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The Montecito-Sequoia Lodge

Sequoia National Forest between
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

by Nick Anis

The Montecito-Sequoia Lodge, which is open all year round, is an ideal place to stay when visiting Sequoia National Forest, Sequoia National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park. The historic, rustic, and family oriented lodge, is truly one of the hidden gems of the High Sierra, offering a comfortable and unique experience for adults, children, and seniors. Montecito-Sequoia is the only resort in the parks and forest to have qualified to be placed in the AAA Tour Book. A staff of about 35 in winter and 70 in summer customizes activities and meals for up to 200 guests, who range from tots to seniors. The lodge also offers a unique and outstanding family vacation camp program for 11 weeks in the summer.

The Montecito-Sequoia Lodge, which opened in 1950, serves visitors to the national forest and nearby national parks. In 1969 the lodge was damaged from a 20-foot snowdump.

It took the feisty 74-year-old proprietor, Dr. Virginia C. Barners, a.k.a. "Pony" (her nickname) seven years to rebuild a bigger and better lodge. Since 1976 the Lodge has been open year-round. Pony, who holds an Ed.D. from Stanford makes it a point to meet all of the guests personally and frequently helps them plan out their next day’s outings.  Dr. Virginia C. Barners, a.k.a. "Pony"  - Click to Enlarge

She has successfully incorporated her mother’s visionary ideas about nutrition, and her own background in education into the lodge’s food preparation, and its recreational offerings.

The US National Park Service has 374 national parks, forests, preserves, national historic places, and battlefield parks representing significant aspects of our country's historic, cultural, professional, natural, and recreational heritage, and occupying over 80.7 million acres. The natural diversity of the geysers of Yellowstone National Park, the granite domes of Yosemite National Park, the volcanoes of Haleakala National Park, and the beaches of Virgin Island National Park are all extraordinary wonders. Two spectacular parks located in Central California in the High Sierra, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and the magnificent Sequoia National Forest are truly outstanding places to visit.

Sequoia is the second oldest national park, home to 35 of the largest and oldest trees in the world. It was established on September 25, 1890 to preserve the Big Trees in Giant Forest, including the 275-foot-tall General Sherman Giant Sequoia tree whose trunk weighs an estimated 1,385 tons and whose circumference at the ground is nearly 103 feet. General Sherman is the world's largest living tree in volume. Scientist can’t count the tree core’s growth rings while it’s still live, but they estimate General Sherman to be between 2,000 and 2,700 years old. Sequoia is also home to the Mineral King Valley and Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the U.S. outside of Alaska, which reaches 14,494 feet in elevation.

Five miles of the area of what is now Kings Canyon was originally set-aside in 1890 as General Grant National Park. In 1940, General Grant was absorbed into the new and larger Kings Canyon National Park, which eventually grew to include the South Fork of the Kings River and 456,552 acres of backcountry wilderness. Managed as one park, together Sequoia and Kings Canyon total over 863,700 acres. By special arrangement, the US Forest Service and US Parks Service now share the $10 entrance fee.

During the winter, if the Park’s Service hasn’t cleared the road yet, guests are met at Grant Grove (1 mile from the park gate) and escorted up to the lodge by following the resort’s 4 x 4’s. The parks and forest are always open, but the gate may be closed during storms – even if the park gate is closed, guests can call ahead to arrange for the lodge staff to escort them.

Located in the southern Sierra Nevada in the Sequoia National Forest, between Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park at an elevation of 7,500 feet, the view at the lakeside Montecito-Sequoia Lodge is breathtaking. The Sequoia National Forest is very large, but is only seven miles wide in the area where the lodge is located, which makes for an excellent view of the two national parks it sits between. The million-dollar view from the lodge shows you the snowcapped peaks of the Great Western Divide set amid large imposing fir and pine trees, and Lake Homavalo. Because it backs up to Baldy Peak (elevation 8,200), the Lodge gets the same snowfall even though it is 700 feet below the ridge.

