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The Ultimate Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Adventure Guide

36.5647° N, 118.7727° W

LOOKING TO EXPLORE TWO OF CALIFORNIANS EXCITING NATIONAL PARKS? THEN DEFINITELY CHECK OUT THIS IN-DEPTH ADVENTURE GUIDE ON KINGS CANYON & SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARKS.

 


These two parks’ dramatic landscape testifies to nature's size, beauty, and diversity. Think huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and of course, the world's largest trees. The parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, just east of the San Joaquin Valley, and together they contain five unique areas: Foothills, Mineral King, Giant Forest & Lodgepole, Grant Grove, and Cedar Grove. Each area has its own climate, features, and highlights. Grant Grove and Giant Forest are home to the largest sequoia groves.


Due to its location between two popular national parks (Yosemite and Sequoia) and its overall lack of road access to most of the park, Kings Canyon National Park has remained one of the least visited parks in California (roughly 700,000 visitors entered in 2017 compared to 1.3 million visitors at Sequoia and over 4 million at Yosemite).




HISTORY OF SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS


People have inhabited the area for about 6,000–7,000 years. Specifically, the Owens Valley Paiute peoples visited the region from their homeland east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Paiute eventually created trade routes connecting the Owens Valley with the Central Valley west of the Sierra Nevadas.


The early Spanish exploration of California largely bypassed what is now Kings Canyon National Park. In 1805 Gabriel Moraga led an expedition through the Central Valley and crossed what is now the Kings River, bestowing the name Rio de los Santo Reyes (River of the Holy Kings) on the stream. Fur trappers also visited the areas in the 1820s, but most likely did not venture into the high country since beaver were only present at lower elevations.


The fur trappers were followed by prospectors during the California Gold Rush, which began in 1848. During the 1860s, a road was built to Grant Grove and many of the sequoias there were eventually logged. The first of several sawmills in the area opened in 1862, and logging operations expanded north and almost entirely leveled Converse Basin, then one of the largest sequoia groves in the world (although the Boole Tree, the grove's biggest, was luckily spared).


In1890, President Harrison signed legislation establishing America's second national park: Sequoia National Park. The plan was to protect the giant sequoia trees from logging, and because of this, Sequoia was the first national park formed to protect a living organism: Sequoiadendron giganteum, aka giant sequoia trees. One week later, General Grant National Park was created.


Once the parks were created, U.S. Army Cavalry troops were sent from the Presidio in San Francisco to watch over the area. This unit included Colonel Charles Young, who would become the first African American national park superintendent.


Fast forward to 1940 when Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a new national park to include the glacially-formed splendor of Kings Canyon. The newly established Kings Canyon National Park also engulfed and included General Grant National Park. Since WWII, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks have been administered jointly.




INTERESTING THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS


By far one of the most interesting things to see in the parks is the General Grant Tree, the second largest tree in the world and the largest sequoia tree in the entire Grants Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. Scientists once thought the tree was well over 2,000 years old, but recent estimates suggest it is closer to 1,650. General Grant also features the third largest footprint of any living giant sequoia, measuring 107.6 feet or 32.8 meters in circumference at ground level. The tree was named after Ulysses S. Grant in 1867 (Grant was a Union Army general during the American Civil War and also the 18th President of the United States). Another interesting fact is that President Coolidge proclaimed it the "Nation's Christmas Tree" in 1926.


Now, what about that famous tree you can drive through? Well… in truth, that tree is actually quite a ways away - roughly, 100 miles away in the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park. Though before you get excited and start changing your plans, know that that tree - the Wawona Tree - actually fell over in early 1969.


If you want to drive “through” a tree you can still check out the fallen "Tunnel Log," which is located along the Crescent Meadow Road in Giant Forest. When the tree fell in 1937 it measured 275 feet high (83.8 meters) and 21 feet in diameter at the base (6.4 meters).









