Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Essentials

Hike and camp among 2,000-year-old trees in California’s most unique national park.

“Don’t forget to look up!” is sage advice for anyone visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. The reason? Located in the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite National Park, this jointly administered park is home to some of the biggest, oldest trees in the world. But gazing up at the park’s namesake sequoias isn’t the only reason you might head home with a sore neck. Here, towering trees, canyon walls, and granite peaks all give you renewed respect for what Mother Nature can accomplish when left to her own accord. With almost 900,000 acres between them, Sequoia and Kings Canyon’s borders are as expansive as their views. They’re also filled with more than 1,000 miles of trails for hiking, as well as countless campgrounds and lodges for extending your stay. 


Before Europeans and Americans “discovered” the region, today’s Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks were the historic homeland of the Mono (Monache), Yokuts, Tübatulabal, Paiute, and Western Shoshone people, who lived in the region for hundreds of years. (They called its giant trees Wawona and considered them sacred.)

Sequoia National Park is the second-oldest national park in the country. For that, we can thank naturalist John Muir, who first visited the area in 1875. “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest,” he scribed after visiting. His jottings stirred both the nation and the government to take note. In 1890, President Harrison signed legislation establishing Sequoia, along with Yosemite, as America's second and third national parks (following Yellowstone in 1872). With early access limited to a pack road, the building of the Generals Highway in 1926 opened it up to increased visitation—including a tree tunnel early automobiles could drive through. Other improvements included carving steps to the summit of Moro Rock and, in 1932, the completion of the High Sierra Trail connecting the Giant Forest and Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S.  

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps further improved the park’s campgrounds, trails, and buildings. Then, in 1940, Kings Canyon was added as an adjacent national park. Both parks now encompass 1,353 square miles, of which 97 percent is designated and managed as wilderness. Together, the parks see more than 1.5 million visitors every year. 

Getting There 

If you’re coming from the south, access the park via the 87-year-old Generals Highway (state Route 198). This road climbs a series of steep switchbacks up the Sierra foothills just after crossing the Kaweah River. On the way, you’ll start seeing your first sequoias—just one or two at first, and then groves of the gargantuan beasts.

From the north via Fresno, you’ll pass Grant Grove (CA-180) and then turn onto the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. From here, you can either turn left to enter Kings Canyon or head south to reach Sequoia.   

Best Scenic Drives

Even though these two parks were created early in America’s history, planners had the foresight to create classic scenic drives through both. In Sequoia, you’ll find the 32.5-mile Generals Highway. Kings Canyon boasts its 50-mile Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. 

Generals Highway

This scenic byway connects the two parks and their much-ballyhooed giant sequoia groves. Popular hiking trailheads are located at select turnouts along the way, as are overlooks to rocky ridges and sequoia groves. 

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (CA-180) winds through layers of rock and sky straight down into Kings Canyon. Traversing one of the most extraordinary cross-sections of geography in the country, the road offers more and more stunning views as you progress. Some of the must-see scenic pullouts include Junction View, Yucca Point, Grizzly Falls, Don Cecil View, Hotel Creek Overlook, Canyon View, and Roaring River Falls. 

Panoramic Point Road

Just a 2-mile drive east of the Kings Canyon Visitor Center parking lot, Panoramic Point Road leads to a short, half-mile hiking trail to Panoramic Point Overlook, a viewing area with awe-inspiring vistas of the High Sierra and Hume Lake far below. 

Must-do Hikes and Attractions 

Sequoia and Kings Canyon offer surprises around every corner. Here are a few must-dos. 

General Sherman 

One of Sequoia’s most classic treks is the short hike to General Sherman, the largest tree in the world by volume. It measures a whopping 275 feet tall and stretches more than 36 feet in diameter. (Note that while Sherman is 2,200 years old, the park’s oldest sequoia, located in Giant Grove, has lived for 3,200—making it older than Christ, the United States, and the Beatles.) 

Crescent Meadow

Muir called this region of the park the “Jewel of the Sierra,” and for good reason. A short hike lets you stroll beneath towering sequoias, including the photogenic Parker Grove. On the way, you can take in such sights as Chimney Tree and Tharp’s log. (The latter is named for a rancher in the 1860s who turned a fallen tree into his makeshift cabin.) And to get to the trailhead, you can drive through the famed “Tunnel Log,” which fits your car with room to spare, and marvel at the “Auto Log,” whose historic photo in the lodge shows a string of 1930s automobiles parked atop. 

Moro Rock

Summiting this commanding, 1,000-foot granite promontory requires a handrail-lined, adrenaline-fueled scramble up a staircase carved in stone. The climb is worth every step for its views of 14,494-foot Mount Whitney and the Kaweah River Valley below.  

