The Ultimate Guide to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (2020)

**Because of the ongoing pandemic, some of the services and places mentioned in this post may not be open or operating under modified hours. Make sure to double check availability before heading out on your trip.

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Situated 225 miles north of Los Angeles, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are popular destinations for Californians who also happen to be nature lovers. 

But because of its uniquely enormous trees, even those who live outside the state (and country!) are curious enough to put this on their travel bucket list.

Both of these parks can be found in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of Visalia, Fresno County, and Tulare County. In 1976, UNESCO recognized these enclosed areas as the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Biosphere Reserve.

In this guide to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, we’ll discuss everything you need to know to make the most out of your trip. 

A Land of Nature’s Superlatives

Giant sequoia trees at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are typically seen in tandem when you search for them on the internet. That’s because these two majestic parks are situated next to each other and are jointly managed by the National Park Service. 

They’re sometimes called “Seki” for short.

Most tourists typically visit both parks. After all, the main attractions here are all about the size — natural sculptures that literally have a larger-than-life presence.

Sequoia National Park is home to Mt. Whitney, which stands at 14,505 feet above sea level. At this height, it holds the title of the highest peak in the continental United States. 

But Mt. Whitney isn’t the only one that’s standing tall here. The park is primarily known for its giant sequoia trees, which is among the largest tree species on earth.

Giant sequoias only occur naturally in Sierra Nevada. All other appearances elsewhere have been cultivated artificially. 

They grow to an average height of 164 to 279 feet, while their trunk diameters can range from 20 to 26 feet.

Kings Canyon National Park, meanwhile, has the deepest canyon in the United States with a maximum depth of 8,200 feet. With such depth, it’s also among the deepest canyons in all of North America. 

Indeed, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are grand testaments to nature’s superlatives!

Entrance Fees & Passes

Entrance fees at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Some park goers can purchase their passes ahead of time via Recreation.gov. Passes are also sold at the entrances, and the management accepts both cash and credit card payments. 

80% of entrance and camping fees go directly to park improvement projects. Thus, you can already contribute to the park’s maintenance and longevity by simply going there, or encouraging others to do so.

Listed below are the various entrance fees and pass options at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks:

Vehicle Pass: $35 (Valid for up to 7 days)

Applies to anyone who’s coming in a single vehicle and is valid for all passengers in the vehicle.

Includes access to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, Hume Lake District of Sequoia National Forest, and Giant Sequoia National Monument.

Individual Entry Pass: $20 (Valid for up to 7 days)

Applies to anyone who’s coming in by bicycle or on foot. Accessible areas are the same as #1.

Motorcycle Pass: $30 (Valid for up to 7 days)

Applies to anyone who’s coming in on a scooter, motorcycle, or any other motorized vehicle that operates similarly. Accessible areas are the same as #1.

Non-Commercial Group: $15

Groups are considered “commercial” when they’re traveling on a pre-packaged itinerary that was organized by a business (e.g. travel and tour agencies). 

For non-commercial groups, this fee applies to those who are coming in a vehicle or bus with a capacity of at least 16 people. 

Such groups are charged at a $15 per person rate.

Those exempted from paying the fee include:

  • Children who are 15 years old and younger
  • Drivers who were hired only for transportation purposes
  • Anyone who already has a pass

Sequoia & Kings Canyon Annual Pass: $70

Think you’ll be going to the Sequoia & Kings Canyon more than once? 

This annual pass gives you all the privileges of the vehicle pass, plus the chance to come back as many times as you like for a whole year, counting from the month of purchase.

America the Beautiful Pass: $80

This interagency pass gives you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks and forests, for an entire year. If you’re planning on visiting other national parks during your California trip, like Yosemite or Joshua Tree, this is the best choice.

Like the vehicle pass, it’s valid for the owner plus all passengers within a single, non-commercial vehicle. 

At sites where fees are charged per person instead, the pass covers the owner and three additional people. Children who are 15 or older are not charged a fee.

Senior Pass: $20 Annual / $80 Lifetime

US citizens or permanent residents who are 62 or older can purchase an America the Beautiful Pass at a discounted rate. An annual pass costs $20, while a lifetime pass costs $80.

This pass also gives you a 50% discount for camping, fishing and other facilities at certain locations within the parks system.

Access Pass: Free

Those who have a permanent disability are eligible to apply for a lifetime Access Pass. 

This pass carries all the benefits of the America the Beautiful pass and includes discounts for camping, guided tours, and other services at certain locations.

While the cost of the pass itself is free, you’ll have to pay a $10 application processing fee.

Every Kid Outdoors Pass: Free

If you have a child who is in the fourth grade, you can enroll in the Every Kid Outdoors program. 

This program gives fourth graders and their families free access to national parks and other federal recreation sites for a year.

How to Get There

River in Kings Canyon

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks have 3 entrance gates. These are:

Ash Mountain Entrance (Sequoia National Park)

Visitors can enter the Ash Mountain Entrance of Sequoia National Park via Highway 198. Roads are steep, narrow, and winding beyond the park’s entrance.

To ensure that you can safely get around the park, vehicle limits and restrictions will be discussed in further detail in the Vehicle Restrictions section.

Big Stump Entrance (Kings Canyon National Park)

Visitors can enter the Big Stump Entrance of Kings Canyon National Park via Highway 180. 

For longer vehicles, this is the preferred entry point to both parks because its roads are wider and straighter, plus the inclines are gentler.

Lookout Point Entrance (Mineral King Area)

The Lookout Point Entrance is for visitors who plan to go to Sequoia National Park’s Mineral King Area. 

This is located 2 miles before the Ash Mountain Entrance, and the route towards it can be found at the junction of Highway 198 and Mineral King Road.

Take note that the road is winding and extremely narrow, and some portions remain unpaved. 

For safety purposes, trailers and RVs aren’t advised to go here. 

The gates are open from late May until the last Wednesday of October, after which it closes for the winter.

Getting There by Plane

Getting to Sequoia & Kings Canyon by plane

The closest airports to the parks are the Visalia Municipal Airport (VIS) and the Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT). 

