Updated: Feb 26
Mountains, canyons, caverns, breathtaking views, and the world's largest trees. Welcome to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks!
Here's a complete guide with everything you need to know and what to see on your next trip to explore some of the most beautiful nature landscapes and diversity in America.
HOW TO GET THERE
First things first. The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of the San Joaquin Valley and are administered as one.
If you are coming from the North, it's a 4 1/2 - 5h drive from San Francisco.
If you are coming from LA like I did, it's a 4h drive (not considering LA traffic!)
WHEN TO VISIT & WEATHER
Weather varies A LOT from season to season, and even daily.
For instance we visited the parks on Thanksgiving and we experienced 3 seasons on the same day. It felt like summer on the way to the park, like fall by the foothills and then it was snowing at Giant Forest. Really do pack accordingly and be prepared for all kinds of weather during the course of your trip.
As per what I've researched, the best time of the year to visit is during summer, because by then all roads should be open (some roads close from late fall to spring due to snow).
However, it's when the parks are most crowded. They do not get as crowded as Yosemite, but just keep in mind that if you visit at this time of the year, trails and roads might be quite busy.
We were not planning to visit Sequoia at first, but then when I saw it was on the way to Yosemite (driving from LA), we decided to include a stop there just for the day.
We had a few set backs - yes, even if you plan, plan, plan, things happen - and we didn't have tire chains, and, as it was snowing, one of the requirements to enter the park was to carry snow chains (except if you drive a 4WD vehicle).
We had to turn around and look for somewhere to buy them. Mind you, there's not many stores in the area and some little local businesses offer chains for rental or purchase at super inflated prices. We were lucky to find used ones for $65 and after a couple hours delay we headed back to the park. Turned out we didn't have to use them, but anyways, we'll need to eventually.
Do take advantage of the super helpful current conditions page on the NPS website to know what to expect before you go! Click here to check current weather and road conditions in the parks.
WHERE TO STAY
Since we were headed to Yosemite, we chose to stay at a cabin closer to our destination, but if you are visiting Sequoia, there are several hotels in the area, as well as campgrounds available. Do reserve in advance, especially for the busy months.
Campgrounds: Click here for more info!
Lodging: Click here for more info!
WHERE TO EAT
I recommend bringing easy to pack foods and snacks such as sandwiches, nuts, cereal bars, fruits, cookies (if you are like me), to munch during your hikes.
There are several restaurants and markets to get you refueled as well (check it out here), but it is very important to always carry something on you (water is a must) when out in the wild.
Now, please do take note of this: make sure to store your food properly if left unattended!
Don't leave your backpack and walk off to take a photograph. Bears know packs are a source of food and can grab unattended food or easily break into cars that have food in them. You may be fined if you do not store food properly.
Also, if bears become aggressive they often have to be put down and we don't want this to happen. This is THEIR habitat, make sure that your visit doesn't impact nature.
Anything with a scent (even non food items) must be stored in resealable bags and put into boxes. This includes garbage, recyclables, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, first-aid kits, baby wipes, lotion, hairspray, scented tissue, air freshener, pet food, insect repellent, tobacco products, baby car-seats, and even window cleaner.
AND HOW MUCH IS IT?
There are several different passes available, depending on how you will be getting to the park. Entrance Fees are as follows:
Vehicle Pass - $35.00
Valid for 1-7 days and includes everyone traveling in a single vehicle for Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and Hume Lake District. You can purchase this pass in advance here.
Individual Entry Pass - $20.00
For a single person traveling on foot or by bicycle. It is valid for 1-7 days as well.
Non-Commercial Group - $15.00
Groups traveling in a bus or vehicle with a capacity of 16 persons or more are charged per person. People 15 years old or younger, drivers hired for transportation only, or anyone with a pass that may be used for park entry is exempt from paying the entrance fee.
There are different entrance fees for commercial tours of people traveling on an itinerary that has been organized by a company that obtains financial gains from this service. The fee is based on the seating capacity of the vehicle and not the actual number of passengers. Passenger ages or entrance passes do not affect the price.
1-6 Passenger Capacity - $25.00 + $10 per person
7-15 Passenger Capacity - $75.00
16-25 Passenger Capacity - $100.00
26+ Passenger Capacity - $200.00
Motorcycle Pass - $30.00
Includes everyone traveling on a motorcycle, scooter, or similar motorized vehicle and is also valid for 1-7 days.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon Annual Pass - $60.00
This pass is valid for one year from the month of purchase. It admits all passengers in a private vehicle and is non-transferable.
SOME OF THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS
The famous fallen tree that you can actually drive through. I am coming back to Sequoia just to do this. The road was closed on the day we visited and the park ranger recommended not to take the 2 mile trail as it was already close to sundown and we would have to walk back in the dark.
Tunnel Log is on Moro Rock / Crescent Meadow Road in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park.
Crescent Meadow & Moro Rock:
Consider taking the Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow side road to its end. The road ends at beautiful Crescent Meadow. Then, climb the 350 steps on Moro Rock for breathtaking views that, only a clear day, can even reveal the pacific ocean.
See the largest trees in the world up and close in a unique and must do lifetime experience!
The Giant Forest is home to 8,000 giant Sequoias, so go walk among them and feel the energy! It's so impressive and really believe that pictures can't do it justice. Here's 2 of the trees not to miss:
- General Sherman (Largest and oldest human form of living in the world !!! )
- General Grant (world's 3rd largest and the nation's official Christmas tree)
Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
One of the most beautiful drives in the mountains. Has several pullout points and trails worth checking out, including Yucca Point, Grizzly Falls, Canyon View, Roaring River Falls, and if you can, drive all the way to Roads End!
A rather narrow road leads to a short trail to this overlook, that provides - guess what? - panoramic views of Hume Lake and Kings Canyon.
The only way to visit the cave is on a guided tour, and it is only open from spring through fall. Check here for opening/closing season dates as it depends on weather. The tour is 45 min long but the park advises to save half a day between traveling to/from the cave and the tour. Buy your tickets in advance, as they usually sell out. Reserve your tour here.
Take the time to really get disconnected from the world outside and connect with this place, feel it! It's amazing to be able to see how our home was before we came in and made cities out of it. It's a feeling of peace that I cannot describe. Explore the trails and find beautiful sights out of the beaten path as well. I hope you enjoy your visit, and please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments!
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Download a checklist of National Parks in the US, all divided by state! How many can you cross off this list?