For about 10 years now, we have been going to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks for Memorial Day and random weekend trips. Sometimes I forget that on the other side of the Eastern Sierras there is the Western Side which is just as beautiful. In this blog post I will share some of the things to do that we experienced.
Check them out and comment below if you want to share any of your experiences or let us know which of the 15 is your favorite.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks lies in the Sierra Nevada; the Sierras are home to 3 national parks Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Yosemite. You could potentially do all 3 national parks in one trip if you have time. If you like to read take a look at some of these links below before you head out; history goes a long way. “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know” – Harry S. Truman.
I’m going to write them not in order of favorites, but imagine instead that you will be driving from South to North. There are two highways that you will be taking this tour on: Highways 198, Generals Highway and Highway 180, Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. Check out this quick write-up about the history of the Generals Highway: When Two Parks Meet: The History of the Generals Highway.
Fees: To enter the park it costs $35 for one vehicle (one entry 1-7 days), $60 for Sequoia & Kings Canyon Annual Pass or if you know you will be going to many national parks go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Parks Pass for $80. https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/fees.htm
Just so you know ahead of time, we didn’t do this all in one trip, over the years we’ve slowly visited all these places. Hope you enjoy the virtual tour.
Not the easiest drive to get there, but so worth it once you hike into the lakes. Monarch Lakes sit just under Sawtooth Peak, 9.4 miles round-trip you can make this a day trip or an overnight hike. We did Monarch Lakes as an overnight hike and went all the way up to the second lake to take a dip; I have some video footage if you check out the trip report of it. Brrrrrr…
On your drive into the park there are few place you will pass along the way that are easily accessible. Not mapped on this tour is Tunnel Log, definitely would recommend going there too; it’s a quick stop. On your way up the windy road there are not many easy spots to stop in turnouts for lookouts. I definitely would recommend to check out this spot.
Address: Sequoia National Park, 12 Generals Hwy, Sequoia National Park, CA 93262
Moro Rock is located just before turning onto Crescent Meadow Road. If you are interested in museums and a little history, I would first stop at the Giant Forest Museum. Moro Rock is a short hike, it’s perfect for the family to take a break from the drive. Take 350 steps to check out the awesome views of the foothills. In the winter Crescent Meadow Rd. is closed; there are ski trails that lead to the parking area of Moro Rock, but you cannot go onto the stairway in the winter.
After Moro rock if you keep going East on Crescent Meadow Rd. you will hit Tunnel Log. It is exactly what it sounds like a tunnel in a log, a big sequoia tree. This is the only sequoia tree that you can drive though in the national park. Now, something to note though if you have a Sprinter Van or anything over 8 feet your vehicle will not make it through. Interest in a myth? Check out The Myth of the Tree You Can Drive Through on the National Park Service Website.
If you’re an avid backpacker this is one trail you want to do in your life. We did a 2 day trip earlier this year: High Sierra Trail: Crescent Meadow to 9 Mile Creek where we actually had to hike an extra 6 miles from Giant Forest Museum (3 miles each way) because it was winter and the road was closed. The High Sierra Trail is 72.2 miles and goes from Crescent Meadow to Mt. Whitney (tallest mountain of the lower 48). My ex-coworker did the trail a couple of years ago; check out his Plan & Go | High Sierra Trail book.
Some other good reads – National Park Service: High Sierra Trail, SoCal Hiker: Hiking the High Sierra Trail – An Overview, backcountrycow: Backpacking The High Sierra Trail In 6 Day and The High Sierra Trail – Crescent Meadow to Mt. Whitney.
General Sherman Tree is the largest known living tree on Earth; why wouldn’t you want to go see it. An interesting fact is that even though it has been named the largest tree in the world, it is not the tallest, it is not the widest. More interestingly it is not the largest tree historically, it is however the largest living tree known. Follow this link if you’d like to find more information on The General Sherman Tree: https://www.nps.gov/seki/learn/nature/sherman.htm.
The trail to General Sherman is perfect for the family; it is no longer than half a mile one way. Parking is very scarce at the trail head so you may want to opt in by taking shuttles during the summer especially. You may even have no choice but to take the shuttle depending on how busy it is and how far you may have to park.
Pear Lake is at the end of a trail called the “Lakes Trail”. During the summer this is a perfect day hike. During the winter, there is a small ski hut nestled 6 miles deep off the highway. Depending on weather (snow) and trail conditions, the hut opens its doors usually between December and April. The cabin is available to the public, but registration is required (lottery). A couple of years ago we made the expedition: Beyond Limits on Foot – Pear Lake Ski Hut Trip. I have since wanted to go back.
During the summer the hut is closed, but the Lakes Trail offers vast views and perfect lakes to eat lunch at and take a dip in. We’ve gone as far as Heather Lake one year in the late spring.
More information here: https://www.sequoiaparksconservancy.org/pearlakewinterhut.html.
Tokopah Falls is a short easy 4.1 miles round-trip; the falls itself is 1,200 feet high and probably best to go see during the early summer. Please be careful around the water, the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River can be dangerous especially early summer when the snow is melting.