Other international airports, like the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO), are a few hours’ drive away.

From Visalia Municipal Airport, it takes 1 hour to get to the Sequoia National Park entrance, and 1 hour and 30 minutes to get to the Kings Canyon National Park entrance. 

Most visitors  opt to rent a car, but other transportation options are available in the summer. 

During summer, visitors can ride a bus bound for the Visalia Transit Center. From there, Sequoia National Park can be reached via their Sequoia Shuttle service.

**Please note that the Sequoia Shuttle will not be running in 2020 due to COVID-19.

From Fresno Yosemite International Airport, it takes 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the Kings Canyon National Park entrance, and 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to the Sequoia National Park entrance. 

You can reach the parks by renting a car at the airport.

Getting There by Car

Getting to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National parks by car from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Jose

The path to the parks is generally composed of narrow and winding mountain roads, so make sure that your vehicle is prepared to tackle that. 

Gasoline isn’t readily available inside the parks, though Stony Creek Lodge (along Generals Highway) has a self-service gas station. 

Other than that, the closest gas stations can be found in the town of Three Rivers (near Ash Mountain Entrance) and in Dunlap (near Big Stump Entrance).

From Los Angeles

Take I-5 N, heading to Bakersfield / Fresno via CA-99 N. Take exit 30 from CA-99 N. Follow CA-65 N to CA-198 E in Tulare County.

Continue straight to reach the Sequoia National Park’s Ash Mountain Entrance.

  • Distance: 205 miles (362 km)
  • Travel Time: approximately 4 hours

From San Francisco

Drive from I-80 E to I-580 E. Take I-205 E, then merge with I-5 N. Drive from CA-120 E to CA-99 S. Take exit 133B and proceed to CA-180 E. 

Continue straight to reach the Kings Canyon National Park’s Big Stump Entrance.

  • Distance: 250 miles (402 km)
  • Travel Time: approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes

From Sacramento

Take either CA-99 S or I-80 W bound for Fresno. Take exit 133B and proceed to CA-180 E. 

Continue straight to reach the Kings Canyon National Park’s Big Stump Entrance.

  • Distance: 240 miles (386 km)
  • Travel Time: approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes

From San Jose

Take CA-85 S, then merge with US-101 S. Take exit 356 and proceed to CA-152 E. Head to CA-99 S. Take exit 133B and proceed to CA-180 E. 

Continue straight to reach the Kings Canyon National Park’s Big Stump Entrance.

  • Distance: 217 miles (349 km)
  • Travel Time: approximately 4 hours

How to Get Around

How to get around Sequoia & Kings Canyon

With a combined land area of 1,353 mi2 (3,500 km2), there is indeed a lot to see in Sequoia & Kings Canyon — even if the majority of it is pure wilderness.

If your time is limited, careful planning is necessary to ensure that you’ll see the best of both parks, whether your driving your own car or taking advantage of park transportation.

Park Transportation

Sequoia National Park shuttle map

*Please note that the shuttle services will not be running in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Free park shuttles are available in Sequoia National Park during summer and winter. As of this writing, no shuttles are available at Kings Canyon National Park. 

Here are Sequoia’s shuttle routes when operational:

Summer Shuttles

Visalia Route ($20 Roundtrip)

The Visalia Route will take riders to its lone stop within the park, the Giant Forest Museum. From there, people can take the free shuttles to get around. 

Take note that this shuttle will only pick up people at the designated shuttle stops.

The schedule of the park-bound trips and their stops are as follows:

  • Starting at 6:00 am: Hotels at Visalia, Lemon Cove, and Exeter
  • Starting at 6:55 am: Three Rivers (Comfort Inn and the Three Rivers Museum)

The first return trip begins at 2:30 pm, while the last trip leaves at 6:30 pm.

Green Route 1: Giant Forest

Daily Schedule: 8:00 am and 8:30 am; then every 15 minutes from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm

Stops:

  • Giant Forest Museum
  • General Sherman Tree Wheelchair-Accessible Trail
  • General Sherman Tree Main Trail & Parking
  • Lodgepole Visitor Center & Campground

Gray Route 2: Moro Rock / Crescent Meadow

Weekday Schedule: 8:00 am and 8:45 am; then every 20 minutes from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm

Weekend Schedule: 8:00 am and 8:45 am; then every 10 minutes from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm

Stops:

  • Giant Forest Museum
  • Moro Rock
  • Crescent Meadow
  • Auto Log (weekends & holidays)
  • Tunnel Log (weekends & holidays)

Purple Route 3: Lodgepole / Wuksachi

Daily Schedule: Every 20 minutes, from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm

Stops:

  • Lodgepole Visitor Center & Campground
  • Wuksachi Lodge & Restaurant
  • Dorst Campground

Orange Route 4: General Sherman Tree Trails (Free)

Daily Schedule: Every 15 minutes, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm

Stops:

  • General Sherman Tree Main Trail & Parking
  • General Sherman Tree Wheelchair-Accessible Trail
  • Wolverton Trailhead & Picnic Area

Winter Shuttle

Winter shuttles are typically available for two periods: November 26 to 29 and December 24 to January 3. However, keep in mind that its availability mainly depends on the weather. 

When operating, the shuttle comes every 10 minutes, from 10:00 am until 4:30 pm.

The winter stops are:

  • Giant Forest Museum
  • General Sherman Tree Wheelchair-Accessible Trail
  • General Sherman Tree Main Trail & Parking
  • Wolverton Snowplay Area & Parking
  • Lodgepole Village
  • Wuksachi Lodge & Restaurant

Driving Your Car

Driving through Tunnel Log

Due to the parks’ increasing popularity, its visitors are now reaching record numbers, especially during summer. Be ready for long lines if you choose to come on a weekend or a holiday. 

To minimize hassles, it’s advisable to purchase your pass online or to visit during weekdays.

Free parking lots are scattered throughout the parks, most of which can be found near popular attractions. They’re often filled up by noon so make sure you come early to secure a spot.

