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Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Photo by John Buie

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Itineraries

Sequoia and Kings Canyon for First-Timers

Neighboring Sierra Nevada Mountain beauties protect the biggest trees on earth

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Big, bigger, and biggest. That catchphrase sums up the grandest highlights in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, pitched high on the western slopes of California’s mighty Sierra Nevada Mountains. Here you can drop into one of North America’s deepest canyons, gaze up at the largest trees on the planet, and summit the USA’s largest peak outside Alaska, Mount Whitney. Together these parks embrace more acres of prime wilderness than Yosemite National Park, their more famous neighbor to the north, yet they get only 40 percent of the visitors each year that Yosemite does. Isn’t that reason enough to take your next vacation outdoors here?

Here are a few more reasons to go. For starters, camping and hiking are the classic outdoor pursuits for anyone venturing into the Sierra Nevada. Together, these two parks offer more than 1200 developed campsites for pitching a tent and toasting s’mores. The parks also maintain 800 miles of hiking trails, which range from gentle meanders around wildflower meadows and through the Giant Forest to waterfall treks and epic climbs into the High Sierra. Show up in summer to swim in cool rivers and lakes, climb a granite dome, or saddle up a horse or a mule for a backcountry pack trip. In winter, you can snowshoe around groves of giant sequoia trees or cross-country ski into the hushed, snowy forest. Wrapping around both parks is the Giant Sequoia National Monument in the Sequoia National Forest, an even less crowded destination for outdoor recreation.

Spectacular wildlife watching is another compelling reason to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. You’ll likely encounter Ursus americanus, the American black bear, at least once during your visit. You might spot a black bear munching on wildflowers at the edge of a meadow or ambling in the sunshine beside the Kings River. At higher elevations, yellow-bellied marmots whistle as they pop their heads out of granite rock piles. Mule deer bound through valleys and thick forests, which shelter over 200 species of birds (so don’t forget to bring your binoculars!). Impressive wildflower blooms also draw crowds to the parks, starting around the Foothills area of Sequoia National Park in early spring, when the hillsides appear painted orange with California poppies.

Touring these parks is made even more memorable by all of the scenic driving routes. The most dramatically beautiful is the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Highway 180), which descends from Grant Grove all the way to the bottom of the canyon beside the rushing Kings River at Cedar Grove. Along the way, you can detour to hidden groves of giant sequoias or recreational Hume Lake, or stop to explore marbled Boyden Cavern. Another scenic road that you don’t even have to drive (ride the seasonal park shuttles for free instead) is Crescent Meadow Road. The road loops from the Giant Forest Museum past Moro Rock, which you can climb a stone staircase to the top of and peer out at the jagged peaks of the Great Western Divide of the Sierra Nevada. Finally, for off-the-beaten-path travelers, the winding mountain road to the Mineral King Valley in Sequoia National Park is a rugged adventure that takes you to the foot of skyscraping granite mountains speckled with ethereal alpine lakes.


Explore These Sequoia and Kings Canyon Itineraries

Ready to hit the road? So you don’t miss out on any of these parks’ biggest attractions, check out our Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for First-Timers itinerary.


When To Go

What’s the best time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks? And how much time should you spend once you get there? The answer is ultimately up to you, but we have a lot of advice and insider tips that can help you start to figure it out.

Summer is the busiest season in both parks, and for good reason. All park roads and hiking trails are open and snow-free. Sunny days and refreshingly cool nights are the norm, except in late summer when a little rain may fall. The downsides to a summer vacation in the parks are the crowds, the expense, and the potential for wildfires that might interrupt your trip.

Spring and fall are the quieter shoulder seasons in the parks. Not all of the park roads are open until late spring, and some close again in mid-October. But you’ll always be able to access the most popular areas of the parks, such as the Giant Forest and Grant Grove. Keep in mind that overnight low temperatures get chilly at higher elevations during spring and fall, so dress in warm layers and bring a sleeping bag and a three-season tent with a rainfly if you’ll be camping.

