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Three Days In The Land Of Giants : Sequoia And Kings Canyon National Parks

Updated: Oct 18, 2023



Welcome, fellow adventurers, to a journey through the awe-inspiring realms of giants, where nature's majesty dwarfs the imagination and every step brings you closer to the heart of the wild. Buckle up, because we're about to embark on an unforgettable three-day expedition through the enchanting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks! From the mighty General Sherman Tree to the depths of Kings Canyon itself, I'll take you on a whirlwind tour of two of California's most stunning national parks. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready for an epic adventure filled with breathtaking vistas, serene moments, and perhaps even a few encounters with the park's fascinating wildlife.

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Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is during the spring (April-May) or fall (September-October). These months offer mild temperatures and fewer crowds than summer. However, the parks are beautiful year-round, so you can visit any time you like.



How To Get To The Park

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is situated in Central California, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. By road, it is about 4hrs drive from either city. There are two main entrances to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks:

  • Ash Mountain Entrance to Sequoia National Park: This entrance is located on Highway 198, 6 miles east of the town of Three Rivers. It is the most popular entrance to the parks, and it provides access to the Giant Forest, General Sherman Tree, and many other popular attractions. Be warned that the road to the entrance from Three Rivers is very windy and not recommended for folks with motion sickness.

  • Big Stump Entrance to Kings Canyon National Park: This entrance is located on Highway 180, 5 miles west of the town of Grant Grove. It provides access to the Grant Grove, Kings Canyon, and many other popular attractions.

Where To Stay

There are many different places to stay near Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. However, all accommodations in and around the park get booked months in advance. When we made this trip, it was a last minute decision. So the only accommodation we could find was in the town of Visalia, which was 35 miles away from the park entrance, but which took over an hour and a half each day to drive to the park, due to the winding roads. If you are doing a road trip to the parks in an electric car, like we did, then Visalia is the only option for you to charge your car anywhere in a 50 mile radius of SEKI (Sequoia and Kings Canyon).

Here are a few better options (if not traveling by electric car) :

  • In the parks: There are four lodges located within the parks: Wuksachi Lodge, John Muir Lodge, Grant Grove Cabins, and Cedar Grove Lodge. These lodges offer a variety of accommodations, from rustic cabins to hotel rooms.

  • In the gateway towns: There are several towns located near the parks, including Three Rivers, Kings Canyon National Park Village, and Grant Grove Village. These towns offer a variety of accommodations, from hotels and motels to bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals.

  • Camping: There are several campgrounds located within the parks, as well as in the gateway towns. Camping is a great way to experience the natural beauty of the area.

Park Entry Fee

Irrespective of which entrance you choose, you need to pay a National Park entry fee of $35 per private vehicle. This fee covers both parks. Whats even better is if you purchase a National Park Pass (available at any REI store) of $80, you have access to multiple National Parks and National Monuments throughout the year.


Road Closures

All roads in Sequoia National Park were fully open to vehicular traffic, when we went during Labor Day weekend of 2023. However, due to severe road damage from winter storms, the Cedar Grove and Mineral King areas of Kings Canyon National Park are closed to public access for the 2023 season. This includes the Cedar Grove Road (Highway 180 between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove) and the Mineral King Road. A number of beautiful hikes, waterfalls and lakes cannot be accessed within Kings Canyon NP, due to this closure. So do check for road conditions before you start your SEKI adventure.

Getting Around The Park

During summer, especially around the long weekends, parking becomes extremely difficult in Sequoia NP. To alleviate the parking issues, the park offer a free shuttle service during the summer months. The shuttle runs every 10-15 minutes from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM during weekends, with service to all major attractions in the park, including the Giant Forest, Lodgepole, and Moro Rock.



Day 1

We started our day very early (ie.5am) from the Bay Area for a 4 hour drive towards Fresno and the Big Stump entrance to the Kings Canyon NP. Along the way we stopped at Punjabi Dhaba in Fresno, for a delicious breakfast of the biggest parathas we have ever seen. Or eaten!



With happy tummies, we continued our journey to the Big Stump entrance of Kings Canyon National Park. Once in the park, we first headed to the Visitors Center to get our bearings and learn about the parks history.


General Grant's Trail: Our first stop was to the nearby General Grant Grove area. We began our exploration with the General Grant Tree Trail, an easy 1-mile loop leading you to the awe-inspiring General Grant Tree, one of the largest trees on the planet. The trail is fully paved and takes you through some truly gigantic sequoias. The General Grant Tree itself is the third largest tree in the world, towering over 267 feet tall and over 107 feet in circumference. The sequoias along the trail are like nature's own cathedrals, with bark that feels like ancient leather and trunks that could easily host a family picnic. Each step you take will fill you with awe as you're surrounded by these gentle giants that have witnessed centuries of history. We took our time to soak in its grandeur and historical significance.

General Grant Tree Loop

General Grant Tree

Hume Lake: Our next stop was at Hume Lake, which was about 30 minutes drive from General Grant Grove. There are several different hikes that you can do at Hume Lake, but one of the most popular is the Hume Lake Trail. This is a 3-mile loop trail that passes through a variety of terrain, including meadows, forests, and along the lake. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, making it a good option for hikers of all ages and abilities. It winds around the lake passing several viewpoints with stunning views of the Lake, including the Hume Lake Dam. After our hike we enjoyed a lunch picnic on the Adirondack chairs spread along the shore of the lake.