Accommodations

There are 36 comfortable and fully furnished lodge rooms with private baths and 13 wintered rustic cabins with nearby bathhouses and heaters or wood burning stoves that can comfortably accommodate up to 206 guests. Rates vary according to season and promotions.

The cabins have king beds and two to three deluxe bunks with electric blankets and accommodate from two to eight guests. They have different views of the Great Western Divide or Lake Homavalo. The Cabins are insulated, fully winterized, and also equipped with electricity, carpet, and linens, and can accommodate up to 80 guests.

The four lodge buildings can accommodate up to 125 guests. Lodge rooms are fully equipped with electricity, carpet, linens (including electric blankets), and heaters and have a private bath, with a king, queen or twins, along with bunk beds. They have views of the Great Western Divide, the Lake, and the forest.

Refreshments and Meals

Guests may eat at the lodge’s "captains tables", near one of the large Arizona sandstone fireplaces (one of the many furnishings hand picked by Pony), or at a table outside on the deck overlooking the Great Western Divide. The dining room has attractive circular butcher-block tables on top of oil drums. Each table has a handmade wooden wheel barrel or birdhouse centerpiece with dried flora made by an artist friend of Pony. Oversized comfortable leather couches and easy chairs surround the fireplaces in the main dining room and the Ponderosa recreation room.

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The lodge’s fall and spring American Plan includes home cooked buffet breakfasts and dinners.  Lunch may be purchased separately for $7.95. 

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Breakfast is served fresh off the grill in the kitchen.

Chef Martin serves freshly prepared breakfast entres.

Guests can have a buffet lunch or a "nutritious yet delicious" trail lunch (1 or 2 made to order ham, roast beef, turkey, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on an assortment of breads, vegi pack, snacks, fruit, and beverage) to take along when they are exploring during the day.  Lunch is included in summer and winter tour packages.

The food is arguably amongst the best to be found in a mountain resort area. If there was a Nobel Prize for Mountain Resort Culinary Arts, the lodge’s Executive Chef might well be in the running. After completing a 22 year hitch in the Navy as a cook aboard submarines, and working for 15 years as an executive chef for the Stardust in Las Vegas and Lake Mead, Chef, Ron Martin came to Montecito-Sequoia Lodge. He frequently sits down to plan menus with Pony who was a professor of education at San Jose State for 27 years and is also quite an accomplished nutritionist.

For the past 11 years Chef Martin has prepared a different menu every day to the delight of guests’ palates.  On the weekend we visited he prepared a delicious barbecue buffet feast. There were three green salads: fresh iceberg with red cabbage accents, a six-leaf mesclun, with a choice of six homemade dressings, and Chef Martin’s signature Caesar salad.  A delightful batch of fresh green and golden beans, a pasta and vegetable medley, baked beans, corn on the cob, barbecue chicken, babyback pork ribs, and Kielbasa were

Montecito Sequoia Lodge
Chef Martin beside his coveted barbque chicken, pork ribs, and Kelbasa.

also served.  For dessert there was fresh fruit, soft service ice cream, and homemade apple cobbler. The following evening a spectacular 80-pound baron of beef, fresh smoked salmon, and homemade strawberry shortcake were served. Apparently, Chef Martin has become quite adept at high altitude cooking which is sometimes very challenging. The hot and cold breakfast served each morning was also quite good. I was pleased to see Chef Martin freshly preparing eggs, hotcakes, and other breakfast entrées throughout the morning in smaller batches for guests as they arrived because the food was much fresher, hotter, and tastier than one would expect for a breakfast buffet. I managed to pry loose his secret formula for killer buttermilk, banana, and buckwheat hotcakes – a combination of a great recipe, and preparation on a grill that is at just the right temperature. Chef Martin, has published a recipe book and is now considering publishing a recipe book for lodge guests. However, he is extremely protective of his secret barbecue sauce recipe so don’t expect to find it in the book.

