Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 to protect one of the largest and oldest living organisms of our planet – sequoia tree groves. At the elevation of 5,000 to 8,000 feet western Sierra is the only environment where massive sequoia trees grow. These magnificent trees can grow as tall as a 26-story building. Sequoia National Park has also incredible geology under and above the ground to explore.
Sequoia National Park can be accessed from two sides via Generals Highway (highway 198) – from the Grant Grove Visitor Center in Kings Canyon National Park via 198-W or from 198-E. The section between Grant Grove and Sequoia National Park is closed during winter when snow makes it impassable. Some roads are not suitable for trailers, make sure to check at the visitor center about road conditions.
I will highly recommend downloading the park’s official app that is free and full of information. It has details of nearly 200 locations in the parks and has an “Off the Beaten Path” section with tips and hikes. Search for NPS Sequoia & Kings Canyon and download the app from the Apple App or the Google Play store before you get to the parks. Be sure to enable location services, and to download offline content in the app settings. This will allow the app to continue working when you’re out of cell range.
Best time to visit
Like most national parks, Sequoia National Park is also open year-round. Although most of the roads and facilities are limited or closed due to weather conditions. Spring and Fall are the best seasons to explore foothills and sequoia groves. Summer brings comfortable temperatures to venture into high Sierra. It is also the best time to visit Sequoia National Park when all the roads and visitor centers are open. Winter is a magical time to explore sequoia groves in peace. Snow chains or tires are required for safely navigating park roads in snow conditions.
Where to Stay and Eat
Sequoia National Park has diverse options for accommodations – a full-service year-round lodge, tent cabins during summer, Pear Lake Hut in winter, and several campgrounds. Three Rivers and Visalia are the gateway towns with plenty of options, in case you are not able to get a reservation inside the park.
Wuksachi Lodge is located in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park and is close to Lodgepole Village. The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner year-round, as well as boxed lunch.
Bearpaw High Sierra Camp
The hike to Bearpaw Camp is 11.5 miles one-way, along the High Sierra Trail, that starts about 10 miles from Wuksachi Lodge. Tent cabins have beds, showers, and all meals are provided. An advance reservation is highly recommended.
Pear Lake Winter Hut
This rustic hut is open for wilderness skiers only by reservation. It features ten bunk-beds and a wood-pellet stove and takes about six strenuous miles on skis or snowshoes to reach.
Please make sure to check vehicle-length restrictions for the roads before booking a campground. There are no RV hookups in any campground.
Lodgepole Campground and Dorst Campgrounds – these are located in Lodgepole and Giant Forest area and open from early spring through late fall. Both are available for camping with tents, RVs, and trailers. Reservations are recommended for both campgrounds.
Potwisha Campground – located in the Foothills area, it is open to tents, RVs, and trailers year-round.
Buckeye Flat Campground – located in the Foothills area, it is a tent-only campground open from early spring through late fall.
South Fork Campground – a primitive, remote, year-round campground in the Foothills area for tent-only camping.
Atwell Mill Campground and Cold Springs Campground – these are tent-only highest elevation campgrounds in the park that are located in the Mineral King area. Both campgrounds are open during the summer months only.
Lodgepole Deli, Market, and Snack Bar
It is open seasonally during summer and located near Lodgepole Visitor Center. You may find decent options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner here.
In case you don’t have an “America the Beautiful” annual pass, you have options to get a one-week pass or annual pass for Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. You need one pass for both the parks as they are managed as a unit.
A one-week pass for a private vehicle is for $35 and an annual pass is for $70.
Check the National Park Service website for more details, roads, and trails conditions.
Park Visitor Centers
Sequoia National Park has two visitor centers and an excellent museum to help explore the history and geography of the park.
Foothills Visitor Center
Foothills Visitor Center is located north of the Ash Mountain Entrance of the park and is open year-round.
Lodgepole Visitor Center
Lodgepole Visitor Center is open from May through mid-October. It is closer while driving from Grant Grove Village and about 21 miles from Ash Mountain Entrance.
Giant Forest Museum
Giant Forest Museum is housed in a rustic building build in 1928. The museum has excellent interactive exhibits to learn giant sequoia ecology and the human history of the park. Free ranger-led programs are offered daily in summer and on weekends during the winter. The museum is open daily, year-round.
There are 240 caves in the park and the Crystal Cave is the only one that’s open to visitors by guided tours. Crystal Cave is a marble cavern dripping with stalactites and pierced by stalagmites. It is located near the Giant Forest area. The tour is suitable for the entire family and takes about 45 minutes. Tours are offered from mid-April through mid-October, and tickets must be bought preferably online or at the visitor centers.
Things to do
Some of the roads are narrow and trailers, RVs are not allowed. Please make sure to check vehicle-length restrictions at the visitor center. There are no gas stations within these national parks.
Generals Highway from the Sequoia Park Entrance to Lodgepole
The spectacular winding drive will take you from the foothills to the heart of Sequoia National Park. Make sure to stop Amphitheater Point and General Highway lookout for beautiful panoramic views of the park.