Since Hwy 180 was closed north of Hume Lake, we decided to make our way towards Sequoia National Park. Along the way, we stopped at Lodgepole Visitors Center for information. We were on time to watch a film about the parks natural and cultural history. We continued our way up Generals Highway to our next hiking stop which was at Big Trees trail.

Big Trees Trail : This short trail, which is 1.2 miles round trip, will make you feel like a tiny speck in a world of giants. It's like walking through a forest of towering skyscrapers, but these skyscrapers are living giants that have stood the test of time for thousands of years. The forest floor is a lush carpet of pine needles and wildflowers, inviting you to connect with nature at its most intimate level.

Big Trees Trail

We also had a chance encounter with a grizzly up close. The bear was making its way down the trail, and we had to politely go off trail in order for him to safely pass.

Bear sighting along Big Trees Trail

Tunnel Log: Our last planned hike for the day was to Hanging Rock to view the sunset. Along the way, we stopped at Tunnel Log, which is a tunnel carved in a giant Sequoia through which you can drive, for a quick photo op.

Tunnel Log (for vehicles)

Hanging Rock: The most popular spot to watch sunset in the park is Moro Rock. However, due to the big crowds it draws, and long waits to park, we decided to skip Moro Rock and view the setting sun at Hanging Rock instead.

View of Morro Rock from Hanging Rock

The hike up to Hanging Rock is a short, 0.25 steep incline. We had the entire area to ourselves as we watched the golden hues of the setting sun turn to deep orange while we enjoyed a picnic dinner. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this hidden gem in Sequoia National Park.

Sunset views from Hanging Rock


We ended our day by driving down the winding road the Generals Highway back to our hotel in Visalia.



Day 2

After a hearty breakfast at our hotel in Visalia, we started our day with our very first photo op stop at Tunnel Rock, natures quirky little surprise, on the way to Sequoia National Park.

Tunnel Rock

General Shermans Tree : Our first hike of the day was to see the General Shermans Tree, the most popular site in the park. The trail to the tree is fully paved, but quite steep and includes a fleet of stairs. The General Sherman Tree, a colossal sequoia, stands as a testament to the grandeur of nature. Its massive trunk and age-old wisdom command respect and admiration. As you stand beneath its towering presence, you can't help but feel a profound sense of awe.

Close to the General Sherman tree, near the shuttle stop is yet another tunnel log. But this is for humans to pass through.

Tunnel Log (for humans)

The Congress Trail trailhead starts very close to the General Sherman Tree. Hiking the 3 miles of the Congress Trail is like wandering through an ancient forest filled with these mighty sentinels. The trail meanders amidst the giants, and with each step, you become a tiny speck in their timeless story. The sequoias along the Congress Trail are like old friends, each with its own unique character and charm. This was by far our most favorite hike in the park, as it is a serene and meditative experience that allows you to appreciate the importance of preserving these ancient trees.

A speck amongst the giants



Tokopah Falls : For the second half of the day, we decided to explore the trail to Tokopah Falls. The trailhead starts at Lodgepole campground, and although AllTrails claims it is a little less than 4 miles round trip, it took us well over 6 miles to reach to the bottom of the falls and back. The trail follows the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River and winds through a picturesque canyon with lush, forested surroundings. There is a gradual elevation gain and the trail becomes rockier as you get closer to the falls. Wildflowers were still in plenty when we hiked in late summer. As you approach Tokopah Falls, the view is breathtaking. The falls cascade down a granite cliff, creating a captivating display. We enjoyed a late picnic lunch at the bottom of the falls before we headed back.



Wildflowers along the trail to Tokopah Falls

We ended our day with a fabulous dinner at the Gateway Restaurant in Three Rivers. Situated right next to the East Fork of the Kaweah River, the restaurant offers a great and relaxed ambiance and offers American and Californian cuisine. With ample vegetarian options, we enjoyed a romantic dinner on their deck, while enjoying the sound of the river flowing just a few feet from us. Being a very popular restaurant, reservations are highly recommended.

Gateway Resturant in Three Rivers



Day 3

We saved one last hike amongst the giant Sequoias before we headed home.

Crescent Meadow Loop: Hiking the Crescent Meadow Loop in Sequoia National Park was like stepping into a realm of natural beauty and tranquility. It is a relatively easy hike, making it suitable for hikers of all levels, including families. The trail is approximately 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) in length, and it's a perfect way to immerse yourself in the park's stunning scenery without embarking on an all-day expedition. The hike culminates with a visit to Tharp's Log, an iconic fallen giant that was once used as a summer cabin by a local cattleman. Exploring its hollowed interior is like stepping back in time and experiencing the area's history.

Crescent Meadow on a foggy morning

Having seen all what we had planned to, we headed back home with our heart and camera full of memories, and carrying the spirit of these incredible places with us always.

A controlled burn amongst the Sequoias.

 

>> Got a question about this page that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.

 

In conclusion, a three-day journey through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is a whirlwind of awe-inspiring natural beauty, ancient giants, and unforgettable experiences. From standing in the presence of the world's largest trees to exploring serene meadows and cascading waterfalls, these parks offer a tapestry of outdoor adventures that create memories to last a lifetime.

Whether you choose to follow the suggested itinerary or blaze your own trail, one thing remains certain: Sequoia and Kings Canyon are treasures waiting to be discovered. These parks remind us of the grandeur of nature and the importance of preserving these sacred landscapes for future generations.

Until next time, happy trails and may your love for the great outdoors continue to grow with each adventure!









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