If you’re visiting Sequoia National Park, it’s recommended to just park near the shuttle terminals and then ride the shuttles to get around.

**Unfortunately the shuttles will not be operating in 2020 due to COVID-19. 

Take note that during weekends and holidays, the Moro Rock / Crescent Meadow Road is closed off to outside vehicles. You can only get there by foot, bicycle, or shuttle (Route 2). 

Even during weekdays, parking can be difficult.

Meanwhile, since there are no shuttles yet at Kings Canyon National Park, visitors have no choice but to use their own vehicle to tour the area. 

Grant Grove is usually the place where it’s the most congested.

If you’re driving, keep in mind that the parks’ elevations are between 1,370 feet and 14,494 feet. Steep elevation changes are to be expected. 

It’s recommended to shift your gears to L, 1, or 2 when driving downhill to manage your speed and protect your brakes.

Vehicle Restrictions

Vehicle restrictions at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

As mentioned previously, some of the roads that you’ll encounter here are your typical mountain roads. Thus, longer vehicles like buses, RVs, trailers, or large vans usually go beyond the double yellow line and endanger everyone on the road.

For everyone’s safety, the parks established strict restrictions when it comes to vehicle lengths.

Listed below are the guidelines that visitors must take note of before going:

Moro Rock / Crescent Meadow Road

  • Vehicles beyond 22 feet are forbidden during shuttle season. This includes towed units.

Mineral King Road

  • Trailers and RVs are prohibited here and in this area’s campgrounds.

Generals Highway

  • Vehicles beyond 24 feet aren’t advised to go between Foothills Visitor Center and Potwisha Campground.
  • Vehicles beyond 22 feet aren’t advised to go between Potwisha Campground and Giant Forest Museum.
  • Highway 180 is the recommended entry point for long vehicles.

Crystal Cave Road

  • Vehicles beyond 22 feet are forbidden. 
  • This road is mostly open from late May to late October, depending on the weather.

Panoramic Point Road

  • Trailers and RVs are forbidden. 
  • This road closes upon the first snowfall and usually reopens on Memorial Day weekend, or when the snow melts early.

Weather and Best Times to Visit

Kearsarge Lakes at Kings Canyon National Park
Credit: GPA Photo Archive / CC BY-SA 2.0

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are open for the whole year, so technically, you can visit anytime you wish. 

Just like most national parks in the United States, the best time to visit would be during the summer months (June to August), when the park’s temperatures are just right for hiking and general sightseeing.

Visiting in Different Seasons

Visiting Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in winter

Any hiking enthusiast can tell you that the parks are a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of city life, regardless of the season. However, each season offers a unique experience that’s worth coming back for.

Here’s how the parks typically look like each season of the year:

Summer

This is when the parks are at their busiest. They may be drawing huge crowds during this time, but it still doesn’t match the crowdedness of its more popular Sierra Nevada neighbor, Yosemite National Park.

This is also when most of the parks’ amenities are available, such as the Sequoia Summer Shuttles. 

All attractions and campgrounds are open, and casual visitors can readily avail of beginner-friendly activities such as ranger-led hikes.

Fall

For those who prefer to avoid crowds, fall would be a good time to go here. 

However, the weather can be unpredictable, and as a result, access to some facilities and amenities may be limited. 

Ranger-led programs are reduced, and the Cedar Grove and Mineral King areas are completely closed off to visitors.

Winter 

Many sections of the park are closed during winter. For instance, only 3 out of 14 campgrounds are open during this time. 

These are:

  • Azalea Campground in Grant Grove
  • Potwisha Campground at Foothills
  • South Fork Campground at Foothills

But winter is also when snow play areas are finally open! 

Visitors can go skiing, sledding, or snowshoeing at Wolverton Meadow or Big Stump. 

A winter shuttle is also available in Sequoia during the Thanksgiving and Christmas / New Year periods.

Most winter visitors will say that the parks are like another world during this time. 

Not that the place isn’t regal by itself, but there’s just something extra magical about being surrounded by snow-blanketed sequoia trees!

Take note that Generals Highway is gated at this time, making it challenging to travel between the parks. 

Make sure that you give yourself enough time for your trip, should you plan to see both parks during the winter months.

Spring

Snow may still be present in some areas of the park, but wildflowers start to bloom along the foothills, which makes for a very pretty sight. 

Also, spring is still considered off-season here. This can be a good time to enjoy some solitude, before the crowds pour in again in late May.

Things to Wear or Pack Depending on the Season

Panoramic Point at Kings Canyon

The parks’ temperature ranges for each month are as follows:

  • January: 23 – 41ºF
  • February: 24 – 44ºF
  • March: 26 – 48ºF
  • April: 30 – 53ºF
  • May: 36 – 59ºF
  • June: 44 – 68ºF
  • July: 51 – 77ºF
  • August: 50 – 77ºF
  • September: 45 – 72ºF
  • October: 38 – 62ºF
  • November: 30 – 50ºF
  • December: 26 – 43ºF

These numbers should help you choose your clothes wisely and avoid being overdressed or underdressed. 

This is especially an important consideration during winter, when waterproof jackets, warm layers, and snow boots are necessities.

Generally, the recommended outfit for the parks is anything that’s protective yet comfortable. Just adjust based on the weather forecast. 

The usual clothes that visitors wear include:

  • Short-sleeved, moisture-wicking t-shirt
  • Long-sleeved cotton shirt or jacket for layering, as the park temperatures can be unpredictable, even during summer
  • Sports bra for the ladies
  • Athletic pants or leggings
  • Shorts or pants with SPF protection
  • Hiking socks
  • Hiking shoes or sandals; make sure they’re already broken in
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses

As for must-haves, here’s a short list of things to bring for all seasons:

Day Pack: Choose a size that you can effortlessly carry around, even for longer hikes. A backpack is especially recommended in this situation for a hands-free experience.

 Straps and back panels with moisture-wicking features also ensure that you stay comfortable throughout the day.

Snacks: Spending a whole day in various sections of the park can be tiring, so don’t forget to bring your favorite travel snacks.