The Hospitality Bar offers complimentary hot and cold beverages, fresh fruit, snacks and a well stocked reach in refrigerator 24 hours a day. The "no host" Cocktail Bar, located in the Ponderosa Room, offers a wide selection of beer and wine, cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages. The first night we arrived Becky Sims, Director of Operations was tending bar. Later Becky was the lead vocalist for the sing-along. Her husband, Ben is the lodge’s accounting manager. The staff wears different hats and when needed, everyone pitches in to help. During the pre-dinner Social Hour complementary hot hors d’oeuvres, and snacks are served while guest get to know each other.

Activities

Year Round: The rooms don’t have televisions, but the Ponderosa Room and the Marmot Lodge have satellite TVs for guest viewing. The lodge has a large 10 jet outdoor spa. Guests can play table tennis, ping pong, participate in friendly contests, or enjoy games in the Lodge’s game cabinet, indoor recreation areas, evening campfires, sing-alongs, stargazing (with the lodge’s high powered telescope), hiking, and dances.

During the fall, spring, and summer Saturdays from May to October 1st.: A heated swimming pool is open and guests can enjoy "on your own" canoeing, paddleboats, swimming, and water skiing in the adjacent Lake Homavalo. Other activities available include tennis courts, volleyball, half court basketball, and horseshoe pits.

During the Winter: The Lodge is a popular destination for Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks, and Christmas and New Years. The Lodge has 4 sledding and tubing chutes, cross country skiing rentals and tours, a snowboarding hill and board rentals, snowshoe rentals and tours, and a variety of children’s programs. Lake Homavalo, which has water sports in the summer, becomes the "Miracle Ice Rink" with both hockey and figure skating (including lights and music) in the winter. The lodge rents hockey skates. There are family winter games, on snow lunches, and a warming hut on Sunrise Bowl.

Seasonal Points of Interest (guests can seasonally visit a cornucopia of near by points of interests):
Sequoia National Forest (summer, fall, and spring)
Boyden Cave, an underground limestone cave, nestled beside the Kings River, open may through September. Tickets for sale $6.50 per person, by Forest Service at cave entrance. Tours leave on the hour.
Upper Boulder Creek with its massive granite boulders offering seasonally good stream fishing for trout.
Stony Creek, Sunrise Trail, Chimney Rock, and Horse Corral which are favorite spots for the "old-timers".
Grizzly Falls, a 50 foot high waterfall fed from Grizzly Lake up in the high country, five miles from Boyden Cave and 20 steps from the parking lot.
Sequoia National Park
Giant Forest and Lodgepole
Crystal Caves, tickets for sale by Park Service at Lodgepole Visitors Center. Tours leave on the hour.
Tokopah Falls is a favorite short hike to see a "miniature Yosemite" and a beautiful series of cascading waterfalls.
Moro Rock, a 400-step staircase to the top of a granite dome overlooking the Great Western Divide.
Crescent Meadow, a meadow lined by giant sequoia trees lots of wildflowers, birds, grazing Mule Deer, and older fallen Sequoia.
The General Sherman Tree, the largest and one of the oldest trees in the world.
Kings Canyon National Park
Lodgepole Visitors Center
Grant Gove, with hundreds of giant cinnamon-colored Sequoias towering over lush meadows.
The General Grant Tree (the National Christmas Tree).
Redwood Canyon boasts the largest grove of Giant Sequoias, over 18,000 at the base of Big Baldy.
Buena Vista Peak, a 1-mile up hike from the trail head up to the 7,800 foot peak and a 360 degree view of Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Sierra Crest.
Big Baldy is an inspirational walk from the steps of the lodge to the 360-degree view from the high ridge trail, which tops the massive granite dome.
Cedar Grove is found by following the winding Kings River through the steep-walled granite valley of the magnificent Kings Canyon.
Hume Lake is well stocked with fish and rowboats can be rented.
Sandy Cove is a popular area on Hume Lake for swimming.
Roaring River Falls, a short 100-yard walk from the parking lot to a striking view of a 20 foot drop of cascading falls and a deep blue pool.
Zumwalt Meadow
Grand Sentinel Viewpoint
Mist Falls, about a 4-.6 mile hike (2 miles level, 2 miles climbing) from "roads end" the end of highway 180.
This list is only a sampling of the extraordinary sights in the nearby area. Bill Gain, Recreation and Special Events Director, and Kevin Murnane, Ski School Director, also serve as naturalists and guides.