Generals Highway from Grant Grove to Lodgepole
Give yourself an hour to enjoy the pleasant and peaceful mountains along this meandering road.
Crescent Meadow Drive
In case you are not planning to hike Moro Rock or Crescent Meadow, consider driving Crescent Meadow Road for the views.
Mineral King Drive
A steep, winding road leads to the rugged beauty of Mineral King Valley. At 7800 feet (2375 m), it’s the highest place you can go to these parks by vehicle.
Snowshoeing and skiing are great options to explore the Giant Forest in the winter when the landscape transforms into an enchanted land. Ranger-led snowshoe walks are also available, please check with rangers at the visitor center for schedule. Children below 10 years are not permitted for ranger-led snowshoe walks. You may rent snowshoes at the Lodgepole market. Overnight skiing and snowshoeing require a wilderness permit.
It is the most popular and easy trail of Sequoia National Park, which loops around the famed giant sequoia trees. It is a two miles paved trail, three miles if you include spur trail to the General Sherman tree (which you will, after all, it is the largest sequoia tree on our planet!). Trailhead is at the end of Wolverton Road. Being a popular trail, it gets crowded, start it early in the morning to enjoy some solitude. Standing next to Chief Sequoyah, President, Washington, McKinley, Room, Lincoln, and many other giant sequoias is a humbling experience.
If you have time, I will recommend the less-visited, four-mile Muir Grove round-trip trail near Dorst Creek Campground. The trail passes through a mixed-conifer forest, sequoias, and offers a peaceful Sierra Nevada scenery.
Another classic hike in Sequoia National Park is the Moro Rock trail. Moro Rock is a prominent granite dome on the edge of the Giant Forest. It is about a quarter-mile climb over 350 steps to the top, that starts from Crescent Meadow Road. Your hard work will be rewarded with sweeping vistas of high Sierra.
Crescent and Log Meadows Loop Trail
This 1.8-mile easy loop is perfect for little hikers to explore beautiful meadows. Trailhead is along Crescent Meadow Road. Stroll through a classic forest scene of verdant green grass sprinkled with wildflowers and enclosed by tall trees. This is John Muir’s ‘Gem of the Sierras’. The Log Meadow Trail follows along Crescent Creek. Tharp’s Log is a cabin made by pioneer woodsman Hale Tharp who lived here for nearly 30. The 50-foot long hollow trunk forms the main part of the cabin. Tharp’s wooden bed and table are still here today. Take the next right fork to include Chimney Tree in your loop. Chimney Tree was destroyed by fire in 1914, its hollow blackened trunk is still standing defiantly.
Start early for this ten-mile round trip trail, that starts at the end of Mineral King Road. Stunning views of Mineral King Valley make up for the difficult terrain. Enjoy alpine scenery, glacial cirques, seasonal wildflowers, and remnants of human activities. If you want to camp near the lake for a night, make sure to get a wilderness permit from Mineral King Ranger Station.
Sequoia National Park offers many backcountry campsites to explore the magnificent and vast High Sierra. Get your wilderness permit from one of the ranger stations or visitor centers. It is highly recommended to carry a bear canister for food storage. Read this backpacking gear guide to select the right gear for your backpacking trips.
Alta Peak Trail
A strenuous 14-mile round trip hike will take you to the summit of Alta Peak at 11,204 feet. Enjoy the jaw-dropping views of the Great Western Divide, Pear Lake, and maybe Mount Whitney. It can be done as a day hike also.
Little Five Big Five Lakes Trail
A breath-taking 26.5-mile loop that will take you to ten alpine lakes through Sequoia’s High Sierras. It starts from Sawtooth-Monarch Trailhead along Mineral King Road. I will suggest hiking the loop clockwise and after some amount of acclimatization. The hike up from Cliff Creek (7,100 feet) to Black Rock Pass (11,600 feet) is the hardest hike of the whole loop and the views of Spring Lake and the plunging valley beneath are incredible.
You may want to read these useful tips to start hiking with kids.
Things to remember while visiting Sequoia National Park
Marmots are active during spring and early summer. Take precautions to protect your vehicle from damage while you are exploring the park.
Stay alert while hiking under the trees. If you hear cracks or snapping from tree roots, trunks, or branches, run away from the trees. Don’t camp under dead, cracked, broken, or hanging branches, or under trees that are rotten at the base or have cracked bark peeling off the trunk.
Many hiking trails are above 5000 feet, give yourself some time to acclimatize and drink plenty of water. In case you feel a headache or shortness of breath hike down to lower elevations.
Lightning is common during summer months. Seek shelter or lower ground. When caught in a lightning situation avoid wet areas, heavily treed places, and rock ledges or overhangs. Crouch low and use some pad, your bag for additional insulation.
Ticks and Bugs
Ticks are common at the grassy low elevation. Check yourself and your kids thoroughly after each hike. Protect yourself from mosquito bites to prevent any chance of West Nile disease.
Enjoy your Sequoia National Park visit. Here is a fun National Parks Quiz for you.
Happy and safe travels!