Hydration: Bring your favorite reusable water bottle. The parks have water refill stations at key areas, but if you’re hiking, you should make sure to have enough for your journey.

Packed Lunch: Depending on your itinerary, it may be advisable to bring a packed lunch, especially if you choose a longer hiking trail. 

Be warned, however, that bears are present in the park. Proper food storage for your protection is discussed in greater detail here.

Sunscreen: Even the shades of the giant sequoia trees can’t protect you from the sun’s UV rays, especially if you’ll be out there for a long time. 

Apply sunscreen generously and reapply as necessary to avoid getting a sunburn.

Appropriate Footwear: Walking is involved in a lot of the parks’ attractions, no doubt about that. 

You don’t necessarily have to buy a new pair of hiking boots for this trip, but you should at least wear athletic shoes that are built to take on miles of walking.

During winter, snow boots and snow shoes (or crampons) are a must to protect your feet from snowmelt. Regular hiking shoes don’t stand a chance against the parks’ winter temperatures.

Camera or Mobile Phone: This is a given. You certainly don’t want to leave the parks without a few pictures to remember it by!

First-aid Kit: You may know how to stay safe and generally accident-free, but it’s still advisable to bring a first-aid kit for emergency purposes. This is especially important if you’re traveling with kids or seniors.

Power Bank and Charging Cables: Make sure to have a backup power source ready in case your devices’ batteries run out. 

We’re big fans of the Anker PowerCore 20100mAh for charging multiple devices.

Winter Driving

Driving in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in the winter

Winter at Sequoia & Kings Canyon indeed looks ethereal. However, driving in the parks during this time can be extremely dangerous because of the icy and slippery mountain roads. 

Fortunately, there are places near the parks’ entrances that rent or sell tire chains should you need them.

For everyone’s safety, visitors may be required to drive with tire chains near and within the park, depending on weather conditions. Chain control designations will be put up in areas where chains are necessary. 

To stay updated with the parks’ road conditions, you may contact 1-559-565-3341.

Things to Do at Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon National Park was originally established as the General Grant National Park in 1890. In March 1940, it was renamed to Kings Canyon National Park, after the mile-deep, glacier-carved valley of the same name.

Aside from its giant sequoia trees, Kings Canyon National Park is also known for its 14,000-foot peaks, high-altitude meadows, and the swift-flowing Kings River, which is the biggest river draining the southern portion of the Sierra Nevada.

The park has two visitor centers: one in Grant Grove, where you can find the General Grant Tree, and Cedar Grove, which is known for its stunning hiking trails.

Listed below are some of the park’s highlights. If you’re looking for a more detailed list of things to do in Kings Canyon National Park, click here.

General Grant Grove

Walking through a tree trunk at General Grant Grove

The main star of General Grant Grove is the General Grant Tree. This 3,000-year-old sequoia tree also happens to be the second largest tree on the planet in terms of trunk volume. 

It has earned the nickname “The Nation’s Christmas Tree” because of the magical vibe that it radiates during winter.

Located near the Big Stump Entrance, visitors often start their park journey at General Grant Grove, as it houses the Kings Canyon Visitor Center. 

Here, you can learn more about the giant sequoias that have made the park famous across the globe. It also has a shop where you can buy maps, books, and souvenirs.

If you need access to supplies, General Grant Grove has a grocery store, gift shop, restaurant, post office, and ATMs. It also has lodges, cabins, and campgrounds if you plan to stay in the area. 

Snowshoes and skis are available for rent during winter.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

Anyone who wishes to see Kings Canyon National Park will have to go through the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (aka Highway 180). 

The route starts just outside of Fresno, and it traverses various key areas within the park before reaching the terminus which is literally named Road’s End.

The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is currently the only route to the park that’s accessible to vehicles. 

This 50-mile long route lives up to the “scenic” in its name, but be prepared to be taken for a ride because the roads are steep and winding.

People usually take their time to savor all the gorgeous scenery. Best of all, there are certain points in the route that are especially designated for photo-ops.

Zumwalt Meadow

Zumwalt Meadow

While the park is primarily known for the jagged magnificence of Kings Canyon, Zumwalt Meadow complements it with a lush alpine backdrop that gives visitors the perfect chance to be one with nature. 

It features a 1.5-mile trail loop that takes you to various natural sceneries, such as the Kings River and the surrounding granite walls.

The trails here are gentle enough for kids and seniors, and park rangers can attest to its popularity among various age groups. 

If you’re looking for an activity that isn’t too physically demanding, Zumwalt Meadow offers one of the best hikes in Kings Canyon National Park.

Things to Do at Sequoia National Park

Being in the presence of the earth’s biggest natural wonders can be a truly humbling experience. This is exactly what you’ll get when you finally come face to face with the General Sherman Tree, which is the main treasure of the Sequoia National Park.

Aptly named after the giant sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that thrive within, it was first established as a national park in September 1890 to protect its forested terrains from logging. 

Sequoia National Park became America’s second national park, after Yellowstone which was established in March 1872.

It was in 1943 when Sequoia National Park’s Management became linked to that of Kings Canyon’s. Now, visitors can enjoy the best of both parks by traversing the Generals Highway.

Listed below are some of the park’s highlights:

General Sherman Tree

General Sherman Tree

Giant sequoias are called “giant” for a reason. 

In fact, even the unnamed trees that you’ll encounter in various sections of the park are already enough to make you feel in awe. 

But all of them will bow down to the General Sherman Tree, which is currently the planet’s largest tree in terms of volume.

Named after William Tecumseh Sherman, an American general who fought in the Civil War, the General Sherman Tree stands at a whopping 275 feet (84 meters), with an average diameter of 103 feet (31 meters).

These numbers seem abstract in writing, so let’s illustrate it using real life objects. 

The average height of one story is around 10 feet for residential buildings. Thus, the General Sherman Tree is roughly around 27 stories tall!

Its age is estimated to be between 1,800 to 2,700 years old, but no one knows for sure how long it has really been around. 

What’s clear is that it has gone through countless civilizations, and we’re lucky enough that it has stood this long to share its greatness with us.

