Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park Family Itinerary
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are located in in the southern Sierra Nevada in California. In this two day itinerary for Sequoia & King’s Canyon national parks learn:
- Preparing to visit Sequoia National Park with kids
- Things to do before a visit to Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Park
- Getting to Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Park
- Must See Things in Sequoia National Park
- Must See Things in King’s Canyon National Park
- Where to stay in Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Park
- Hiking in King’s Canyon National Park Optional Day 3 In Cedar Grove
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Preparing to visit Sequoia National Park with kids
Preparing your children to experience the National Parks is as important as the experience itself. I always like to read some books with my children before heading into the national parks.
I found this great book to about Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir called The Camping Trip That Changed America. It was the perfect introduction to both of these iconic American figures and their role in the development and expansion of our National Parks.
We also read several what we call around here, living books, about the Sequoias, Redwoods, and other wonders of creation that we would encounter.
Passport To Your National Parks and Junior Ranger Program
I also highly recommend getting your kids involved in the National Park Passport Program and the Junior Ranger programs. You can purchase the Passport books online through Amazon or you can pick them up inside the Visitor Center at the Park. You can also get Junior Ranger Information and booklets at any visitor center inside the park.
The program provides age appropriate booklets. Each booklet contains questions and tasks to accomplish while visiting the park. Once the children have completed their books, you can return them to a visitor center where they will be quizzed by a Park Ranger and, if they pass, (don’t worry they will), they will be officially sworn in by taking the Jr. Park Ranger oath and receiving their official Jr. Ranger badge. As you can imagine that this creates a great deal of excitement for the children, and it is a great way to get them more involved in exploring the parks and learning about nature.
Things To Do Before Your Visit To Sequoia & King's Canyon National Park
My favorite part of exploring nature in another region, is discovering all the unique plant life that I don’t see in my own outdoors.
Be sure to purchase a local field guide beforehand or get one at the visitor’s center if you didn’t bring one because relying on google is unpredictable since cell service isn’t always reliable.
We would never have been able to identify the interesting Yucca plant growing on the sides of the mountains without ours.
We also recommend you do the following before visiting the park
- Get gasoline in your car
- Purchase plenty of snacks and water
- Get good quality coolers and sealed containers for food to protect it from bears. We like Yeti products.
- Bring a first aid kit and medications
- Bring paper maps or pick them up at the visitor center as cell service and GPS can be unreliable
- Charge cell phones and bring extra car chargers
- Use the restroom
Getting To Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Many visitors enter from the south at Three Rivers, CA. However, we were unable to book lodging in Three Rivers so we opted to stay in a small town of Exeter, California about thirty minutes outside of the park. We found a great Best Western that was perfect for us. Located less than thirty minutes from the Ash Mountain Entrance of Sequoia National Park, it’s a quaint town filled with Orange groves! If you have time, take a stroll downtown to see the murals.
However, before entering Sequoia National Park on hwy 198, be sure to stop in Three Rivers and take in the amazing scenery along the Kaweah River. This was our first glimpse of California’s amazing Sierra mountains after having spent a week on the coast. Wow! It was breathtaking.
As you head into the park along General’s Hwy (still Hwy 198), stop again and take some family photos underneath Tunnel Rock.
Must See Things in Sequoia National Park
Don’t miss these things to do in Sequoia National Park
- Indian Head Entrance sign and photo op
- Foothills Visitor Center
- Iconic Tunnel Log
- Giant Forest Museum
- General Sherman Tree and Trail
Indian Head Entrance Sign Iconic Photo Op
Another photo op occurs at the entrance to the park which is sometimes also referred to as the Indian Head Entrance for this famous sign carved in the 1930s from a block of Sequoia wood.
Next, make your way to the Foothills Visitor Center. This is a good time for a bathroom break and to pick up a trail map if you didn’t bring one. Now is also the time to purchase a Passport to Your National Park book and get your Jr. Ranger Booklets if you haven’t already done so. Don’t forget to get your passport marked at each National Park visitor center you visit.
The Hunt For Giant Trees!
Now begin your way into the park along the curvy General’s Hwy to an elevation of 6400 feet and start hunting for the GIANT TREES! Stop often to stretch and take in the amazing scenery. Our first glimpse of the giant trees occurred in the Giant Forest! We had to pull the car over for a few pictures! The kids had a loads of fun playing hide and seek behind the giant trees. Dad and enjoyed taking pics and video.
Detour For The Iconic Tunnel Log
Before you reach your next stop, detour to the left on Crescent Meadow Rd to experience driving the car through the famous Tunnel Log. This is an iconic experience everyone must have!
Giant Forest Museum and Trails
Now, back onto General’s Hwy to the Giant Forest Museum, where you can watch a video, explore more of the forest, and take some more great photos. This is also a good place to break for a picnic lunch.
General Sherman Tree and Trail
After a nice break and chance for the kids to run off some energy, get back in the car toward the General Sherman Tree!
Once you arrive and park in the lot located off of Wolverton Road, follow the trail down 200 feet on the General Sherman Trail. While there are a few stairs, the trail is paved and navigable for most ages. There are benches and information signs located along the trail. There is also separate handicap accessible parking for those unable to walk the trail. Both parking areas provide restroom facilities.
