Kings Canyon and its sister park, Sequoia, are famous for their giant sequoias. These majestic giants have monstrously thick trunks and branches and can live for over 2,500 years. Besides these beautiful trees, the parks also have soaring mountains, deep canyons, roaring rivers, and incredible hiking. Kings Canyon has two separate parts, the Grant Grove Village section which appears to be a thumb sticking out of Sequoia Park and features vast sequoia forests and the park’s most visited sights, and the upper and much larger Cedar Grove section which features the rugged Kings River Canyon. The best time to visit the parks are late spring and early fall when the temperatures are more moderate and the crowds smaller. Summer crowds can lead to congested roads. If you are visiting in summer it’s best to go during the week and avoid weekends. What follows is our recommendations for one week in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Day 1 – Los Angeles to Grant Grove
The drive from Los Angeles to Sequoia National Park takes about 3.5 hours. The drive from San Francisco into Kings Canyon National Park is about 4 hours. So you can choose to fly into either of those cities depending on what else you want to see. For this One Week in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks itinerary we will start out in the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park.
Your first stop should be the Visitor Center in Grant Grove for maps and information. There are many camping sites in Grant’s Grove, but the best may be the Azalea Campground. The campground’s central location in Kings Canyon, along with the great array of programs, activities, and attractions around Grants Grove, make Azalea Campground one of the premier camping spots in the park.
From Grant Grove Village, drive one mile northwest on Highway 180 to the left turnoff for the General Grant Tree. Walk the 0.6-mile loop around the world’s second-largest tree and pay homage to the General and its many neighboring behemoths.
Day 2 – Redwood Mountain Sequoia Grove
On day 2 of our one week in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, visit the Redwood Mountain Sequoia Grove. Unlike the more open and sunny groves at Grant Grove and Giant Forest, Redwood Canyon supports a dense, deeply-shaded forest with thousands of medium and large sequoia trees. This is one of the world’s largest Sequoia groves. There are nearly 2,200 sequoias within the grove that exceed a diameter of 10 feet. You can choose between two main hiking trails that venture into the Grove. The 6.5 mile Hart Tree and Fallen Goliath Loop passes through the pristine Hart Meadow and the hollowed outs Tunnel Tree. The 6.4 mile mile Sugar Bowl Loop provides views of Redwood Mountain and Big Baldy Ridge before winding down into a thick grove of mature and young sequoias.
Day 3 – Junction View and Zumwalt Meadow
For day 3 of our itinerary we will return to Highway 180 and cruise east on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (road open May-Oct.), stopping at the roadside overlook at Junction View. Here you can peer down at the confluence of the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River and admire what geology has created in this magnificent canyon. Shortly past the Cedar Grove turnoff, stop and take a brief walk to Roaring River Falls, a snowmelt-fed cataract that drops through a narrow gorge into the South Fork Kings River.
Continue to the trailhead for Zumwalt Meadow. Probably the best and most popular hike in the park this scenic 1.8-mile loop alongside the Kings River, and through the meadows, enjoys views of the Grand Sentinel and North Dome towering more than 3,500 feet above the valley floor. At Road’s End, take the short walk to Muir Rock, where you can sit by the river and watch the water roll by, or go for a quick dip.
Day 4 – To Sequoia National Park
Today we will head to Sequoia National Park. From Grant Grove, drive 1.5 miles west on Highway 180 and turn left onto the Generals Highway, heading south for Sequoia National Park. This is a winding and scenic 26 miles (plan 45 minutes) to Lodgepole, where you can pick up maps and information. Along the way, stop off at Wuksachi Lodge, just north of Lodgepole, for breakfast or lunch in the forest-view dining room.
Once at Lodgepole Visitor Center, stretch your legs with a 3.6-mile round-trip hike to Tokopah Falls. Tokopah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park. Unlike the free-falling waterfalls in other national parks, Tokopah Falls features a long series of steep picturesque cascades.
Back on Generals Highway, continue south and park your car across the road from the Giant Forest Museum. Take a peek at the fascinating exhibits inside, then ride the shuttle bus to the General Sherman Tree. Get your picture taken at the largest tree on earth.If you are camping in Sequoia National Park, the Lodgepole Campground may be the best place to camp. Set along a picturesque portion of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River, this large, boulder-strewn campground has the best location in the park. The Giant Forest area, where many of the largest sequoias are found, is just two miles from here, and the campground is also conveniently located directly behind the Lodgepole Village Visitor Center, where you’ll find a store and a shuttle bus stop. Shuttle buses transport visitors to the park sites and trailheads.
Day 5 – Moro Rock
It’s already day 5 of our one week in Sequoia and King Canyon National Parks! Today we start the day at Moro Rock. This large granite dome is a spectacular geologic feature that can be enjoyed from above or below. A concrete and stone stairway leads over 350 steps to the top of Moro Rock. Even just a short distance from the parking area and above the forests’s canopy, the Great Western Divide’s peaks become visible. As you climb, views open up from the foothills and San Joaquin Valley to the west, to deep into wilderness to the east. Handrails along the way make the climb relatively safe, though you should keep a close eye on small children because of steep dropoffs along the entire route. The hike can be strenuous; taking your time as you climb can help you adjust to the thinner air at higher elevations.
After Moro Rock, take a break for lunch and then head to the nearby Crescent Meadows. This 1.5 mile trail leads to what John Muir called the “gem of the Sierra”. The beautiful meadow provides a relaxing atmosphere for an afternoon walk, as well as ample opportunities to take some great nature pictures.
Day 6 – Crystal Cave
Today we will explore Sequoia National Park in a different way. We will go underground to visit the Crystal Cave. Crystal Cave is an excellent example of a marble cavern. There are a number of eye popping formations. A half-mile loop trail leads through the cave, and there’s also a steep half-mile walk to and from the cave parking area to the entrance. Because of fragile formations, the only way to visit the cave is on a guided tour. Tours are suitable for all ages. If you decide to see the cave, plan on spending about half a day traveling to the cave, walking to the entrance, and taking the 45-minute tour. Buy tickets online at least two days in advance, or earlier for weekend and holiday tours. If tickets are not sold out, they may be available at visitor centers. Tickets are never sold at the cave.
Day 7 – General Sherman Tree and Congress Trail
If you have time on this last day of our one week in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, hike the 2 mile Congress Trail near the General Sherman Tree. You’ll get close up views of more big trees than on any other hike in the park. Watch for the House and Senate clusters, and the President Tree which passed the General Sherman tree as the second largest in volume.
Have safe travels home!
Note – If you’re in the area and also plan to visit Yosemite National Park, see the itinerary for Yosemite National Park.