Moro Rock

Moro Rock

One of the most popular attractions in Sequoia National Park is Moro Rock, a dome-shaped granite protrusion that can be climbed via a quarter-mile staircase. 

Even though a quarter mile seems short, it’s certainly among the challenging hikes in Sequoia National Park because of the path’s width and steepness.

Indeed, this climb isn’t for the faint of heart — or knees, if stairs are your weakness. 

However, anyone who’s willing to complete the journey towards the top will be rewarded with impressive vistas of the Great Western Divide.

Don’t worry if you can’t make it up in one go. The path is filled with various rest areas for those who need to catch their breath.

Giant Forest Trail

Giant Forest Trail

The Giant Forest is currently home to five of the biggest trees in the whole world. Truth be told, five is quite a small figure compared to the total number of sequoia trees here. 

Standing tall behind the Big 5 are 8,000+ other giant sequoias, dwarfing any other living being that comes to see it up close.

To get here, you’ll have to tread the Giant Forest Trail, which is a 7-mile loop that will give you a healthy dose of natural scenery. It’s easy enough for people of all skill levels. 

Most visitors will go here for a leisurely hike, but it’s also great for trail running.

For a more detailed list of things to do, check out our 16 Breathtaking Things to Do in Sequoia National Park

Where to Stay

Where to stay in Sequoia & Kings Canyon

Staying within the parks obviously wins in terms of vibe and proximity. Best of all, top-notch service and hospitality can be expected from the staff. 

Since these accommodations are committed to giving that unique Sequoia & Kings Canyon park experience, guests typically have to pay more for that.

For instance, nightly rates are at least $250 on average, and some can even go over $300, depending on the season. 

Of course, if you’re specifically looking for that “intimate cabin in the woods” or “hotel within a park” vibe, this is certainly worth it.

For those who don’t mind just having the bare essentials for a few days, camping out is always an option. You can reserve a campsite via the Recreation.gov website for just $22 a night.

It’s worth noting that some park lodges and campsites close from fall to spring. 

Fortunately, there are inns and cabins a few miles away that are open throughout the year.

They’re also relatively cheaper, as some charge less than $150 per night. If you don’t mind driving longer to and from the parks, this is a good option.

Food at the Parks

Food at Kings Canyon National Park

Once you’ve figured out where you’re going to sleep, the next best thing to ask is: where to eat?

At Sequoia & Kings Canyon, you can grab food at restaurants, counter service cafés, mini-marts, or riverside dining spots. Of course, you can also cook your own food should you choose to stay at one of their campsites.

**Because of COVID-19 some of the restaurants and shops listed below may be closed or have modified hours. Be sure to double check that they’re open before you head there.

Where to Eat Near Kings Canyon

Hume Lake

Hume Lake Snack Shop

Hume Lake may be more popular for its Christian youth camps, but they also excel in serving “hume-ongous” snacks to visitors, regardless of religion. 

If having a generous serving of burger, fries, and shake sounds like fun, going to Hume Lake Snack Shop after your hike is certainly a great day-ender.

The teriyaki burger and the burger with jalapeños are best-sellers here, along with their unique milkshake flavors. 

Top that with lakeside seating and a mountain view, and your afternoon plans are complete!

  • Seasons Open: All seasons
  • Hours: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily

Grant Grove Restaurant

A few years ago, Grant Grove Restaurant underwent major renovations to provide an improved dining experience for visitors. 

Indoor and outdoor seating are available, along with a courtyard filled with picnic tables for those who are in a rush. Outdoor areas are usually closed off during winter, though.

They’ve also enhanced their menu to focus on locally-sourced ingredients. Their quinoa burger and vegan pizza are especially popular to both vegans and non-vegans alike.

  • Seasons Open: All seasons
  • Hours: 7:00 am to 9:00 pm daily

Cedar Grove Grill

If you’re staying at Cedar Grove Lodge, don’t miss out on the affordable food options offered by Cedar Grove Grill. 

This place is known for their snacks like the turkey and swiss sandwich, which is part of their grab-and-go menu. 

Indoor and outdoor seating are available should you choose to dine in.

  • Seasons Open: Mid-spring to mid-fall
  • Hours: 7:00 am to 9:00 pm daily

Montecito Sequoia Lodge

Hiking in the parks typically results in a big appetite afterwards. If you’re in need of a large and varied meal, consider going to Montecito Sequoia Lodge. They serve buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

For those who plan to stay here, all meals are already included in their rates. Holiday-themed meals are also served during major U.S. holidays.

Vegetarian options are included in all of their buffets. If you have food allergies or special dietary needs, just let their chefs know and they’ll find a way to accommodate you.

  • Seasons Open: Spring, fall, winter
  • Hours: 7:30 am to 7:30 pm daily

Where to Eat Near Sequoia

High Sierra Trail
Credit: Petr Meissner / CC BY

Stony Creek Lodge

Guests’ complimentary breakfast are served at Stony Creek Lodge’s dining area in the morning. But during lunch and dinner, it becomes available to the public to serve light meals and pizza. 

If your itinerary involves crossing over to the other park, you may include this as a snack stopover.

  • Seasons Open: Mid-spring to early fall
  • Hours: 11:00 am to 7:30 pm daily

The Peaks Restaurant

Located within Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National Park’s premier hotel, The Peaks Restaurant exudes a casual elegance that makes the park’s alpine mood really pop. 

If you want a selection of hearty meals that showcase California’s seasonal cuisines, their culinary team is known for serving the best of it.

Reservations are strongly recommended, especially if you plan to have dinner here during winter. Boxed lunches are also available for those looking for a quick dining option.

  • Seasons Open: All seasons
  • Hours: 7:00 am to 10:00 pm daily

Lodgepole Market Center

Looking for snacks or meals that are easy to take on the go? Lodgepole Market Center has a grocery that sells deli sandwiches and other trail snacks. 

You can also buy your picnic or camping supplies here.

