Located in California's southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, Sequoia National Park and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park are known for their towering sequoia trees and miles of uninterrupted wilderness trails. While not nearly as popular as Yosemite or Joshua Tree in terms of California's national parks, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are great destinations for travelers looking to escape into nature during their trip.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are administered jointly along with Sequoia National Forest, which is located south of the parks, and Giant Sequoia National Monument, which includes two areas west of them. For simplicity, this guide refers to them all as "Sequoia" in the descriptions below.
Best Time to Visit Sequoia National Park
While Sequoia National Park is open year-round, some seasons are better than others, depending on what you want to do and see during your trip. Fortunately, the park is rarely overcrowded and gets about one-third of the visitors that Yosemite welcomes every summer. As a result, you can typically find hotel rooms near the park on most weekends, even in mid-summer.
In spring and summer, you'll see showy wildflower blooms at Sequoia, and the waterfalls in the park are at their peak in summer. In fall, you'll find colorful foliage along the river in Kings Canyon. In winter, visitors may find the giant sequoias covered in snow like over-sized Christmas trees, but you'll miss some of the park's most spectacular scenery this season. Not only is Crystal Cave closed each winter, but from mid-November through mid-May, the road that takes you on a dramatic drive through Kings Canyon down to the Kings River is also closed.
Getting to Sequoia National Park
The most scenic way to get to Sequoia (and the shortest route from Los Angeles) is to take California Highway 198 through Visalia and Three Rivers until you reach the Ash Mountain entrance, which is about an hour's drive from U.S. Highway 99. However, if you're traveling from Sacramento and northern California, you'll want to exit U.S. Highway 99 at Fresno and take California Highway 180 east, which will take about an hour and a half to reach the Foothills entrance.
Winter snow sometimes closes the road between the Giant Forest and Grant Village, and you may not be able to get into Sequoia National Park from Highway 180. Additionally, according to California state law, you should always have chains with you in the winter. If you need chains and don't have them, you can find a list on the national park website of places nearby that rent chains. Call (559) 563-3341 for a recorded message about road conditions or visit the alerts page of the national park website.
Things to Do and Must-See Attractions
Nature is at the forefront of things to do in Sequoia National Park, but there are also several manmade structures and attractions worth checking out during your trip. If you've only got a day to see the park, the giant redwood trees are a must-see feature of the parks; be sure to stop by the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on the planet, by taking a short walk from the main road while you're there.
During the summer, you can drive down a steep, narrow, winding road near the Sequoia gate off CA 198 to explore Mineral King, a sub-alpine valley that's the only part of the park's backcountry accessible by automobile. Additionally, Crystal Cave, a marble cave filled with huge stalactites and stalagmites that offers guided tours, is only open during the summer, and this season is the best time to hike to the summit of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.
Any time of year, guests are welcome to drive through Sequoia and Kings Canyon to Moro Rock, a scenic overlook towering over the parks with panoramic views of California on one side and Nevada on the other. Along the road to get there, you'll pass by the Auto Log and drive through the Tree Tunnel, both of which were carved out of giant fallen sequoia trees.
Getting Around and Where to Stay
When driving around Sequoia, expect to maintain an average speed of 25 miles per hour or less, which means it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to drive from Grant Village to Roads End in Kings Canyon.
If you have a big RV or are towing a trailer, check the limits before your visit. Single vehicles must be 40 feet long or less while a vehicle and towed unit combined must be less than 50 feet long. Some secondary roads have tighter restrictions, and so does the 12 miles between Potwisha Campground and Giant Forest Museum, where the maximum recommended length is 22 feet.
You can find campgrounds, cabins, and hotels in the national park, in the national forest, at the national monument, and on private property outside the park boundaries. To find the best place for you, see the guide to finding hotels and campgrounds at Sequoia.
Tips for Visiting Sequoia National Park
- During the annual National Parks Week in April, entry is free in more than 100 parks nationwide, including Sequoia National Park. Entry is also free on selected other days that vary by year.
- In the off-season and winter, the entrance kiosk closes and the payment center for visiting the park moves to Grant Village. If you don't stop to pay the fee, you risk being ticketed by a park ranger while in the park.
- There are no gas stations in either park, but you can fill up your tank at Hume Lake, Stony Creek, and Kings Canyon Lodge. However, gasoline costs significantly more there than it would if you filled up in Fresno or Three Rivers on your way to the park.
- Bears are among the many creatures that live in Sequoia National Park. They love human food and can cause damage to your vehicles trying to get it. To stay safe whether you're camping or staying in a hotel, follow these precautions very carefully.
- Mobile devices may not work everywhere. If constant communication is important, check your provider's coverage map and leave your hotel phone number with the folks back home. However, the park is planning to install a new cell tower by 2020, so the signal available in the park may improve significantly in the near future.
- In the national parks, pets are allowed only in campgrounds, picnic areas, and other developed areas. In the National Forest, they can go on trails with you but must be on a leash less than 6 feet long.
- Elevation varies at Sequoia but starts at more than 6,000 feet. Before you go, find out how to stay well and comfortable by taking a look at these high elevation tips and the checklist of things to take.
- Forest fires are always a possibility from spring through fall, but they're especially likely in the summer. Fires can affect air quality and travel access to the mountains, so it’s a good idea to check for them before you go to Sequoia. The easiest to use resource is the California Statewide Fire Map.
- If you enjoy your time at Sequoia Nationa Park, consider donating online or becoming a volunteer for the Sequoia Parks Conservancy, which partners with the Park Service to help restore, preserve, and support the parks.