Sequoia National Park is a bucket-list destination, famed as home to the world’s largest trees. You get to see two national parks on the same trip, for Kings Canyon National Park is adjacent and jointly managed. For a trip here allow a minimum of two nights. These pearls lie in the southern Sierra Nevada, just east of San Joaquin Valley. Together they encompass more than 1,300 square miles. You will find more than 850 miles of trails, far-reaching views, canyons, meadows, rivers and waterfalls.
Giant sequoias grow naturally only in California, on the western slopes of the southern Sierras, primarily 5,000 to 7,000 feet. Some soar to heights equaling a 26-story building, and some are 1,800 to 2,700 years old.
A great place to start is Sequoia’s Giant Forest. There are only 75 natural sequoia groves in the world, and this 1,800-acre stand is largest and grandest, featuring 8,400 trees. Four of the five largest sequoias in existence stand here. Be sure to take the short hike to visit the 275-foot tree named General Sherman. By volume it is the largest single-trunk tree on earth. More than 2,000 years old, at the base it measures a 109-foot circumference. It is estimated to weigh 2.7 million pounds. And it’s still growing!
Another highlight is Crescent Meadow. John Muir coined this meadow “The Gem of the Sierra.” This open, half-mile-long meadow, often carpeted by wildflowers in summer, is flanked by giant sequoias. One sequoia lies fallen across the meadow and beckons children and able adults to walk its length. If that’s not for you, just walk the 1.6-mile loop around the meadow.
On the south side of the loop you will see the High Sierra Trail. This trail leads to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, although it is a much lengthier hike than the one that starts in the eastern Sierras, outside of Lone Pine at the terminus of the Whitney Portal Road.
Moro Rock is another don’t-miss destination. The hike up this granite monolith is only a quarter-mile but very strenuous, and it’s often crowded. Most of the trail consists of narrow manmade steps used by hikers, so it can be frustrating when busy. Be sure to head out first thing in the morning, if possible, to avoid any crowds. The rewards are tremendous, though. Once on top, you have views of the Great Western Divide mountain range and some of the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
To see different scenery, drive to Kings Canyon and take the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway to Roads End. This is definitely one of my favorite scenic roads in the country. Along the way you will find many gorgeous waterfalls, the scenic Kings River and access to hundreds of miles of trails. If you are camping or staying in Sequoia, allow perhaps half a day to drive here, wade in the water, have a picnic and see the views.
Most likely you will see a black bear, perhaps several. These are called American black bears, although they can be brown, cinnamon or even blonde. On my last visit I only saw one bear but on another trip we were fortunate to see five or so, including a mom with two cubs. There are problem bears here and there, those that just can’t stay away from the campsites and people. You might see one with a collar, as we did. Be sure to learn how to act when having a bear encounter by getting the information sheet at the visitor center.
Camping is great in the parks, but if that’s not your thing, there are lots of lodging choices. I have stayed a couple of times at the Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia, and it was ideal. It is centrally located and the food is excellent. It also has a small cocktail lounge and great gift shop. In Kings Canyon are John Muir Lodge, Grant Grove Cabins and Cedar Grove Lodge. For lodging reservations, visit visitsequoia.com or call 866-807-3598.
Between the two parks there are 14 campgrounds. Some sites are rented on a first-come, first-served basis, but some can be reserved at recreation.gov. Always call the park regarding availability, as well as to inquire about road conditions. For more information on Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, call 559-565-3341 or visit nps.gov/seki.
From Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 south for 160 miles to Barstow, California. Exit onto CA-58 and drive north 126 miles. Merge onto CA-99 and go north for 64 miles. Exit to CA-137 east and drive 11 miles to CA-65/CR-J27. Continue for 8 miles, turning right onto CA-198 east, and follow for about 26 miles to the Sequoia National Park entrance.