If you need something bigger to tide you over, you can go to Lodgepole Grill Café. Here you’ll find grilled burgers and sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They also have hotdogs, nachos, fries, and ice cream. 

Overall, it’s a convenient place to grab some food, along with anything else that you might need for the rest of your stay.

  • Seasons Open: Mid-spring to mid-fall
  • Hours: 7:00 am to 9:00 pm

Proper Food Storage

A green tent sits in campsite with a metal box in front of it labeled, "Food Storage."
Credit: NPS/Bob Greenburg

Most park visitors bring food with them, especially when they also plan to camp out. Nothing is more fun than having a campfire cookout at the end of a long hiking day.

But choosing which food to pack involves careful planning.

Black bears are prevalent in both parks, and they can smell food even from 3 miles away. Worse, they can break into people’s cars if the food isn’t stored properly. 

While bears usually mind their own business, once they detect an interesting smell, they’ll do whatever it takes to satiate their curiosity — and appetite.

How to Safely Store Food When Camping

Grilling food in the wilderness

Bears get very excited in the presence of food, and they won’t care if there are humans around. Unfortunately, this can make them too aggressive, to the point that they have to be euthanized.

 Hence, to maintain peaceful coexistence with the parks’ wildlife, everyone is required to store their food properly — or face hefty fines, on top of repair expenses.

To make your camp as bear-proof as possible, you’re advised to store everything that emits a scent, even if they aren’t food items. 

Examples include:

  • All food items (dry goods included)
  • All beverages, even if they haven’t been opened
  • Pet food and other pet items
  • Cigarettes and other tobacco products
  • Baby car seats
  • Toiletries (scented soaps, shampoo, lotion, sunscreen, make-up, hair products, toothpaste, baby wipes, first-aid kit)
  • Perfume
  • Insect repellents, air fresheners, scented tissue, candles, cleaning products
  • Garbage and recyclables

Items for storage aren’t limited to the aforementioned list; it just gives you an idea what else to include. 

Also, bears know what grocery bags, camp stoves, and coolers are associated with, so it’s best to store these items as well. 

Bears that have successfully found food in these items may go for them even if there’s no actual food there.

This is why the parks have metal bear-proof boxes in many areas. 

Here’s what you should consider to ensure your safety (and of the bears!) at the camps:

  • Most storage boxes in Sequoia & Kings Canyon are 47” long x 33” deep x 28” high. Plan out what you’re going to bring beforehand such that they will fit in these boxes.
  • Reduce food odors by sealing them in airtight bags or containers.
  • Gather everything that needs to be stored and place them in the storage boxes before you set up your camp.
  • Once you’re done, double check the box to see if it’s properly latched.
  • If you have a baby car seat, remove it from the car if you’re parking overnight.
  • Keep your campsite as clean as possible. Wash all food containers immediately, and throw all garbage in bear-proof bins.
  • ALL scented items, whether food or not, must be kept inside the bear-proof metal boxes when not in use.
  • If there are no storage boxes in the campsite, put all to-store items in your trunk.
  • If your vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, keep stored items out of sight. Use dark blankets to hide them.

Remember, never leave your campsite unattended if food is lying around. This tip goes for any other area in the park.

How to Safely Store Food in Your Car

Black bear approaching car

Even if you won’t camp out, there’s a good chance that you’re planning to leave some snacks in your car as you go sightseeing.

Additionally, according to a study done in Yosemite National Park, bears are more inclined to forage through minivans more than any other type of vehicle. If you’ll be driving a minivan, it becomes even more essential that you don’t miss any of the storage tips mentioned here.

Listed below are some tips that ensure the safety of your car and food:

  • Close all your windows and doors. Don’t give bears the chance to have a waft of even the faintest smells in your car.
  • If you can help it, don’t bring food items that have a strong aroma. Bears don’t think twice about chasing the scent’s source.
  • Keep your car spotless and odorless. Even food crumbs can smell enticing to bears, who may claw their way into your car to find out what it is.
  • As mentioned previously, keep all scented items out of sight, and keep them in plastic bags to reduce their scent. Also remember that even non-edibles like fruity colognes, peppermint lotions, and natural oils smell like food to them. The key is to make your car as uninteresting as possible to bears.
  • If you’re the adventurous type who’s often going to national parks anyway, it might be worth it to invest in your very own bear-proof container for these kinds of trips.

Take note that these tips should help you reduce the chances of an untoward encounter with bears, but not exactly eliminate it. 

After all, the parks are their home, so you’re bound to see them here and there. 

However, following these tips is the best step you can take to keep yourself and the bears safe.

Safety Information

Black bears walking side by side

Safety should always be your top priority whenever you travel, especially when you’re visiting known bear habitats like the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. 

Read on to learn how you can keep yourself, your loved ones, and the park’s wildlife safe when you visit.

Wildlife and Dangerous Plants

Hiking or sightseeing in both parks may surprise you with a wildlife or dangerous plant encounter. 

Due to the pandemic and the parks being less crowded, visitors in 2020 are running into more wildlife than ever before.

You don’t want to learn the hard way what you’re not supposed to do, so here are some pointers that can prepare you for such moments:

Bears

Sequoia & Kings Canyon serve as a home to black bears (Ursus americanus). Though they’re named as such, their coat may come in other colors, such as dark brown, brown, blue-gray, cinnamon, and blond.

They typically forage for food by ripping logs, digging roots, or searching inside tree holes for insects. 

Once they get a taste of human food, their diet preferences shift and they’ll move into human dwellings to satisfy their appetite. This endangers both humans and bears as a result. 

Should you encounter a black bear, never ever approach it.

What you want to do is to scare it away. To do this, make yourself bigger by waving your arms, make loud noises by banging pots and clapping your hands, and throw sticks and stones towards it. 

Band together with your companions to look more imposing to the bear.

Do note that you shouldn’t surround the bear, as the key is to let it escape

Take extra caution when dealing with a mother bear with its cubs. Mother bears are extra protective, and their brand of protection usually involves aggression.

Now, if a bear manages to take some of your stuff, let it go and don’t try to retrieve it. Report the encounter to a park ranger ASAP so they can prioritize which areas need more patrolling.