Winter is the most peaceful time to visit the parks. You can go snowshoeing among majestic groves of giant sequoias, sled downhill in Wolverton Meadow, or cross-country ski through the forest and even stay overnight at a backcountry ski hut (reservations required). The Generals Highway connecting both parks remains open during winter, except when snow temporarily closes it. Carry tire chains in your car at all times, just in case.

Most people visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for a few days. It’s possible to see a bit of what each park offers in just two days (i.e., one day for Sequoia and one for Kings Canyon). Three or four days lets you hit the major highlights of both parks with some time to explore and take short day hikes. Five days lets you ?roam around at a more leisurely pace and to reach the most remote area of the park, Mineral King Valley. If you have a whole week to spend, you could plan to take an overnight backpacking trip, too.

How Much Time To Spend

How much time have you got?

You could speed through both parks in two days, stopping at Crystal Cave and the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park on the first day, then driving from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove via the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway on day two. But then you’d only see the major highlights of each park, and you would have time only for the shortest of easy nature walks.

Take three days to tour both parks at a saner pace. This will let you take a couple of satisfying day hikes and do some sightseeing without always feeling rushed. If you can add a fourth day to your trip, visit the remote Mineral King Valley in Sequoia National Park, a place that the majority of park visitors never go.

With a full week to explore both parks, you’ll have time for an overnight or two-night backpacking trip into the wilderness. The most popular backcountry trails leave from Road’s End, deep in Kings Canyon; around Lodgepole and Wolverton Meadow in the middle of Sequoia National Park, not far from the Giant Forest; and out of the Mineral King Valley.

High and Low Season

Summer is high season all across the Sierra Nevada. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are most crowded between mid-June and early September. Although summer officially kicks off over the Memorial Day long weekend in late May, by which time all of the park’s roads are usually open. The biggest crowds arrive for the July 4th holiday and the Labor Day holiday weekend in early September.

During high season, lodgings can be twice as expensive and fully booked throughout the entire summer. You can reserve accommodations up to a year in advance at most lodgings, which is highly recommended if you’re planning to visit anytime during summer. Lodgings in gateway communities just outside the park also are more expensive and fill up during summer. For last-minute vacancies, start checking online or calling directly about a week before your trip. Almost all park campgrounds are first come, first served. Campgrounds on national forest service land around the parks tend to be less crowded, though a few of the most popular ones require advance reservations.

The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are less expensive and crowded in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Spring is prime time for waterfall watching, but some park roads and many hiking trails will still be closed by snow until at least late April or late May, and sometimes even into June. Early autumn is a gorgeous time to visit both parks, after the summer crowds have departed and the days are still sunny while nights are cool, but not freezing cold. The Mineral King Road and the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway usually stay open until at least mid-October.

Winter is low season in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, but it’s still a worthwhile time to visit. Lodging rates are usually much cheaper during winter, though only a few lodges in and around the parks remain open year-round. Note that much of Kings Canyon, as well as the Mineral King Valley in Sequoia National Park, are closed and inaccessible by vehicles in winter. But you can still visit the Grant Grove and Giant Forest areas of the parks whenever the roads are not closed temporarily by snowstorms. The low-elevation Foothills area of Sequoia National Park stays open year-round.

Weather and Climate

Unlike coastal California, the Sierra Nevada Mountains experience all four seasons.

Summers are sunny and hot, but pleasantly so at higher elevations. That said, temperatures in the Foothills area of Sequoia National Park can spike well over 90°F (32°C). Temperatures at higher elevations of both parks, such as the Giant Forest and Grant Grove, are usually about 20°F cooler. In late summer, the Sierra Nevada’s “monsoon” rains bring a few days of precipitation and cooler weather. Late summer is also when the most wildfires, both natural and accidentally human-caused, occur.

Winters are cold and snowy, with daytime highs in the 30s and 40s and overnight lows dipping below 0°F (-18°C). In recent years, severe drought has meant that the Sierra Nevada has not seen much winter snow, but forecasters predict that the winter of 2015/16 will see higher than average precipitation due to the El Niño effect of warmer ocean currents. During winter, some park highways such as the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway past Hume Lake and Mineral King Road, are completely closed. The Generals Highway between the two parks may shut down temporarily during snowstorms, or else require that drivers have cars equipped with snow tires and chains.

