California has nine national parks in the state. I am fortunate to live within driving distance to four of them, and even more lucky to live just an hour outside of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. SEKI (as it’s often written when talking about both parks) are two separate parks, but often lumped together because of their close proximity. They each have their own entrance, with the General’s Highway connecting them both through the Sequoia National Forest which sits between them. I get most of my hiking miles in SEKI, and when weather permits, I try to get up there at least once a week. This is my home away from home. You could spend a week up here and still not see everything. I would like to take you on a short virtual tour of these two great national parks.
We are going to start our tour in Sequoia. You drive up Highway 198 and before you even get to the park entrance, there is a long, narrow, partially maintained road that leads you to Mineral King. Although technically part of Sequoia NP, Mineral King has its own entrance and you really need a separate day to visit this area. The road is long and winding (and a bit scary), and only open during the summer months, but so worth the drive! Mineral King has been described as a backpacker’s paradise. The valley sits at 7500’, so almost every hike is a strenuous one, but there are still plenty of options for day hikes and family friendly hikes. There is a small lodge and restaurant, a few campgrounds, and lots of old private cabins. There are giant sequoia groves up there, and waterfalls are everywhere! On your drive in, you start passing waterfalls right off the road. The further in you get the more waterfalls you see. Some of them aren’t even accessible. There is one hike I like to do that you can walk right in front of a waterfall after only a half mile. And if you turn around and look across the valley, you can see a matching waterfall on the other mountains. The views from here are breathtaking. I’ve done this portion of the hike with my kids, so it’s family friendly at least up to this point. You can continue on and up and get to several alpine lakes. There is so much to see in Mineral King, and I know I’ve only just scratched the surface.
If the narrow, winding road isn’t your cup of tea, hold onto yourself, because the road up to Sequoia is also winding, but this road is well-maintained. The park entrance sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Just past the entrance are a couple of campgrounds and some great hiking spots. It gets really hot in the summertime, so I find it best to explore this area in the off-season, October through May. Once you get past the foothills you enter the Giant Forest. This is where the magic begins! The Giant Forest is where you’ll first lay eyes on the giant sequoia trees. If you haven’t seen these trees in person before, you are in for quite a treat. These trees are massive! They can live up to 3,000 years and they are taller and wider than you can imagine. You really need to see them for yourself. It’s like driving through a fairytale. Everything is so green and large. Make sure you stop and hug a few trees! Soon you’ll come to the Giant Forest Museum and Visitor’s Center. From here, you can start your hiking adventures. There are paved trails both in front and behind the museum, for those wanting to see these giants on a paved surface, or you can take off on a longer hike from here. All the trails are connected in some way. You can hike (or drive) into the Crescent Meadow area to the south, or head north to see General Sherman. I like to start to the south and visit Moro Rock and the Crescent Meadow area. This is one of my favorite spots in the entire park. It is so peaceful here. You’ve got beautiful meadows surrounded by giant sequoias and there are so many hiking options. You can take a short, paved walk to Tharp’s Log, do a loop around the meadow, take a longer walk to the museum or to General Sherman, or if you’re really ambitious, hike all the way to Mt. Whitney! It’s 60 miles one way, so make sure you have all your supplies and permits first! This is a great place to start your backpacking adventures, even if you don’t make it all the way to Whitney.
There is so much to see in Sequoia that I haven’t gotten to yet. General Sherman, the largest living thing on earth! He stands at almost 300 feet tall and 100 feet around at the base. Lodgepole and Tokopah Falls, Wolverton and the Congress Trail, Little Baldy and the John Muir Grove. Plus all the lake trails! There is really so much more than I cannot fit into this post. We still need to visit Kings Canyon!
Kings Canyon has its own, much less winding entrance on Highway 180, or if you’re in Sequoia, you can continue on the Generals Highway, through the forest, and into Kings Canyon. At the entrance you’ll find the Visitor’s Center, campgrounds, a market, restaurant, and lodging options. You’ll also find Grant Grove. This is Kings Canyon’s grove of giant sequoias and a must see on your visit here. The majority of Kings Canyon is located down in the canyon itself and is only accessible during the summer months. It’s another winding road down into the canyon. This would be a day trip on its own. There’s so much to see down there. You follow the Kings River down into the area known as Cedar Grove. There is lodging and a restaurant in this area and lots of places to start your backcountry adventures. The river itself is a site to see, but the waterfalls! Waterfalls right off the road! Grizzly Falls is only a quarter of a mile off the road, Roaring River Falls is a half mile on a paved trail, and then Mist Falls, for the more adventurous spirit, is a day’s hike. One of my favorite hikes is Zumwalt Meadow to the end of the road. You start off by crossing the Kings River, walk the perimeter of this gorgeous meadow surrounded by giant granite mountains, you do a little rock climbing, walk through the forest, and end up back on the river at the end of the road.
I’ve seen many articles stating how you can visit SEKI in one day, and maybe you could, if all you did was drive and take a few photos. But if you want to do any kind of hiking or tree hugging, you really need a day in each park, and even then you’d barely scratch the surface on what these two wonderful parks have to offer. I hope you someday make it over here. It is worth the nausea the winding roads may cause. There is nothing like taking a walk through a quiet forest with these magnificent trees alongside you, or sitting at the end of the road watching the mighty Kings River run by, with these granite walls all around you. Have you been? Is it on your bucket list now?