Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are magical places that make you feel like you are living life in miniature. Home to the largest trees in the world, the giant sequoias, the parks encompass the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in central California.
With extreme elevation change from 1,360 to 14,494, you will find great diversity in the parks. However, the majority of the area of the two parks, which share a border, is in the backcountry. But don’t let that get you down. There’s plenty to do in the front country if backpacking isn’t your thing.
To plan my trip, I used the Falcon Guide for “Hiking Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.” The park’s website also has a lot of great information. You can also see how much money I spent on the entire trip here.
Also, be sure to download the app for the parks. It was very helpful in my planning process and for navigating through the parks.
Sequoia National Park
General Sherman Tree and Congress Trail
The first thing I did when I arrived at Sequoia National Park was to visit the General Sherman tree. This giant sequoia is the largest tree on Earth. General Sherman is not the tallest tree in the world, but its hefty trunk at 52,500 cubic feet makes it the largest by volume.
One reason sequoias are so massive is that their trunks retain their thickness for much of their height, while other trees taper more at the top.
You will find General Sherman about a half-mile from the parking area down a nice paved path. Consider hiking the Congress Trail, a fairly level 2-mile loop, to see many more massive trees.
Big Trees Trail
The Big Trees Trail is across the street from the Giant Forest Museum. It’s a level, 1-mile handicap accessible loop. There you will find trail-side exhibits to learn about the giant trees.
A narrow and winding dead-end road leaves from the Giant Forest Museum and ends at Crescent Meadow. Here you will find many trails that connect to the Congress Trail and other trails in the park. There are a few short loops you can do.
You can hike to Tharp’s Log, a unique and interesting cabin made out of a hollowed-out fallen sequoia. On your way to Tharp’s Log, you get views of the meadows. These meadows are like hidden secret gardens within the montane forest. They are fragile wetlands and are a great place to view wildlife.
Along the road to Crescent Meadow, stop by the tunnel log, where you can drive through a fallen sequoia.
Also along the dead-end road to Crescent Meadow, you will find Moro Rock. Moro Rock sits at 6,725 feet above sea level and gives you 360-degree views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills below.
Be prepared for breathing heavily as it has many steps to climb high to the top of the rock. But don’t worry, this short steep trail is more than worth the huffing and puffing you will do.
Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon also has giant Sequoias. If you want to avoid the crowds the Hart Tree Trail is about an 8-mile loop that takes you through one of the largest sequoia groves. The trailhead is about 2 miles down a winding dirt road, a few miles south of the Kings Canyon Visitor Center.
On this trail, you cannot only hike among the giants without the crowds but you can also see a waterfall, a “log” cabin, and beautiful views of the Redwood Canyon.
The Grant Tree is the second largest tree in the world. This giant sequoia has a larger base than General Sherman, but overall General Sherman has more volume. It is fun to visit both trees and compare the two.
A 0.3-mile paved loop takes you to the Grant Tree. While along the way you can see some pretty neat exhibits from long ago. You can even walk through a hollowed-out fallen sequoia. You can also see an old cabin built and used by some of the first Europeans to live in the area.
The Grant Tree is within the Grant Grove area, which is close to the park entrance.
Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
From the Grant Grove, you can drive about 30 miles on the scenic Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. You do leave the national park and travel through Sequoia National Forest before reentering the park near the Cedar Grove Visitor Center. This is a long and winding road but plan for even more time because you are going to want to stop at what seems like every 10 feet to take pictures.
As you drop down into the canyon, take note of how much the vegetation changes. I felt like had gone to another park far away when I was just a few miles down the road.
Roaring River Falls
A very short and paved trail will take you to Roaring River Falls. The pullout is about 3 miles east of Cedar Grove Village. Here you can view how much force the river has and understand how it slowly carved out Kings Canyon.
Zumwalt Meadow is another beautiful Sierra Nevada meadow that rests next to the Kings River. A short trail will take you in and around the meadow. Kings Canyon is narrow and steep, so part of the trail traverses the rocky slope at the bottom of the canyon wall.
When I visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the boardwalk portion that takes you into the meadow was closed because of recent flooding. But I was still able to explore other parts of the loop trail.
If you are up for a longer hike, you can hike to Mist Falls. This 8-mile out-and-back trail takes you deep into Kings Canyon and is a great way to get a taste or sampling of the backcountry. The trail begins at Roads End Permit Station.
It’s fairly level but does have some short climbs. It climbs about 800 feet in 4 miles going to the waterfall. Mist Falls is one of the larger waterfalls in Kings Canyon National Park. The waterfall is beautiful and worth the long hike. One thing I loved about the trail was how small I felt under the tall cliffs on both sides of me.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and bears
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are a very bear active area. Just driving into the park, I saw two bears. And these bears are smart. They can break into your vehicle with no problem. Because of this, the parks encourage you to store all your food and anything with a smell in bear lockers.
They have bear lockers at the trailheads and each campsite in the front country. The ones at the trailheads are really handy. For example, I was in between campsites when I hiked to Mist Falls, so I stored all my food in the bear locker next to my parking spot. When packing, I use large tubs to keep my food organized so it will be easy to move it in and out of the bear lockers.
The parks even tell you to do this with “bear-proof” coolers, like Yeti. Also, if you have a child’s car seat, the parks tell you to store those outside your vehicle while it is unattended.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks together
One mistake I made when planning my trip was not accounting for the travel time between parks. Just because the parks share a border, doesn’t mean you can quickly get from one to the other. To add to this travel time, there was road construction while I was there.
I camped at the Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park. It’s fairly centrally located within Sequoia National Park, but it took me two to three hours to drive to the other side of Kings Canyon National Park.
So needless to say, I spend a great deal of time in my car. I didn’t really mind it because the scenery is nice and I had a good audiobook. If you plan on visiting both parks at once, you will want to choose a campground centrally located and budget extra time to get places.