Walk Among Giants: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (+Photos)

People often say that ‘those who live in California are living in an entirely different reality,’ and it’s not tough to see why. Aside from the incredible weather of the West Coast, the state is a wonderland of natural beauty, home to some of America’s most beautiful mountains, fertile valleys, desolate deserts, and dramatic coastlines. There is no denying it; California is a true masterpiece of landscapes.

Located a few hours inland between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are two parks you don’t want to miss in the Golden State. From these bustling metropoles, traveling to these parks is like venturing into another universe – one of rugged mountains, giant forests, massive canyons, and winding roads.

Sunset views from Sequoia Highland CampSunset views from Sequoia Highland Camp

I was lucky enough to visit the parks with a group of friends who had spent a lot of time exploring the area. Because of this, I got the full Sequoia and Kings Canyon experience within just a few days of hiking, camping, and adventuring.

Where are Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Grand Tree Parking

As mentioned, the parks are perfectly located between Los Angeles and San Francisco. From Los Angeles, the drive takes around four hours and ten minutes via the I-5 and CA-99. From San Francisco, it’s a five-hour drive along CA-99.

Two main highways enter the parks. Highway 180 connects Fresno to Kings Canyon, while Highway 198 from Visalia leads east into Sequoia National Park.

There are three main entrances to the park. Ash Mountain Entrance enters from Highway 198 at a town called Three Rivers. Big Stump Entrance enters Kings Canyon National Park from Highway 180, and the Lookout Point Entrance will lead you to the remote Mineral King Area via Highway 198.

Giant Sequoia

Since they share a similar geography, the main difference between the parks is that Sequoia is home to a grove of giant sequoia trees, which are the two tallest trees in the world. While Kings Canyon has a few giant sequoias of its own, this park is better known for its natural valleys, granite rock faces, and canyons. Some even describe it as the closest park to Yosemite.

Pro Tip: GPS routing can be inconsistent in the area, so double-check your journey using road maps and signs!

Entrance Fees and Logistics

Sequoia National Park

Technically speaking, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are two separate parks. They share a border and are located side by side, so they have been jointly managed since the 1940s.

To access the parks, you need to purchase an entrance pass. The pass costs $35 per private vehicle (whether you are one person or four) or $20 per person arriving on a tour / by foot. One pass allows you to access both parks for a full week. This means you won’t have to pay twice to see both parks and can slowly explore each park over the course of a week.

The parks are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and you don’t have to pre-purchase tickets or reserve a spot. That said, buying a pass in advance can save you time at the gate.

If you plan to visit the parks multiple times a year or are interested in exploring other parks in America, you should consider buying an annual National Park Entrance Card for $70.

Pro Tip: Make sure to check online for updates regarding road closures and weather conditions. Some roads may close due to extreme weather, such as snow storms or rainfall, or you may be required to prepare for snowy conditions by arriving in a 4X4 vehicle or with tire chains.

Staying at Sequoia Highland Camp

Sequoia Highland Camp

One of the highlights of my time spent at these parks was the accommodation. Since I traveled from abroad and didn’t have any camping gear with me, I chose to stay at Sequoia Highland Camp.

Sequoia Highland Camp

Owned and run by a pair of brothers, this campground features state-of-the-art lodging accommodations listed on Airbnb. Located nearly 5000 feet above sea level, it overlooks sprawling views of the national parks’ Sierra Nevada valleys and snow-capped peaks.

Sequoia Highland Camp

The accommodation houses a variety of self-contained cabins and yurts, with between one and four bedrooms each. Each cabin has a fully equipped kitchen, living room, and wood-burning fireplaces to keep things cozy during the cold months.

Sequoia Highland Camp

My cabin overlooked the valley and was fitted with an original fireplace sourced from Scandinavia. It had everything I needed and was super easy to get to with a private vehicle.

Pro Tip: If you’re visiting with a group, the entire campground can be booked for private events. This would include access to a recreation hall with a bar, a yoga room and workshop space, and plenty of spots to gaze at the stars.

Camping in the Park

Camping in the Park

Of course, camping in the park is one of the more popular ways to enjoy the great outdoors. There are 14 campgrounds across the two parks, two of which are open year-round. You need to reserve a campsite in advance and can book using the Recreation.gov site online.

It costs $32 to reserve a standard campsite and up to $80 for the park’s biggest campsite. Check online and compare all the campground options to pick the best one for you. Just note that many of the campgrounds close during winter because of harsh weather conditions.

Most of the campsites can accommodate up to six guests and have a picnic table, a fire pit with a grill, and a bear-proof food storage box.

The Best Hiking Trails in the Park

Grant Grove Trails

One of the main reasons people visit these parks is to hike the incredible trails and paths. The national parks are home to a network of well-maintained and signposted trails and hikes that wind their way through the stunning landscape.

First things first, grab yourself a map or even a book detailing these trails from one of the visitor centers or park shops. Depending on your level of competence and fitness, you could find a short paved walk or enjoy a full-day hike in the wilderness.

Grant Grove TrailsGrant Grove Trails

I recommend checking out the Grant Grove Trails, which wind their way through the iconic Sequoia forests. The General Grant Tree Trail takes you past the world’s largest living tree along a short 0.5 km paved, relatively flat trail.

The North Grove Loop starts at the same spot (General Grant Tree Parking Area), and journeys 2.4km through the forest. Big Stump Loop Trail will open you up to another sequoia forest that is usually less crowded than the more easily-accessible General Grant forest.

Huge, ancient trees aside, Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park is another one of the main attractions worth seeing with your own eyes. The rock itself is a granite dome that towers over the park. To reach the summit of this gigantic slab, you will need to climb a 300-step stairway to the summit.

A Picnic in Paradise

Sequoia Highland Camp views

Few things are better than sitting down with a freshly packed picnic overlooking gorgeous mountain views. Even better, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are scattered with picnic spots with barbecue grills, where you can prepare your own cookout surrounded by nature.

Some of the best spots to enjoy a cookout or picnic are at Big Stump and Columbine in Grant Grove, throughout the canyon at Cedar Grove, and at Wolverton and Pinewood in Lodgepole and the Giant Forest (these spots have water spouts and grills).

Hospital Rock in the Foothills has a picnic spot with water, restrooms, and grill facilities.

Pro Tip: Before you get excited to grill, double-check there aren’t any active fire restrictions in the area. In addition to fire hazards, some picnic sites may close because of bear activity. Make sure to keep food close to you, and store any food or trash in the metal food-storage boxes provided.

Viewpoints and Driving Routes

Panoramic Point Road

If you aren’t up for an adventurous activity like a hike, there are plenty of scenic drives that offer similar views without the hassle.

Panoramic Point Road is one of the more impressive roads for great views. It begins not far from the Kings Canyon Visitors Center parking lot, winds around the mountain through a forested area, and ends in the valley at Hume Lake.

Hume LakeHume Lake

I recommend taking the drive super slow and stopping every few miles at the various viewpoints. On my trip, we packed a light lunch and a flask of coffee and sat overlooking the valley and mountains on a rocky outcrop just a few steps from the road.

From Hume Lake, you can continue onto Generals Highway, which connects the two parks. This road also leads to several hikes and trails and has its own selection of impressive viewpoints.

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