Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
and Giant Sequoia National Monument
Check these websites for the latest information.
- The Mineral King webcam (elevation 7830 ft) and the Faculty Flat webcam (elevation 7440 ft) are at a similar elevation as the Giant Forest and are the most useful for judging conditions in the park.
- Giant Forest webcam with animation of the past day's images. Although the camera is near the Giant Forest parking lot, the view is of the foothills to the west (elevation 6320 ft).
- Milk Ranch fire lookout showing the Great Western Divide on the left and Castle Rocks on the right (elevation 6050 feet)
- Kaweah Commonwealth cam in Three Rivers (near the Ash Mountain entrance, elevation 1000 ft)
- Hume Lake webcams (vicinity of Grant Grove, elevation 5200 feet)
Sequoia and Kings Canyon
The vast majority of sequoias are in a 70-mile-long stretch of the Sierra Nevada in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the neighboring Sequoia National Monument. Within this area, the National Park groves tend to be in the best condition; most National Monument groves have been clearcut, partially logged, or logged of non-sequoia conifers only.
This leaves Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as perhaps the best places to see the world's biggest trees. These two neighboring parks contain about a third of the world's sequoia forest, mostly in unlogged condition. The parks have many of the world's biggest trees (including seven of the ten biggest), and the sheer mileage of old-growth trails greatly exceeds that of any other park.
But the sequoias are just a small part of the parks. The parks' high country, with its distinctive granite landscapes and remote high lakes, is a dramatic contrast to the big trees and provides some of the best hiking in the area. The alpine scenery can't be seen from the road or from the sequoia groves, so you won't really feel like you've been to the mountains unless you venture into the backcountry.
Alta Meadow and the Great Western Divide, Sequoia National Park
Kings Canyon (the canyon itself, not the whole park) is another major attraction. The canyon doesn't have quite the same scenic majesty as Yosemite Valley — it lacks the sheer vertical granite walls, the dramatic waterfalls, and the lushly-wooded valley floor — but it also doesn't have any of Yosemite's crowds and it's not at all touristy. With a few exceptions, on most of the area's trails it practically feels like you have the canyon to yourself.
The best time to visit the parks is from July through October. Temperatures are usually in the mid-70s, perfect for hiking, during these months, although some of the higher-elevation trails can still be covered with snow well into August. It's common to hear rumbles of thunder in the summer and to see dark clouds building up over the peaks, but less common to actually get rained on. July is the most attractive month, with lots of wildflowers blooming (especially the purple lupines that grow among the sequoias), but on the other hand it also has the most bugs. Bug repellent is absolutely essential in July and August but unnecessary by October.
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Giant Sequoia National Monument is part of the vast National Forest system. Unlike the National Parks, which were created to preserve their natural landscapes, National Forests are essentially government-owned agricultural lands. As a result, most National Forest sequoia groves have been partially logged, most notably in the 1980s when dirt roads were built into many pristine old-growth groves and a series of clearcuts made. The sequoias were left standing, but since they tend to be widely scattered, the big trees are now oddly isolated in open fields. Fortunately, only a small part of each sequoia grove was clearcut before the Giant Sequoia National Monument was created in 2000 to protect the groves from further logging.
Overall, the Monument isn't as scenic as the national parks. The sequoias are just as impressive, but they're only present along short sections of trail. And the Monument doesn't have the spectacular high country or craggy peaks of the national parks.
On the other hand, especially if you're a frequent visitor, the Monument is a lot more pleasant to visit. It's a lot less busy; on most trails you probably won't see anyone at all. It feels easier to drive to, with only about 20 miles of driving on twisty roads; since the people on the road are mostly locals, you don't get stuck behind slow-moving cars that don't pull over. There are fewer rules and regulations: there aren't any entrance fees, you can camp at the side of any road for free, and you can gather firewood, walk your dog, and ride your mountain bike on any trail. Besides camping, hunting and off-roading seem to be the most popular activities.
The national monument is divided into a northern "Hume Lake" unit and a bigger southern "Western Divide" unit. The southern unit has almost all of the old-growth hikes, especially the area around the town of Camp Nelson.
**** Giant Forest
The Giant Forest is the centerpiece of Sequoia National Park. It has the most scenic sequoia hikes as well as some spectacular high country trails.
*** Grant Grove
This heavily-developed area near the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park isn't as scenic as the Giant Forest, but it has some significant sequoia groves, including Grant Grove, a popular attraction that contains the world's second-largest tree, and the relatively undeveloped Redwood Mountain Grove, the world's largest old-growth sequoia grove.
