The end of Day 6 and beginning of Day 7 mark the biggest mistake I made on this trip. Weeks before leaving home, I decided I would spend two nights in Yosemite, and one night in the Sequoia/Kings Canyon area. Two hotels showed some promise for Night 6: the Montecito Sequoia Lodge, and the John Muir Lodge at Grant Grove Village. The prices were the same ($69 per night, a good deal for a room inside any national park), but the Montecito offered a free dinner and breakfast. So, my thrifty side tipped the scales, and I booked a night at the Montecito.
In all fairness, I probably didn’t look deeply enough into what the Montecito actually is. It’s not a traditional hotel or lodge, it’s more of a summer camp for kids (even in the winter). The place was teeming with kids and parents, who were staying at the lodge to enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing (the lodge is located near numerous groomed trails). As a single person, staying just one night, I felt very out of place.
Making matters worse, the weather was also spoiling my plans. It was beautiful on the day I arrived, but a few days earlier, a heavy snow had shut down the Generals Highway, which connects Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. (Generals Highway is open year-round, but can close for days or weeks at a time, following a big snowfall.) The Montecito is wedged in between the two parks, in the Sequoia National Forest. Because the road was shut down at Grant Grove, visitors to the lodge had to put on tire chains, and follow an escort car along the partially-plowed road to the resort.
I arrived at the Grant Grove area around 3:15, just a few minutes after the previous escort left the Kings Canyon visitor center. The next trip was at 6 p.m., so I had nearly 3 hours to burn. After devoting an hour or more to viewing the trees in Grant Grove, I had nothing else to do but wait. And because one person scheduled for the escort was late, our caravan of cars didn’t head out to the Montecito until 6:30.
Of course, I needed another escort to get out in the morning. Since the highway south to Sequoia National Park was closed, I had to return to Grant Grove, then drive back into the central valley the same way I came: down CA 180. I would have loved to have gotten an early start, but the escort didn’t leave until 10 a.m. So again, I waited.
I know none of this is the Montecito’s fault, it’s just the way things are, following a big snow.
If you have kids, and you want to spend a couple of days playing in the snow, the Montecito would be a great choice. A carved bear welcomes visitors outside the lodge entrance.
In addition to the lodge itself, there are numerous cabins. From the rooftops, it’s obvious this place gets a lot of snow.
I stayed in this building, upstairs, in the room on the left corner. The rooms aren’t well marked, which led to some frustrating moments after my arrival. Since there are no shoveled sidewalks, I had to walk through the snow, towing a heavy suitcase, going up to each door to see the room number.
Instead of sidewalks and driveways, the paths between buildings are groomed cross-country ski trails. It’s not easy to walk on, and sometimes treacherous.
The entrance to the staircase up to my room was even worse. I had to climb down an icy snow embankment to get to the bottom step. Again, it’s not easy when you’re carrying suitcases. Anyone with physical limitations wouldn’t be able to do this.
In the interest of not being totally negative, I will say this: the dinner provided by the Montecito was very good (they made a plate for me, since I was arriving late). Also, the staff was very friendly.
So that’s how my most frustrating evening and morning played out. I was thrilled to get away from the Montecito, and the escort, take off my chains, and finally start the most intense driving day of my trip (350 miles, ending in Palm Springs.)