After taking your picture with the world’s largest tree, take the time to walk along the 3 mile Congress Trail loop. Here you will also be among the world’s third and fourth largest Sequoias. Tomorrow you will see the world’s second largest Sequoia; The General Grant.
Must See Things In King's Canyon National Park
Don’t miss these things to do in King’s Canyon National Park
- Grant Grove
- Fallen Monarch
- Grant Tree and Trail
- Centennial Stump
- Scenic King’s Canyon Byway
Sequoia National Park became the second national park in the National Park system after Yellowstone in 1872. King’s Canyon was added to the National Park system under the Theodore Roosevelt administration and became jointly managed with SNP in 1943. On Day 2 you will head into the King’s Canyon making your first stop at Grant Grove for another great hike to see the General Grant Tree! After parking the car, walk onto the General Grant Tree Trail which loops to the left or the right.
The Fallen Monarch
Taking the left, you will quickly be met by the fallen Monarch. The kids will enjoy entering this nature made fort! It’s a great photo op as well! It is reported that the hollowed out fallen tree has been used as shelter for Indians, a hotel and saloon, and a horse stable.
General Grant Tree and Trail
After playing inside the Fallen Monarch for a bit, continue on the trail toward the General Grant! You will begin to gain an appreciation for the size of this tree is as it comes into view while descending the trail. Below is a listing of the top 10 Largest Giant Sequoias by Trunk Volume. While the General Sherman yesterday was taller in height, you can see that the General Grant has a larger trunk volume and circumference.
Also note that seven out of ten largest Giant Sequoias are located right here in the SNP and KCNP! It really is worth a visit at least once in your lifetime! For the complete list of the largest trees in the world click on the image below.
After you take your pictures with the General Grant Tree, you can also observe the Centennial Stump. The history sign on the stump will tell you that,
“The tree was cut, sectioned, and reassembled at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876 where it became known as a “California Hoax,” by dubious easterners. This was a very old tree.”
As an easterner seeing these trees for the first time, I can understand why they didn’t believe their very own eyes.
Another point of interest on the trail is the Gamlin Cabin said to have been built by Thomas Gamlin who lived in the nearby fallen Monarch for two years while constructing the cabin. Our crew had a long day’s drive ahead and we wanted to explore the King Canyon Byway so we missed these following hikes, but here is the list of other trails to explore in the Grant Grove area should you remain in the area longer.
Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
Eager to get on into the Canyon, we left Grant Grove and followed 180 Northeast toward Cedar Grove Village which is now being called the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. It doesn’t take very long to understand this name!
This winding stretch of 180 takes you alongside the South Fork Kings river. In the springtime this river is a roaring magnificent sight to see! Just after the Hume Lake Ranger Station, you will begin your journey on the byway and be met by one of the most astonishing views I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. This canyon is simply breathtaking! Have the camera ready for numerous pull offs and picture opportunities. Stop above Hume lake for an amazing vista point! Once you begin to head down into the canyon, don’t miss the amazing Grizzly falls! !
However, if you don’t have a cover for your expensive gear, you may be forced to take pictures with your cell phone. You may want a poncho! We reached the Cedar Grove area around dinner time so we picked up some great burgers at the Cedar Grove Village Center before heading back out of the canyon. If you are finished for the day, there is lodging in Cedar Grove. Again, our crew had plans to make Yosemite the next day so we had to press on. However another night would have definitely been preferable!
Where to Stay in Sequoia & King's Canyon Lodge
Lodging within the park is limited to camping or rustic lodges and huts. We opted to stay at the Montecito-Sequoia Lodge which is not owned by the national park. While the activities and scenery at Monticeto-Sequoia lodge are fabulous, we can’t in good conscience recommend the Montecito-Sequoia lodge as we found it to be unclean and unkempt in the grounds for the price point.
Hiking in King's Canyon National Park Optional Day 3 In Cedar Grove
If your itinerary allows, lodge at the Cedar Grove Village and explore the area. The Hotel Creek Trail climbs to Cedar Grove Overlook. There is also Zumwalt Meadow which is 1.5 mile trail.
Note: The NPS shares that some damage was done to this trail from the Spring 2017 heavy rains. After seeing what we saw of the Kings Fork River, I can easily believe it. Repairs are underway now.
Other shorter hikes for families include Roaring River Falls, the trail to Knapp’s Cabin, and the Don Cecil Trail. Beyond that the hikes are listed as moderately strenuous to strenuous and I’d recommend reading more about those on the NPS site to determine what your family is capable of doing.
Important Points To Remember
- Entrance Fee Into The Parks is $30 Per Vehicle for one week. Annual Passes to the National Parks can be purchased here for $80/yr
- If you have a kid in the 4th Grade get your Every Kid In a Park Pass for free entry for the entire family for the Year
- Seniors can get a lifetime pass for $80 here
- Members of the Military can get a free lifetime pass
- Don’t forget to fill up before entering the park and keep food secured from wildlife.
- Our visit was in the Spring after heavy rains. Conditions vary greatly in the parks so be sure to check the NPS Website and the local weather to plan accordingly.