*** Kings Canyon
The actual canyon in Kings Canyon National Park doesn't have any sequoia groves, but it offers a lot of challenging trails. Although most of them seem to have been built for backpackers, the area nontheless has some good day hikes.
Other sequoia groves
*** Atwell Grove
This exceptional grove is located on a hillside above Mineral King Road. The grove has been partially logged but fortunately there's no evidence of logging anywhere along the main trail. Unfortunately, not very much of the trail is actually within the big trees.
** East Fork Grove
Located right next to Atwell Grove, the East Fork Grove has a much different character, with a low density of sequoias and few really big sequoias.
Kings Canyon from the Don Cecil Trail
Places to stay
Following is a listing of all the hotels and campgrounds in the Generals' Highway area.
If the in-park options are full, it's almost always possible to get a hotel room in Visalia or Fresno. Visalia, about an hour and a half from the Giant Forest, has a high-rise Marriott which is pretty decent, as well as a typical small-town business district with some good places to eat — much better than what's available in the parks. Fresno, which is two hours from the Giant Forest and two hours from Kings Canyon, has a lot more options although it isn't as nice.
- The Wuksachi Lodge is near the Giant Forest and is the park's nicest hotel. The hallways are kind of dingy-looking but the rooms are actually pretty nice. Whoever designed the hotel seemes to be determined to make you walk as much as possible, although admittedly all the walking does give you a chance to admire the setting. $200-270.TripAdvisor · Yelp
- The Sequoia High Sierra Camp, in the Sequoia National Monument, has luxury tent cabins and gourmet meals. $250/person (double occupancy), 2 night minimum. Open June–September only. 1-mile walk-in. TripAdvisor · Yelp
- The Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, in Sequoia National Park, provides 2-person tent cabins and home-cooked hot meals to hikers. An immersive backcountry experience, Bearpaw is 11 miles east of Crescent Meadow on the High Sierra Trail. $208/person (double occupancy); normally there's a 2 night minimum but they have lots of 1-night openings. Open mid-June – mid-September only. See the Bearpaw Meadow page.
- The John Muir Lodge is a new lodge in Grant Grove, much smaller than the Wuksachi and without the fancy lodge area. It's centrally located, about halfway between Kings Canyon and the Giant Forest. $172-186. TripAdvisor · Yelp
- Montecito Sequoia Lodge is an older lodge hidden away by a lake in the Sequoia National Monument. Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets. Open all year. $49-$199. TripAdvisor · Yelp
- Cedar Grove Lodge is a no-frills hotel in Kings Canyon. $119-135. TripAdvisor · Yelp.
- The Grant Grove Cabins are right next to John Muir Lodge. They look like they were built in the 1930s. $62-129. TripAdvisor · Yelp
- The Stony Creek Lodge is on the Generals' Highway in the Sequoia National Monument. Summer only. $159-179. TripAdvisor · Yelp
- Hume Lake Christian Camp has a lodge where anyone can book a room; you don't have to be attending a retreat. There isn't anyplace to eat dinner, though; you have to go to Grant Grove. $125. TripAdvisor
Going to dinner at the Wuksachi Lodge
Most campgrounds don't have showers, but there are public pay showers next to the Grant Grove, Lodgepole, and Cedar Grove visitor centers. You'll need at least $3 in quarters.
- Azalea, Sunset, and Crystal Springs campgrounds are in the Grant Grove area. They are all first-come, first-served, with no reservations. Crystal Springs is more spread out than the other two and looks the best. Only Azalea is open in the winter. No reservations. $18. TripAdvisor (Azalea) · TripAdvisor (Sunset)
- Dorst Campground is centrally located in Sequoia National Park. It's a nice-looking campground but seems a little crowded. Summer only. $20. TripAdvisor
- Lodgepole Campground is on the Kaweah River near the Giant Forest. Open year-round. $20. TripAdvisor · Yelp
- The Stony Creek and Upper Stony Creek Campgrounds are conviently located in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, on the Generals' Highway between Grant Grove and the Giant Forest. TripAdvisor · Yelp · ForestCamping.com (Stony Creek) · ForestCamping.com (Upper Stony Creek)
- Princess Campground is in a logged sequoia grove between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. $18. TripAdvisor · ForestCamping.com
- Hume Lake Campground is operated by the Giant Sequoia National Monument. $20. ForestCamping.com
- Tenmile and Landslide Campgrounds are small drive-in campgrounds in the Giant Sequoia National Monument about a 15 minute drive from Grant Grove. Except for toilets, these camgrounds don't have any facilities (no showers, water, or RV hookups, and no camp host). No reservations. $16. ForestCamping.com
- Horse Camp, Buck Rock, and Big Meadows are free campgrounds in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Again, they have toilets but no other facilities. In fact, if you don't need any facilities you can camp for free pretty much anywhere you want in the National Monument. No reservations. Free.