Spring and fall bring more moderate weather in the Sierra Nevada. Snow usually doesn’t start melting until mid-April, possibly even May or early June at higher elevations. In autumn, the first snow usually falls sometime between late October and mid-November, by which time the roads to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon and Mineral King in Sequoia have already closed. The road to Cedar Grove usually opens in late April, while the road to Mineral King opens just before the Memorial Day weekend in late May.

For current weather conditions and detailed area forecasts, visit the National Oceanic andAtmospheric Administration online.

Wildfires

One other factor that greatly affects the weather in California – and it may impact your travel plans unexpectedly – is wildfire. Wildfires are most common during the hottest months of July, August, and September, but can blaze anytime from spring through fall. For the latest information on wildfires burning in California right now, click here.

Why is California’s wildfire season worse than ever before? Ongoing drought is partly to blame for more frequent and larger fires. But the main culprit is previous decades of forest mismanagement plans, which called for putting out all wildfires instead of allowing some to burn naturally. Since some forests  have not burned in over a century, their flammable fuel load is high, which is what creates ever bigger and more dangerous conflagrations. Some wildfires begin naturally with lightning strikes, while others are the result of human carelessness (such as a campfire that is not completely put out).

Tip: Please do your part to help prevent wildfires by making sure that campfires are kept small and closely monitored (or better yet, don’t build them at all). If you smoke, never dispose of your cigarette butts outdoors. Instead, put them in a designated ashtray or douse them with water before throwing them in a trash can.

Events and Holidays

National & State Holidays

January 1: New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday): Presidents Day
March 31: César Chávez Day
March/April: Good Friday (two days before Easter Sunday)
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July 4: Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
September 9: California Admission Day
September (fourth Friday): Native American Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day
November 11: Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December 25: Christmas

Time Zone

California is located in the Pacific time zone (GMT-7).

To check the local time in California now, click here.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) begins in spring on the second Sunday in March, when clocks are advanced one hour. In the fall on the first Sunday of November, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. With few exceptions, the entire country (including California) participates in this ritual of “springing forward” and “falling back.”

What it Costs

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks can be reasonably cheap or surprisingly expensive places to visit, depending on your travel style.

Budget If you’re camping, cooking for yourself or eating cheap take-out meals, and getting around on public transportation (which puts some major areas of the parks off-limits, including most of Kings Canyon), you can get by on about $50 a day.

Moderate If you’re traveling with someone else and renting a car to get around, staying at cheaper lodgings inside or outside the park, and eating out at least some of your meals, plan on spending around $150 a day. That doesn’t include any guided tours, such as Crystal Cave or Boyden Cavern, or outdoor activities such as horseback riding.

Luxury If you’re a luxury traveler, $300 a day will cover staying at the best lodges and hotels; dining out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; enjoying daytime tours and guided activities; and renting an SUV with 4WD (four-wheel drive) or AWD (all-wheel drive).

When you travel makes a difference. For example, winter off-season prices for lodgings may be 50% less than summer high season rates, when there may be no available rooms anyway. Weekdays tend to be cheaper than weekends year-round.

Entrance Fees & Passes

Entry to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks costs $20 per vehicle for a seven-day pass that covers admission to both parks. If you’re going to be visiting more National Park Service (NPS) sites within the next 12 months, an annual “America the Beautiful” interagency pass ($80) might save you money. It entitles you to free entrance to all 397 NPS sites. You can buy the pass at any park entrance station. Buying an annual Sequoia & Kings Canyon pass ($30) only makes sense if you’ll be visiting these parks at least twice a year, but not going to any other national parks.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $100 to $300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => Up to $15 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $16-22 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $23 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Airfares

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need them to be low, they’re high. And when prices dip, what happens? You have no free time to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from online booking websites like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type in your destination and the dates you are watching, and boom! When there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your email inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline websites.

That said, it’s advantageous to also visit an airline’s own website before booking. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator sites. Most airlines share time-limited, super-discounted specials via their social media pages or in email blasts. So it pays to be their “friend” or subscribe to their e-mail lists.

Car Rentals

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Online booking websites like Hotwire and Kayak offer comparison price shopping. So does the Costco Travel website (for members only).