Bobcats and Mountain Lions

Visitors may sometimes see bobcats and mountain lions in the parks’ foothills. Between these two felines, bobcats are more likely to be seen, as mountain lions only visit rarely. 

Bobcats are just a bit bigger than domestic cats, while mountain lions are bigger than a large-sized dog.

Recognizing human presence usually makes mountain lions run away. 

However, if a mountain lion doesn’t run, take note of the following:

  • Don’t start running away, as they may pursue you when you do so.
  • If you have small kids, pick them up.
  • Just like with black bears, the key is making yourself appear bigger.
  • Stand your ground, or move slowly backwards while looking at the mountain lion.
  • If it becomes aggressive, wave your arms, make noises, and throw objects at it.
  • Hopefully this doesn’t happen, but fight back if it attacks you. Then report the sighting to the park rangers immediately.

Rattlesnakes

Although there are rattlesnake sightings throughout the park, they’re most prevalent in the foothills. 

Always look at where you’re stepping or putting your hands on. 

Should you encounter a rattlesnake, just walk away and let it be, as harassing them usually leads to bites. Rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal, but if you’re bitten, get medical attention right away.

Insects and Rodents

Ticks are present in low-elevation grassy areas. Mosquitoes are also common, depending on the location and season. 

Wear clothes that cover most of your skin to avoid insect bites. 

Should a tick manage to bite you, pull them out slowly using tweezers and seek help from a medical professional ASAP.

Rodents and their fleas are known plague carriers. People may get plague if they’re bitten by infected fleas. 

Deer mice, on the other hand, may carry hantavirus. The virus is airborne and it’s usually contracted when people come into contact with deer mice feces or urine

If you come across a dead rodent, contact a park ranger.

Poison Oak

As the name suggests, poison oak releases a poisonous substance whenever it’s disturbed. 

It’s usually found in areas that are up to 5,000 feet above sea level, and its leaves come in groups of threes. The leaves are shiny green during spring, red during fall, and bare during winter.

An extremely itchy rash usually appears on the skin that it had contact with. This is the result of a substance called urushiol. 

You can be exposed to urushiol directly or by touching objects that may have been in contact with the sap.

If you think you’ve touched poison oak directly or indirectly, wash your skin with soap and warm water immediately. 

Don’t forget to wash your clothes as well.

Mobile Reception and Wi-Fi Availability

Phone reception and wifi availability in the parks

The remote location of the parks means that mobile and internet services are severely limited.

Those who need the internet may connect to the Wi-Fi in the common areas of John Muir Lodge and Wuksachi Lodge. Take note that their internet bandwidth is limited, so the connection is generally only good for light browsing and emails.

In many ways, these parks are a great sanctuary for those who wish to unwind and unplug.

However, many of us rely on technology to get around new places.

If you need constant access to travel information, it’s strongly recommended to download or print your plans instead. Guide books and maps are also sold at visitor centers to help guests navigate their way through the parks.

Best of all, they now also have an app called NPS Sequoia & Kings Canyon App. Download it before your arrival and download its offline content. 

This way, you can access the park’s most important information, even without an internet connection.

Day Hiking with Food

Day hiking with food

Bringing food during hikes is second-nature to seasoned hikers. But at Sequoia & Kings Canyon, extra precaution must be exercised because of the presence of black bears. 

After all, they know that backpacks mean food, so if you don’t store your food properly, you’re practically a walking lunch!

Of course, no one wants their hike to end up in disaster.

Here are 3 tips that can help keep a healthy space between yourself and the bears:

  1. Check the visitor centers before going on any of the hiking trails. You may be allowed to bring food provided that you have a bear-proof canister, or you may have to leave your food in designated food lockers.
  2. If you have a canister, make sure that you bring food items that don’t have strong aromas. Suggested food items include protein bars, tortillas, pastas, rice, nuts, jerky, peanut butter, and dried fruits.
  3. Food and garbage must be put in plastic bags to reduce the odors of grease and crumbs. Never leave any food or trash in the wild.

Ultimately, the common denominator of all these tips is minimizing your impact on your immediate environment. The key is to keep a low profile so you don’t bother the parks’ wildlife. 

This will help you better appreciate all the unique aspects of the parks.

Traveling with Limited Mobility

Traveling to Sequoia & Kings Canyon with limited mobility

Are you dealing with limited mobility or traveling with someone who is? Fortunately, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are wheelchair-friendly destinations. 

Most of their developed areas are wheelchair-accessible, and staff are always more than happy to make suggestions if you’re not sure where to go.

Parking

All paved parking lots at the parks have at least one slot that’s accessible. 

Those who don’t have a driver’s license or a DMV-issued accessible-parking placard may go to any visitor center and ask for a temporary accessible-parking placard. You won’t need any documentation for this. 

During summer, you’ll need a placard for the General Sherman Tree and Big Trees Trail accessible parking areas.

Wheelchair Rental

**Due to COVID-19 wheelchair rentals are not currently available at the parks.

Think a wheelchair can help you explore the park more efficiently? 

Great news! Visitors can rent a manual wheelchair for free at the Lodgepole Visitor Center, Kings Canyon Visitor Center, and Giant Forest Museum. 

Be sure to get there early, because wheelchairs are only available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The staff will take your name, address, and contact number upon renting. You can use the wheelchair anywhere within the parks, but you must return it to the rental place before closing time.

Trails

The parks have several trails that range from paved to rugged. Information regarding trail accessibility is available online or on the Sequoia & Kings Canyon mobile app. 

You can also inquire at visitor centers, as the staff are always updated regarding weather and trail conditions that may affect accessibility.

Campgrounds

You’ll also find accessible parking spaces at the campgrounds. 

Some campsites also have raised grills, raised fire rings, level tent pads, extended picnic tables, and level paths to various facilities. 

Accessible campsites become available on a first-come, first-served basis if unused after 5:00 pm.

Visitor Centers

Most of the parks’ visitor centers are wheelchair-accessible. 