- Sentinel, Sheep Creek, Canyon View, and Moiraine campgrounds are in the Cedar Grove area at the bottom of Kings Canyon. No reservations. $18.
- Eshom Campground is just below the Redwood Mountain sequoia grove in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. There's water but no showers. Getting there from the Generals' Highway requires driving several slow miles on a bumpy dirt road. No reservations. $18. ForestCamping.com
- Potwisha and Buckeye Flat Campgrounds are on the main park highway about a half hour south of the Giant Forest, in an oak forest in the foothills. Hikespeak.com
- The Big Meadows Guard Station is a cabin in the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
- Numerous privately-owned rental properties are available in the foothills west of the park; see VRBO.com. Check the town locations with Google Maps before booking. Camp Nelson and Springville, for example, aren't at all convenient to Sequoia or Kings Canyon.
Places to eat
- The Grant Grove restaurant looks kind of like a diner. Yelp · TripAdvisor
- Wuksachi Lodge serves food that's decent, if a bit bland and institutional. It gets pretty crowded and noisy. Reservations are required. Chowhound · Yelp · TripAdvisor
- The Wolverton Meadow Barbeque is an outdoor event held each evening in the summer.
- The Cedar Grove snack bar, in Cedar Grove Lodge, looks like a concession counter in a sports stadium or convention center. Given how it looks, the food is better than I was expecting. Most people order the burgers, but they also have a few items like pork chops, trout, and New York Strip Steak. It's really basic, but somehow that seems right for minimally-developed Kings Canyon. The best part is the dining area and small patio overlooking the river. Check the hours; in summer they close at 7 or 8 pm, and at other times they may not be open at all. TripAdvisor
- Stony Creek Lodge has a dining room where you can get pizza.
- I'm not completely sure but I think non-guests can pay to eat at the Montecito-Sequoia Lodge's buffet.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
- The trail maps on this site are from the Redwood Hikes Press Trail Map of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which covers the day hiking areas along the Generals Highway and the valley floor of Kings Canyon. It's the most detailed map that covers all of these areas. Size 27 x 29 inches, scale 1:25,000, published 2013, paper. $7.95.
- The Sequoia Natural History Association (which runs the national park gift shops) sells a series of five day hiking trail maps: Cedar Grove, Grant Grove, Lodgepole, Giant Forest, and Mineral King. Each map is $3.50 and measures 18 x 21.5 inches. Scale is approximately 1:12,500 (Grant Grove), 1:17,000 (Lodgepole), 1:17,500 (Giant Forest, Mineral King), 1:30,000 (Cedar Grove). Published 1999 (Cedar Grove), 2001 (Mineral King), 2002 (Grant Grove, Lodgepole), 2012 (Giant Forest). Paper.
- Sequoia Kings Canyon, by National Geographic/Trails Illustrated, is a double-sided waterproof map with Sequoia on one side and Kings Canyon on the other. Size 26 x 38 inches, scale 1:80,000, published 2006, waterproof. $11.95. (Click the above link and then click the magnifying glass icon to see the entire map)
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, by Tom Harrison Maps, shows both parks on one single-sided sheet. Due to the small scale of the map, not all the trails are shown in Grant Grove and the Giant Forest. Size 25.5 x 36 inches, scale 1:125,000, published 2011, waterproof. $9.95. Tom Harrison Maps also has six larger-scale maps that show the backcountry areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon, but the Giant Forest and Grant Grove areas aren't shown on these maps.
Sequoia National Forest
- Hume Lake Ranger District Motor Vehicle Opportunity Guide is a road map of the northern segment of the Giant Sequoia National Monument (the part that surrounds Grant Grove). It doesn't show trails. It's available for free at the Forest Service office in Squaw Valley. Size 32 x 27 inches, scale 1:63,360.
- Sequoia National Forest including Giant Sequoia National Monument, published by the US Forest Service, shows the extensive national forest lands north and south of Sequoia National Park. It doesn't show the national parks. I find this map to be hard to read because the printing is so small. Size 28 x 53.5 inches, scale 1:126,720, published 2004. $14.39.
The Generals' Highway in the Giant Forest
© 2011–2012 David Baselt