\\ Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks | Fast Facts



YEAR ESTABLISHED

1943



STATE

California



SIZE

A combined size of 1,353 square miles or 3,500 square kilometers



NUMBER OF ANNUAL VISITORS

A combined 1.2 million visitors in 2020



COST TO ENTER

$35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, $20 per individual (on foot or bicycle); all valid for 7 days. You also have the option to pay $70 for an annual pass for the two parks.



HOURS OF OPERATION

Both national parks are open 24 hours a day. The only time access might be hindered is during dangerous winter storms.



BEST FOR

Hiking and backpacking



TIME NEEDED

2 days minimum, more if planning a backpacking trip






\\ When to Visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks


While the two parks stay open year-round, if you are hoping to partake in activities such as hiking, backpacking and climbing (as well as many more adventures) we suggest visiting in late spring up to early fall. This is when the weather is nicest (on average 74° F or 23° C) and the expectation of rain is quite low.


The busiest time is during the peak summer months (late June to August), but if you are wanting to explore the park and not have to deal with too many other people, consider going during more of the shoulder seasons (May and September). Or if you really want to avoid crowds and are okay with the cold, the winter months are absolutely beautiful - just know that some of the amenities will not be open (make sure to check ahead for lodging and camping).


We visited in late July and backpacked the Rae Lakes Loop (see more below). While we saw plenty of people on the trail, it was never too busy. Also, a couple of things to note about visiting during that time of the year: there was still snow up on the pass and the mosquitos were absolutely terrible - though that might always be the case.




Panorama of Kings Canyon National Park





\\ How to Get Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks


The parks are located on the far eastern side of the state of California. The largest cities nearby are Los Angeles (4.5 hours away), San Francisco (just under 5 hours away), Bakersfield (2.5 hours away) and finally, Las Vegas at just under 7 hours away.


There are two entrances to the parks: Ash Mountain for Sequoia National Park, near the town of Three Rivers, and Big Stump for Kings Canyon National Park. There is also the entrance to the Mineral King area, which is a more remote area of Sequoia National Park. To reach that entrance look for the junction of Mineral King Road with Highway 198 in the town of Three Rivers, roughly two miles before the Ash Mountain Entrance.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: the road out to Mineral King is extremely narrow and winding. It is unpaved in some areas. It is recommended that no large vehicles attempt to drive this route.









\\ The Top Adventures in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks



HIKING

There are a ton of trails to explore in both national parks, from long full-day excursions to shorter jaunts through the forest (especially sequoia groves). Here are some trails that we definitely think you should explore:


GENERAL SHERMAN TREE

This is quite a short hike, but one definitely worth doing when visiting Sequoia National Park, for where else can you say you visited the biggest tree in the world?!. The total hike measures 0.75 miles in length and is lined with placards discussing the ecology of sequoia trees. The hiking trail starts at the Giant Forest Museum.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: this massive tree was named after the American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman by naturalist James Wolverton. Wolverton came up with the name thanks to his background of serving as a lieutenant under Sherman in the 9th Indiana Cavalry during the American Civil War. You can learn more about the tree here (as well as why it was also named Karl Marx for a while).



MORO ROCK

If you are looking for stunning views of the surrounding area, then definitely seek out this short but steep trail. To reach the top of this granite dome, follow a stairway that climbs 300 feet (0.09 km) to the summit. The parking area for the trail is two miles (3.2 km) from the Generals Highway.



LOOKOUT PEAK

This trail measures 13 miles (round-trip) and provides an incredible panorama of the park's backcountry areas. While the whole trail is 13 miles (6.5 miles out) you don’t have to go the whole way (though we highly suggest you do for the views and mountain solitude). A great stop along the way is Sheep Creek (1 mile out).


💬 INSIDER TIP: the beginning of this hiking trail is actually known as the Don Cecil Trail - which was the first access point to the Cedar Grove before Highway 180 was completed.



MIST FALLS

A great hike if you are wanting to get a taste of what the Rae Lakes Loop is like is to head out to Mist Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. It is 8 miles roundtrip, with only the last mile or so being steep. From Mist Falls you can keep heading farther out on the trail (it is now called the Sierra High Route), which pretty much follows a creek the whole way.




BACKPACKING THE RAE LAKES LOOP


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