Take note that Cedar Grove Visitor Center has narrow passages, uneven thresholds, and barriers which might make it hard to use mobility devices. Mineral King Ranger Station, meanwhile, can only be accessed by stairs.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon’s attractions aren’t just for the active and adventurous. Fortunately, the park has found ways to make much of the parks and their highlights accessible for folks that have limited mobility. 

As many disabled visitors will tell you, don’t let your disability stop you from enjoying the company of the giant sequoia trees!

Tips for Senior Visitors

A pair of senior travelers on a hike

If you’re planning to visit the parks with seniors, you’ll have to consider their physical condition when creating an itinerary. 

Although national parks are often associated with rugged terrains, Sequoia & Kings Canyon still have attractions that are good for older visitors. 

Listed below are some tips that can help ensure that seniors will have a great time at the parks:

Prepare Beforehand

Preparing for a Sequoia & Kings Canyon trip involves more than just packing the right stuff. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your plans and get a health clearance. 

Taking light walks days or weeks before the trip can also help you prepare for the trails in the parks. This is especially important if you’re planning on doing some of the longer hikes. 

Then again, wheelchair rental is always an option if you prefer to just sit and take in the sights!

Choose an Appropriate Trail

Whether you’ll be using a wheelchair or not, it’s important to know which trails are apt for seniors. 

It’s strongly advised to choose a trail that isn’t too long to cover, and doesn’t have a steep elevation gain. 

Some trail information can be found here, but you can always consult staff at the visitor center to see if a trail is right for you or to purchase a map.

Wear the Right Footwear

When it comes to hiking, it’s always important to wear the right shoes to suit your feet’s needs.

You want to wear something that will keep you safe and comfortable throughout your hike. 

This tip becomes even more essential for senior visitors, as they may have conditions that require the help of special footwear.

Bring Hiking Poles or Walking Sticks

Depending on the trail that you choose, hiking poles or walking sticks may be needed to help with balance. These tools aren’t exactly necessary, but they can be really useful, especially when you become tired. 

They’re also great for taking pressure off your knees when walking downhill.

Move at the Senior’s Pace

If you’re traveling as a family or in a mixed-age group, make sure to walk at the senior’s pace. Because of their limitations, looking after them should be a priority. 

Let them enjoy the paths and views at their own pace. Not only will this make for a more enjoyable trip for all, but it can prevent health issues that may arise if they go beyond their limits.

Of course this may not be an issue if you’ve opted to rent or bring a companion wheelchair for the seniors in your group.

Bring Water Bottles

Even the easiest trails at Sequoia & Kings Canyon can be physically demanding for a senior visitor. 

Fortunately, water refilling stations are present in the parks so you don’t need to carry heavy water canisters all day. 

However, you should always make sure to have enough water with you before you head out on a trail. Being properly hydrated is key for a safe and enjoyable trip.

Overall, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are well-suited for senior visitors. You simply have to plan accordingly to ensure that any chosen activity is within their physical capacity.

Tips for Families

Woman carrying a child on her back on a hiking trail

Just like traveling with seniors, creating a Sequoia & Kings Canyon itinerary poses another challenge when young kids are involved. 

Aside from teaching them how to behave accordingly for their safety, you also have to ensure that your chosen activities are interesting enough to keep them engaged. 

Here are some tips that can help make your trip memorable for the whole family:

Get the Kids Excited

Children are known for their highly curious minds. 

One way to build up their excitement is to include them in the trip planning stage. Show them the attractions that you’re planning to visit. 

If they point to something that you didn’t include initially, indulge that curiosity and read about the place together. And if it’s kid-friendly, consider including it.

Bring Medicine for Motion Sickness

Not all kids get motion sickness, but if your kid does, make sure that you have a steady supply of motion sickness meds in your car. 

The roads near the parks are winding, and this is the portion where the motion sickness usually kicks in.

Bring Lots of Food and Water

This trip will involve long stretches of not being near convenience stores or markets. So if you don’t have food and drinks with you, it may be a while before you’re able to buy something for them.

The key is to bring more than what you think you need. It’s better to have a surplus of munchable snacks than to have nothing to show when your kids whine about how hungry they are. 

Get a Junior Ranger Booklet

Junior ranger booklets are a great way to introduce your kids to the parks. These are filled with age-appropriate information that’s easy for them to appreciate. 

Once they complete the tasks in the booklet, they will receive a badge, which gives them a sense of accomplishment. 

They also get to learn at an early age what it really means to “explore, learn, and protect”.

Encourage Kids to Ask Questions

Most park rangers are accommodating to kids, and are happy to answer their endless questions. 

If your kids want to know something about the parks, encourage them to ask the experts. Not only will they learn more, but this will also build their confidence and inquisitiveness — traits that are highly valued into adulthood.

Let the Kids Lead Sometimes

Another way to build the kids’ confidence is to let them lead the hikes sometimes, provided that the trail is safe enough. 

Of course, you’ll have to set some rules to ensure that they won’t go too far ahead and get lost. 

Take turns as the hike leader to make things more fun, but remember, an adult should always be at the back to look after the kids.

Take Breaks

Kids can easily get cranky when their energy zaps out. Help them manage their energy levels by taking breaks every now and then. 

You don’t want to end up carrying them halfway through a trail because they’re too tired to go on!

The thought of bringing kids to Sequoia & Kings Canyon may feel overwhelming at first, but with enough planning and foresight, you and your kids will have a great time. 

Besides, park staff have already welcomed countless families before you, so they know exactly how to help you should you need their assistance.

Conclusion: See USA’s Natural Giants for Yourself!

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are known for their enormous earthly wonders — from deep and imposing geological monuments to  millennia-old colossal forests. 

Indeed, it’s interesting to read about Kings Canyon, Mt. Whitney, or the giant sequoia trees during your free time. But it’s something else entirely seeing the country’s natural giants with your own eyes.

If you have any questions about visiting Sequoia & Kings Canyon or have a tip to share, leave us a comment below.

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Visiting Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks to see the world’s biggest trees? Our ultimate guide will help you make the most out of your trip!

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