Bill Gain, Recreation and Special Events Director - Click to Enlarge
Bill Gain

Kevin Murnane, Ski School Director - Click to Enlarge
Kevin Murnane

During customized tours in the lodge’s oversized air conditioned passenger vans or talks at the lodge these guys can show you how to identify various tree types within the area such as Sugar Pine, White Pine, Red Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Jeffry/Ponderosa Pine, Mountain Dogwood, Black Oak, Sequioa, and Cedar.

They can also tell you all about the area’s history and evolution. Eco-Tours can be prearranged for children, adults, and seniors.

Wildlife

Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and the Sequoia National Forest have mule deer, which are the prey of the elusive and rarely sighted, California mountain lion, (a.k.a. puma or cougar). Pine martens, fishers and wolverines, pursue squirrels and other smaller animals. Black bears are occasionally sighted, which may take fawns or eat carrion, but subsist mostly on vegetation. Marmots and pikas inhabit the mountains. Bobcats, coyotes, gray fox, raccoons and ringtails patrol the foothills. Decades of fish plantings introduced non-native brown, brook, golden and cutthroat trout, but rainbow trout and Little Kern golden trout, native to the Sierra's west slope streams, are being restored by the Park’s Service.

Getting to the Lodge

The lodge is approximately a 1.5-hour drive east of Fresno, a 4.5-hour drive north of Los Angeles or south east of San Francisco off highway 180. Guests can call ahead to the lodge at 209-565-3388 to get weather reports and road conditions. The Lodge is open year-round (even if the park gate is closed). During the winter, if the roads haven’t been cleared yet, or the gate is closed, guests are met and escorted up to the lodge by the resort’s 4 x 4’s.

Reservations:

Montecito-Sequoia Lodge Reservations
2225 Grant Road
Suite 1 Los Altos, CA 94024

Phone: 800-227-9900 or Phone: 209-565-3388
Web: http://www.montecitosequoia.com
Email: msreservations@MontecitoSequoia.com

Montecito-Sequoia Lodge
8000 Generals Highway
Sequoia National Forest, CA

Phone: 800-843-8677 or Phone: 209-565-3388
Web: http://www.montecitosequoia.com
Email: msreservations@MontecitoSequoia.com

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Nick Anis is a food, wine, and travel and technology writer with over 24 books in print published by McGraw-Hill, Random House, Bantam, Ziff-Davis, Tab, and others. Nick's articles have appeared in The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, West Coast Media, The Family Publications Group, The Weekly News, and Travel-Watch.  His beats include food, travel, snow and waters sports, entertainment, family recreation, consumer electronics, home improvement, and automotive.  He is responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach Press Telegram.  Nick is an accomplished downhill skier, PADI certified SCUBA diver, and when he's not sitting on his butt goofing off, enjoys a variety of active recreation including tennis, riding motorcycles, ATVs, wave runners, snow machines, horses, skeet and trap shooting he's also taken a stab at riding camels, donkeys, elephants, ostriches, lamas, dolphins, Reindeer, bulls, mechanical bulls, and buffalo.  Nick is a member (A Secretary/Treasurer) of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), a member of the North American Snow Sports Journalist Association (NASJA), Computer Press Association, The Writer's Guild, and listed in Books in Print, Media Map, and Press Access.  You can reach Nick at Editor@Travel-Watch.com.

 

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