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell them what you want to pay and maybe they can hook you up with a car rental company who fits the bill. They have some great deals, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental or which company you rent from.

If you’ll be traveling to the Sierra Nevada in winter when there’s a possibility of snow, consider paying more to rent a car with 4WD or AWD (all-wheel drive) and high clearance. Ask your rental car company if your vehicle has snow tires and chains, which are often required on mountain roads and highways during winter when there’s snow on the ground, especially during storms. Tire chains can often be bought or rented, although not cheaply, in gateway towns as you drive up and into the Sierra Nevada.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to and around California goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other countries. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000. U.S. travelers should check if their medical insurance at home will cover them while traveling in California.

Trip Interruption For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to cut your trip short, the insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage (up to a certain amount only).

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a storm-prone area during winter, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case.”

Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include free concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz, and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkely, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International, and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like InsureMyTrip.com and Squaremouth.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight; it’s often contracted with the above major players.

If you have pre-existing health conditions Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But they also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain timeframe after paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance If you buy your airfare or make other travel bookings with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), Homeaway, and Airbnb become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, contact the US Travel InsuranceAssociation.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Exchange Rates

The U.S. dollar fluctuates against other world currencies, but its value has steadily risen since early 2015. For current exchange rates, click here.

Currency

U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans may have a tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.

Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (10 cents), and quarter (25 cents). The 50-cent and one-dollar coins are seen occasionally.

Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have twenties or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 bills.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

Most Californians do not carry a large amount of cash with them on an everyday basis, and neither should you.

ATMs

If you withdraw cash from an ATM machine, most banks apply a surcharge of around $3 per transaction. Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, banks in California will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Some grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets such as pharmacies will allow you to get a limited amount of “cash back” when paying for your goods with your debit card – this is an easy way to get some cash while on the go without paying a surcharge.

Keep in mind that ATMs are rare outside of major towns in the Sierra Nevada. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have a couple of ATMs, usually located at busy shops or visitor lodgings. But you can’t entirely rely on these in-park ATMs, because they are not always in service and they sometimes run out of cash.

Credit & Debit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card issuer before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state, and even Californians traveling far from home. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card declined when you try to use it at your destination in California.

You should also call your bank or credit card issuer immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card – which doesn’t help if it is lost or stolen. Make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access, for example, by taking a photo of the back of the card with your smartphone.

Recently cards with embedded chips to deter counterfeit fraud have been issued. Banks and merchants that don’t offer chip readers may be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details about your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping

Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any California trip. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but a few other special situations also apply.

Restaurants

For excellent service, plan to tip 20% of the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10% to 15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In most places, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.

Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people. But at least it will be itemized on the bill – if you look closely for it, that is.

Hotels

Bellhops normally receive $1 to $2 per bag that they assist with, but if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, tip them $5 to $10.

Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day, left under the card on in the envelope provided. Tip $5 per day at higher-end properties.

Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) deserve a 20% tip for their services when performed well, whether at the spa or in your hotel room.

Other Services

At bars, tip bartenders and cocktail servers at least $1 or $2 per drink, up to 15% to 20% per round.

Airport porters are normally tipped $2 or $3 per bag.

Taxi drivers are tipped 15% to 20% of the total fare, rounded up to the next whole dollar amount. Limo drivers expect a minimum $20 tip.

Tip parking valet staff a minimum of $2 when they hand back the keys to your car.

Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees

In California, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 7.5% to 10%, depending on where you are. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.

Lodging tax also varies by location in California, ranging from 6% to 14% This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.

National Park Entrance Fees & Passes

If you’re only going to be visiting one national park during your trip, go ahead and pay the one-time entry fee, which cost $20 per vehicle for a seven-day pass to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

But if you’ll be visiting multiple parks and also plan to see more National Park Service (NPS) sites within the next 12 months, an annual “America the Beautiful” interagency pass ($80) will save you money in the long run. You can buy the pass at any park entrance station or online in advance. U.S. citizens aged 62 and over are eligible for a lifetime senior pass, which costs $10 in person or $20 by mail. U.S. citizens with qualifying permanent disabilities are entitled to a free lifetime pass (apply in person, or pay $10 by mail). Active duty U.S. military personnel are also eligible for free passes. All of these passes cover free entrance to all 397 NPS locations across the country. The senior pass also entitles users to 50% off fees for certain activities, such as camping – that’s a bargain!

