• Elaine Ho

5 Things I wish I knew before going to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Updated: Sep 12, 2021


Girl looking up at a sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are homes to the largest trees in the world. Luckily for us, these parks are geographically next to each other, making it convenient to visit both for a weekend. If you are wondering which park you should go to and what to expect before going, then you'll want to keep reading.

 

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What is the difference between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park?

Here is what I noticed based on my summer weekend experience:


Sequoia highlights

  • Sequoia has more family-friendly activities; you may experience higher traffic and crowds.

  • Sequoia has the tallest tree in the world

  • On the summer weekends, you will need to use their free shuttle to access popular activities.

  • You get to climb up 390 steps to reach the peak of Moro Rock.

  • The temperature tends to be cooler at Sequoia compared to Kings Canyon.


Walkway through sequoias at The Big Trees Trail at Sequoia National Park
Big Trees Trail at Sequoia National Park. Family friendly and paved trail available.

Kings Canyon highlights

  • Visitors may experience changing climates at different parts of the park due to the elevation change. Kings Canyon tends to be hotter than Sequoia.

  • Kings Canyon is the home to the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” which is the second large tree in the world.

  • We saw bears during our hike!


Get an itinerary for a weekend trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon.


Walking through Mist Falls Trail with mountains in the background at Kings Canyon National Park
Mountain views at Mist Falls Trail at Kings Canyon

Waterfall at Mist Falls Trail in Kings Canyon.
Waterfall at Mist Falls Trail in Kings Canyon


1. The Sequoia National Park shuttle system (summer weekends only)

The most popular trails and activities are closed off to private vehicles during the summer months, so free park shuttles are offered for visitors on the weekends. Summer weekends are the busiest time of the year, so they implement the shuttle system to ease parking limitations at popular locations and reduce park traffic. The free shuttle comes very frequently on a first-come, first-serve basis and is also wheelchair accessible. On weekdays, the scenic routes open back up to private vehicles.


Pro tip: When visiting on summer weekends, park your vehicle at the Lodgepole campground to take the shuttle. You will be enticed to park at the other pitstops closer to the activities, but expect long lines and more difficulty finding parking.


2. Fill up your gas tanks

If you are sensitive to motion sickness, you may want to grab some motion sickness pills for the ride. Be sure to have a full tank before you enter the park because there is plenty of driving between destinations. We were lucky to find a gas station at Hume Lake or my friend would have never made it out of the park without filling up!


3. Beware of bears

We saw two black bears during our hike so please practice caution while hiking and camping. Bears are not afraid to forge through cars and campsites if they smell your food. They can easily smell your food UNLESS you put it in a bear-proof container. Please protect these bears AND your belongings by securing your food at your campsites and closing all your car windows because bears are not afraid to go through your belongings.


4. Weather and best time to go

Summer is the best time to go to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park for the most stable weather conditions. Each park experiences different microclimates. Even though we went on July 4th, we still got light thunderstorms at mid-hike in Kings Canyon. Luckily it only sprinkled, but we didn’t want to stick around for possible lightning.


Shoulder season with lesser crowds will be in the spring and fall, but the Cedar Grove route would be closed, where the most popular activities are.


Pro tip: Instead of checking your general weather app, check the nps.gov weather for a more accurate forecast. Attractions are scattered across different elevations where the temperature is different.


Zumwalt Meadows  with tall grass and mountain backdrop at Kings Canyon
Zumwalt Meadows at Kings Canyon

Girl looking up at Sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park


5. Where to stay at Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Park

Camping:

Wilderness permits require a reservation for any form of overnight stay inside the parks. Reservations can fill up quickly, so plan and reserve through recreation.gov. The national park service releases the reservations at least 30 days in advance so mark your calendars because they do fill up quickly. When camping, don’t forget to secure your food with a bear-proof container to help protect you and the bears from getting into your food source.


Accommodations:

If camping is not your style, the closest city to both parks in Fresno or Visalia, about 1-2 hours from both parks. We went with a group of 7, so we opted to stay in an Airbnb in Fresno for a weekend. We were unfortunately not able to book a camping reservation (understandably for a July 4th weekend).


The above should cover all the things you should know before going to Sequoia or Kings Canyon.


Get a full itinerary for a weekend trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon.


Lookout point along the road with mountains at Kings Canyon National Park

Recreate responsibly:

For everyone to enjoy nature’s beauty, it is also each person’s responsibility to leave the place you visit better than you found it to respect the environment. Easy ways you can recreate responsibly:

  • Bring a disposable bag with you to maintain your trash and bring it out with you and discard it correctly.

  • Use reusable bottles to avoid one-time use of water bottles

  • Stay on marked trails. Going off trails can cause erosion and ruining plants

  • Respect designated speed limits! Animals cross the road and they, unfortunately, don’t make it when visitors speed


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Elaine is a California Bay Area native working full time as a marketing project manager by day and a travel blogger.

Elaine created PureTrips for adventurers who have an appetite for travel, hiking, and enjoy connected experiences.

Keep exploring.