Nestled in the heart of mountainous central California, Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon National Park are unparalleled sanctuaries teeming with snow-capped Sierra peaks, mesmerizing marble caves, and enchanting alpine lakes. These parks are sanctuaries for the world’s largest trees, Sequoiadendrum giganteum, or as they’re popularly known, giant sequoias. Here, you’ll find the best views of these magnificent, wooly-barked giants that reach towards the sky.
Designated as national parks in 1890 and 1940 respectively, these two public lands are now jointly governed as a single park unit. Each offers unique features making them both worth visiting. Sequoia Park is particularly automobile-friendly, boasting scenic drives through chaparral-laden foothills, immense trees, and deep river-carved valleys. On the other hand, King’s Canyon, with over 93% of its land designated as wilderness, offers an unspoiled, tranquil experience for hikers and nature-lovers. These lands also carry a rich cultural heritage as the ancestral home of the Mono/Monache, Yukut, Tübatulabal, Paiute, and Western Shoshone peoples, many of whom continue to reside nearby and care for the land within the park boundaries.
Summer brings the peak season for both Sequoia and Kings Canyon, with warm days and mostly melted snow unveiling the wilderness trails. The parks draw crowds to popular trails near sequoia trees and the Giant Forest area, making it a splendid time for scenic drives, camping, hiking, and fishing.
Spring comes at varying times due to the parks’ diverse elevations and biozones. The Foothills region welcomes spring with vivid wildflowers in April and May, while high alpine landscapes don colorful hues in June. By autumn, the parks quiet down, though hiking and backpacking remain popular activities. It’s important to note the heightened wildfire risk during this season due to climate change, which often results in campfire restrictions.
As winter sets in, most parts of Sequoia and Kings Canyon shut down due to heavy snowfall. However, select areas remain open for winter activities such as snowplay at Grant Grove or Wolverton Snowplay Area. Cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals are available at Wuksachi Lodge for those eager to further explore the winter landscape.
Reaching the parks is straightforward, with Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Visalia Municipal Airport being the closest. During summer, a $20 shuttle service from Visalia Transit Center transports visitors to the parks. However, many opt for a road trip or car rental for greater exploration freedom, but caution is advised on winding mountain roads.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks offer an array of activities. The primary draw is undoubtedly the giant sequoias, with the National Park Service ensuring accessible trails for varying age groups and mobility levels. Hiking and backpacking enthusiasts can find less-traveled sequoia groves on the Congress Trail or Atwell Grove Trail, or even pitch a tent in Redwood Meadow.
Once you’ve marveled at the grand sequoias, you can hit the other 800 miles of trails. From short, steep hikes to long, demanding treks, there’s a trail for every adventurer. Drive enthusiasts can enjoy cliff-edge routes like Generals Highway and Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, while guided tours provide opportunities for learning and exploration.
A range of accommodation options caters to diverse tastes. Sequoia & Kings Canyon offer 14 car campgrounds in different elevations and top sights. For hotel-style accommodation, Wuksachi Lodge offers luxury in the heart of the park. Glamping options like The Sequoia offer a blend of comfort and nature, and vacation rentals like River Island and the Botanist Cabin provide a lavish stay with added perks such as a private yoga room, gourmet kitchen, night sky observatory, large soaking tub, and chic decor.
The Parks’ main attraction lies in the magnificence of the giant sequoia groves. The National Park Service has thoughtfully designed wheelchair-friendly trails through some of the country’s finest old-growth forests, including the General Grant Tree Trail, the General Sherman Tree, and the Big Trees Trail. These provide leisurely strolls through time and nature, surrounded by ancient conifers.
For those seeking an adventurous encounter with less-visited sequoia groves, the 2.7-mile Congress Trail or the 4.8-mile Atwell Grove Trail in secluded Mineral King are worth exploring. Hardcore adventurers may opt for a backpacking permit to hike the 13 miles along the Middle Fork Trail to Redwood Meadow and spend a night under the stars.
The parks boast an impressive 800 miles of hiking trails to suit every taste. Whether it’s the panoramic vistas of the Great Western Divide from the steep, one-mile Moro Rock trail or the floral speckled forest up Big Baldy Ridge, every hike is a unique adventure. More challenging options include the 14-mile round trip to Alta Peak‘s breathtaking summit or the eight-mile round trip to the thundering Mist Falls.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon also promise captivating views from your vehicle, thanks to their collection of scenic drives. Generals Highway is a year-round favorite, journeying from the Foothills, through the Giant Forest, past Lodgepole, and finally to Grant Grove. Do remember to fill up your tank, as gas is not sold within the park. The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is another remarkable day-long trip, winding between the park’s namesake canyon cliffs with opportunities to stop at Grant Grove, Roaring River Falls, and Zumwalt Meadow.
Guided tours are a great way to gain knowledge from local experts and safely navigate areas you might not typically visit. For example, the Crystal Cave tour introduces visitors to a remarkable marble cavern brimming with dripstone formations. There are also group tours offered by Authentic Adventures Central California, and private tours by Sequoia Guides, that lead you to the parks’ hidden treasures.
Given that over 93% of the parks’ area is designated wilderness, some of the best sights are accessible only by backpacking. Wildland Trekking offers a five-day journey along the iconic High Sierra Trail, featuring awe-inspiring views of sky-high summits at Bearpaw Meadow. REI Adventures hosts an equally enthralling six-day tour of the Rae Lakes Loop, set against a backdrop of impressive granite spires.
Whether you’re a camper, glamper, or hotel dweller, Sequoia & Kings Canyon have something for everyone. The parks have 14 car campgrounds spread across varying elevations. For a hotel-style stay, the Wuksachi Lodge offers comfort and luxury amidst the wilderness. For a balance between nature and comfort, The Sequoia’s glamping is the top choice. Vacation rentals like River Island or the Botanist Cabin offer a lavish stay for those willing to splurge for extra amenities and stylish decor.