Transportation

Getting There

The most popular way to get to California is to fly, though many people do drive here. Long-distance Amtrak trains are a scenic option for getting to major cities and some towns in California. Long-distance Greyhound buses are a reliable, though less comfortable option for getting to major cities that will save you money.

Most park visitors fly first into the San Francisco Bay Area, then rent a car and take a road trip to the Sierra Nevada. A smaller regional airport in the Central Valley, Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT) is much closer to both national parks. Given that airfares are usually more expensive for flights into Fresno, however, you might decide to fly into a major airport in the Bay Area anyway to save money, even though that requires about three extra hours of driving time each way.

In summer, Big Trees Transit buses connect Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park with Fresno’s airport and Amtrak and Greyhound bus stations in the Central Valley. Sequoia Shuttle buses connect the Foothills and Giant Forest areas of Sequoia National Park with Visalia’s bus station, which is connected by Amtrak’s Thruway bus service to the Amtrak train station at Hanford, also in the Central Valley.

Getting Around

By Bus

If you’re taking either of the summer-only bus services, either Big Trees Transit or the Sequoia Shuttle, from the Central Valley to the parks, keep in mind that these buses only run between mid- or late May and early or mid-September. The round-trip fare ($15) includes the park entrance fee; advance reservations are required. You can bring a bicycle, but cycling around or between the parks isn’t very feasible, due to the heady elevation changes and the narrow, congested roads without much of a shoulder to ride on.

Note there is no bus service on the Generals Highway between the two parks or between the Grant Grove Village and Cedar Grove Village areas of Kings Canyon National Park. Unfortunately, you’ll be missing out on quite a lot if you don’t drive your own car to and around Kings Canyon National Park. However, there is free park shuttle bus in the Grant Grove Village area that runs during summer and over the winter holidays. Use the shuttle instead of driving around and looking for parking near the General Grant Tree.

Public transportation around Sequoia National Park is better, but it doesn’t reach Crystal Cave or the Mineral King Valley. However, you can ride free park shuttles to get around and between the Wuksachi, Lodgepole, and Giant Forest areas of the park, as well as from the Giant Forest to Potwisha in the lower-elevation Foothills area of the park.

By Car

If you’ll be driving in the parks during winter, be sure your car is equipped with snow tires and carry tire chains at all times, in case of sudden snowstorms. It’s also helpful, though not essential, to have a vehicle with 4WD (four-wheel drive) or AWD (all-wheel drive).

Keep in mind that some park roads are only open from spring through fall. In Kings Canyon National Park, the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Highway 180) between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove is usually open from late April through early October. In Sequoia National Park, Mineral King Road is typically open from late May through mid-October only. These opening and closing dates vary seasonally due to weather and wildfires.

Background

Recommended Reading

My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir (1911)
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada by Clarence King (1902)
Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws (2007)
Sierra Nevada Natural History by Tracey I. Storer, Robert L. Usinger & David Lukas (2004)
History of the Sierra Nevada by Francis P. Farquhar (1965)
Geology of the Sierra Nevada by Mary Hill (2006)
Assembling California by John McPhee (1994)
Califlora: A Literary Field Guide (2012)
California Indians and Their Environment by Kent G. Lightfoot & Otis Parrish (2009)

Websites and Maps

National Park Service (NPS): Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
The parks’ official website is jam-packed with useful information. Download the free, seasonal visitor guide newspaper before your trip for current information and events.

California Highway Information
Enter the highway number you’ll be traveling on to get up-to-date information about road closures and construction. It’s invaluable in winter, especially in the mountains and along remote stretches of the coast. The toll-free phone number is (800) 427-7623.

DeLorme’s California Atlas & Gazetteer
When your GPS fails or you lose your cellphone data signal and Wi-Fi, you’ll be glad to have this along on any road trip, especially in wilderness areas such as the mountains and the deserts.

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