Big Tree Loop

This easy, family-friendly hiking loop has little elevation gain, making it perfect for toddlers. But the flat terrain doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be spared from vertigo: huge trees with names like Ed By Ned and Giant Forest tower into the sky, tall enough to leave you dizzy.   

General Grant

A 40-foot diameter makes the General Grant sequoia the world’s widest (and the third-largest tree in the world). Foresters calculate that it could hold 37 million ping pong balls, and it takes 20 people linking hands to reach around. 

Camping and Lodging 

With so many highlights, it’s tough to truly experience Sequoia and Kings Canyon within a single day. Use these lodging options to stay the weekend (or longer) and give yourself time to take it all in.


There are 14 campgrounds in the two parks, including three that are open year-round. Each campsite can hold up to six people and comes with a picnic table, fire ring, and metal food-storage box to keep your groceries safe from Yogi Bear. Most sites require reservations in advance and fill up quickly (reserve at Pro tip: If the weather’s clear, leave your rain fly off your tent. That way you’ll be able to see the treetops through the mesh as you drift off to sleep.  


Prefer sheets and pillows with your panoramic views? Check out these indoor lodging options within the national park.  

Wuksachi Lodge

A stone-and-cedar masterpiece perched 7,200 feet above sea level, this mountain lodge is Sequoia National Park’s signature hotel. It’s close to both the General Sherman tree and Moro Rock, making it a great launching point for some of the park’s marquee adventures. The Wuksachi has 102 rooms (some of which are dog-friendly) as well as a cocktail lounge, retail shop, and 90-seat restaurant where you can savor lamb shank and mashed potatoes beside a roaring stone fireplace.

John Muir Lodge/Grant Grove Cabins

Both the John Muir Lodge and the nearby Grant Grove Cabins are located in Kings Canyon National Park, within walking distance of the massive General Grant tree. Get hotel-style accommodations at John Muir (think timber-beam ceilings and stone fireplaces), or choose a more rustic experience at Grant Grove Cabins. 

Cedar Grove Lodge

With only 21 guest rooms and a unique location in the heart of Kings Canyon National Park, this riverside lodge fills quickly. It’s close to Roads End, a popular trailhead for summer adventures. 

Note: Due to the recent KNP Complex Fire, the park has temporarily closed its lodging services. Double-check availability online before your visit. 

Best Seasons to Visit

While the park is open year-round, the best time to visit is June through August when the weather is stable and the park’s roads are reliably open.  


This is the busiest time of the year at Sequoia but also the best. Road access is easy, temperatures are mild, and the towering trees provide shade from the California sun. The Sequoia Shuttle is open this time of year, providing a reliable way to transport visitors from such nearby towns as Visalia and Three Rivers. There is also a free in-park shuttle that offers rides to such popular attractions as Giant Forest, Moro Rock, Wuksachi Lodge, and various campgrounds. 


Cool nights and warm days are the norm in autumn, but High Sierra weather can still be unpredictable. Expect snowfall in October and reduced hours, ranger programs, and access to certain park facilities. The Mineral King and Cedar Grove areas also shut down for the season.


While walking (or snowshoeing or cross-country skiing) through snowy sequoias can be magical, winter storms can be unpredictable. Tire chains may be required to reach the park entrance. Once there, in-park shuttles offer year-round service between the Giant Forest Museum and the Wuksachi Lodge, with stops at the General Sherman Tree, Lodgepole, and Wolverton Snowplay Area.  


You might still find snow on the ground at higher elevations through April, and rivers and creeks run fast and cold with snowmelt this time of year. But there are rewards to be had: wildflowers and other blooms carpet the foothills as soon as the snow begins to thaw, and when the park’s full shuttle service reopens in May, access is a breeze. 

Wildfire Preparedness

Wildfires in Sequoia and Kings Canyon actually help preserve the area’s forest. Fires cause sequoia cones to open up, and are necessary for them to take root and grow. Even the trees themselves are well-adapted to high heat, with minimal sap and a thick outer bark to withstand fires. In fact, according to National Geographic, the General Sherman tree has survived more than 100 fires in its lifetime. 

Still, fires have become more frequent over the last few years, which has been hard on the park and its towering sentries. In 2020, the Castle Fire burned 9,531 acres of giant sequoia forest, killing an estimated 10 to 14% of all existing large sequoias. This year’s KNP Complex and Windy fires combined to burn an additional 6,109 acres and 27 giant sequoia groves. 

Fires and smoke are particularly common in the late summer through early fall. Before you visit, check online for smoke forecasts, and make sure there aren’t any active fires in the area you hope to hike.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.