generals Highway, Kings Canyon National Park;  227-9900) conjures summer camp with its funky lodge rooms and cabins adjacent to an Adirondack chair-lined man-made lake. We enjoyed sunsets from the lodge viewing deck, free wine-and-cheese happy hours in the bar, and nightly s'mores around a communal campfire.
Dining options are scarce in the park aside from convenience foods at the visitor center stops, which is why we chose Montecito Sequoia Lodge. All meals are included with lodging, which meant breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets. Think corned beef hash and pancakes, cranberry scones, braised pork ribs, mushroom risotto and a vast salad bar. Menus changed daily, and we ate like kings. The dining area is open 24 hours for ice water, coffee and other beverages, cereal or toast. You can also order a daily trail lunch to go, picked up after breakfast.
If you forget your sunscreen, are looking for a hat or piece of essential outdoor equipment, want a bag of beef jerky for a hike or a souvenir T-shirt, a quick 25-minute drive to the Lodgepole Market (63204 Lodgepole Road, Sequoia National Park;  565-3301) can fulfill these needs.
The lesson learned
Leave vanity at home while visiting Kings Canyon. Scented shampoos, lotions, lip gloss, perfumes and other toiletries attract the keen noses of bears, who have been known to try to get into parked cars looking for all those sweet-smelling items.