Find the trailhead just beyond the Marble Fork Bridge in the Lodgepole Campground; very easy to find. More information here: http://www.redwoodhikes.com/SequoiaNP/Tokopah.html.
Little Baldy sits at 8044′ and offers 300 degree view of the surrounding area. The trail is 3.5 miles round-trip and only climbs about 650 feet to its summit. Take some sandwiches or stuff for a picnic, the rock is very comfortable to hang out on and even take a nap. The trailhead is 11 miles north of the Giant Forest Village.
If you hike Little Baldy, you should definitely make your way over the Big Baldy. Big Baldy (8,209 feet) is a little longer hike 4.8 miles round-trip and almost the same elevation gain (600 feet) as Little Baldy. To get to Big Baldy from the Giant Forest Village it is about 22 miles. This is also a perfect hike for families that want to take their kids out for a little and have a picnic with a view.
Buck Rock Lookout is actually located in Sequoia National Forest. I still put it on the list because it is very close to the National Parks. The Lookout sits on top of a granite dome and to reach the lookout you have to climb 172 steps. Named after the first fire watcher Buck McGee. It is staffed 7 days a week by volunteers.
More information here: Sequoia National Forest: Buck Rock Lookout.
Grant Grove Village is a good place to take a break and look around. Head to the Kings Canyon Visitor Center where you can pick up books, maps or gifts. Accommodations are also available: John Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Cabins. If you are hungry for a bite to eat, Grant Grove Restaurant makes pretty good food. If you need supplies head to the Grant Grove Market, if you need cash there is an ATM and if you wanted to send a postcard there is a post office.
The General Grant Tree is the third largest tree in the world and is known as “the Nation’s Christmas tree”. The tree resides in Grant Grove where a loop trail offers a perfect place for families to take a quick walk around and check out all the amazing sequoia trees situated in the half a mile. Make sure to get there early in the day or later as parking is scarce and you may have to park 1 mile away even. More information here: https://www.nps.gov/seki/learn/nature/grant.htm.
Hume Lake is a reservoir located in Sequoia National Forest, not in the national parks, but since it’s only about a 3 mile drive off Highway 180, I had to put it on my list. I consider this a great place for a stop. They have a Christian Camp that offers camps and retreats for all ages during the summer months especially. It is much quieter during off-season. There are several campgrounds around the lake and nearby, cabins are available for rent (private), you can boat, fish, hike and swim (rentals available for paddle boards, rowboats and kayaks). There is a small shop if you need some items like snacks and drinks, a gas station (expensive, fill up before you get into the park) and a small cafe and gift shop.
On your drive to #16 Boole Tree Loop you will pass a very picturesque meadow full of sequoia stumps, hence its name Stump Meadow. The meadow is absolutely green and it was saddening to see the blackened stumps that catch your eye; but why is there so many stumps? For about 20 years from 1887-1908, Converse Basin was stripped of its giant sequoia trees. After checking it out, head over to Boole Tree Trail for a quick hike.
Boole Tree Trail is a short 2.5 mile loop and to get there I would recommend a AWD car because after Stump Meadow the road is dirt and very bumpy. This is another one that doesn’t lie in the National Parks but in Sequoia National Forest. Boole Tree lies in the Converse Basin (as does Stump Meadow), which as I mentioned before was logged. An interesting fact is that the tree was named after Franklin A. Boole, the supervisor for the logging operation. It’s named after the very man who stripped Stump Meadow, but he decided to spare the tree’s life due to its size. Boole tree is 6th largest tree in the world.
Grizzly Falls Picnic Area is located on the beautiful Kings Canyon Highway 180 just outside the border of the national park. On your way to Roads End you can stop and have a nice picnic right next to Grizzly Falls, one of the more attractive waterfalls hidden behind the trees. The Falls are 80 feet high and the area has picnic tables, bathrooms and very little parking. Some information on picnic areas: https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/picnic.htm.
Another great waterfall to visit that won’t take longer than 15-30 minutes (.5 miles) is Roaring River Falls (15 feet). When we went, I took out my Jetboil and made a coffee that we put in our Snowpeak mugs and sipped along the way. We also got lucky with all the water as we went on Memorial Day Weekend. The river was roaring, but not too much; we had read that some years it gushes so much from the snow melt that it makes it look more like a mess.
Copper Creek Trail is a more difficult trail and if you are an avid backpacker you will love it. The elevation gain to get to Granite Basin is over 5,000 feet in 10 miles. I’d say if you want a really good training hike, definitely try this one; plus you get to jump in alpine water after the hard hike. Check out both Grizzly Falls and Roaring River Falls on your way out before you head home.
Mist Falls (100 feet high) is also a great hiking destination that is 4.6 miles one-way. Not an easy hike with the elevation again, so make sure you take food and water; it is perfect place to have a picnic while feeling the mist from the falls. Mist Falls is located at the end of Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Hwy 180) at Road’s End. Do not enter the Kings River, the water is very forceful.
Whether you are just doing a road trip or you’re going to hike, here are some items I would recommend taking on your trips. Obviously you would take more than just these recommended items, but take a look at the list; some of these are for your enjoyment and comfort as well.