When famed naturalist John Muir wrote about the area that is now Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 1891, he said: "In the vast Sierra wilderness far to the southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is a yet grander valley of the same kind."
Grander than Yosemite Valley is a big claim to live up to, but when people visit Kings Canyon, many people think Muir was right. Add the fact that Sequoia is seldom crowded, and it sums up to a place that is indeed a must-see, and that's not just click-baiting hype.
At Sequoia, you can gawk at the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on the planet; drive into Kings Canyon, by some measures the country's deepest canyon, and backpack in the second-largest road-free wilderness area in the United States. Also inside the park boundaries is Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States.
You will be dying to visit Sequoia after you browse through these 12 gorgeous views of Sequoia and Kings Canyon
What's What: Name Confusion Cleared Up
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are administered jointly. Then there's Sequoia National Forest which is 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
Sequoia National Park is open all year and is seldom crowded, receiving only about one-third of the visitors that overrun Yosemite in summer.
Most weekends, even in mid-summer, you can find hotel rooms available.
In spring and summer, you'll see showy wildflower blooms at Sequoia. The waterfalls 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 oversized Christmas trees.
But if you go in the winter, you'll miss some of the park's most spectacular scenery. Not only will Crystal Cave be closed, but from mid-November through mid-May so is the road that takes you on a dramatic drive through Kings Canyon down to the Kings River.
Don't Miss Sights
If you've only got a day, the giant redwood trees are one of the area's most exciting features. You can visit the General Sherman Tree or General Grant by taking a short walk from the main road, but they're not the only great things to see or do. Check out more of the best things to do at Sequoia.
Getting Around Sequoia National Park
When driving around Sequoia, expect to average 25 mph or less. It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to drive from Grant Village to Roads End in Kings Canyon.
If you're just passing through on your way to Yosemite, it's about a three-hour drive from Sequoia National Park to Yosemite National Park via CA Highway 41.
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 CA Highway 180. Call 449-565-3341 for a recorded message about road conditions or visit the alerts page of the national park website.
You should always have chains with you in winter.
That's no meddlesome advice from a worrier, but California state law. These are the rules you need to know about chains in California. 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.
If you have a big RV or are towing a trailer, check the limits. Single vehicles must be 40 feet long or less. 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.
Where to Stay
You can find campgrounds, cabins and hotels in the national park, in the national forest and national monument and on private property that's nearby but 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. Get more information at the National Parks Week website. Entry is also free on selected other days that vary by year. You'll find the current year's list here.
Otherwise, if you arrive off-season, don't be fooled into thinking admission is free just because the entrance kiosk is closed. The payment center moves to Grant Village in winter, and if you don't stop to pay the fee, you risk being stopped and ticketed by a park ranger.
You won't find gas pumps inside either of the national parks, but you can buy gasoline 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.
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. Take 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 especially in summer. They can affect air quality and travel to the mountains. 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. Just knowing the location of a fire isn’t enough. It can be hard to tell what conditions are like in a specific spot. Your best bet may be to go old school: call your hotel or a local tourism-related business and ask.
Getting to Sequoia National Park
The most scenic way to get to Sequoia (and the shortest route from LA and SoCal) is to take CA Highway 198 through Visalia and Three Rivers until you reach the Ash Mountain entrance. That's about an hour's drive from U.S. Highway 99. However, the twisting road is not suitable for vehicles more than 22 feet long.
If you are traveling to Sequoia from Sacramento and the north, exit U.S. Highway 99 at Fresno and take CA Highway 180 east. It will take about 1.5 hours to reach the Foothills entrance.
You can get more information about getting to Sequoia at the national park website.
Help Preserve Sequoia National Park
The Sequoia Parks Conservancy partners with the Park Service to help restore, preserve and support it. You can donate online or become a volunteer.