Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks In Two Days
Visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in two days. This itinerary is provided for those with younger children in mind. I have also provided some information for an optional third day if your schedule allows.
Since it’s impossible to see it all in one trip, we found these points of interest to be absolutely perfect for us! I hope it is helpful to you as well in planning your family’s great American road trip and visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Seeing the National Parks has become a passion for my family this year. After our trip west to California where we visited giant trees, saw sweeping canyon vistas, strolled through beautiful meadows, and gasped at raging waterfalls, we were hooked! Now, we are on a mission to see them all before my oldest son reaches his 18th birthday!
Preparing Your Family To Visit Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Preparing your children to experience the National Parks is as important as the experience itself and since we homeschool, I always like to read some books with my children before heading into the park.
I found this great book to read to them 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.
Day 1: Getting To Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Many visitors entering from south, as we were , do so from Three Rivers or Visalia, CA. However, 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.
Just 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.
Bring A Field Guide For Identifying Local Plant Life
We also snapped a few more alongside the river below and observed the interesting Yucca plant growing on the sides of the mountains. 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.
Pick up a field guide before traveling or at the visitor’s center if you didn’t bring one because cell service isn’t always reliable.
Foothills Visitor Center
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. Now is 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 climbing to an elevation of 6400 feet on the hunt for the GIANT TREES! Feel free to stop and stretch as often as your time will allow. Our first glimpses of the trees occurred in the Giant Forest! We simply had to pull the car over for a few pictures! The kids had a great deal of fun playing chase and hide and seek behind the giant trees while dad and I took photos and video.
Detour For The Iconic Tunnel Log
Before you reach your next stop, consider detouring to the left on Crescent Meadow Rd to experience driving the car through the famous Tunnel Log. This is surely an iconic experience everyone must have!
Don't Miss The Giant Forest Museum and Trails
Then head 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 with these magnificent trees. This might also be 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 and make your way to see the General Sherman Tree!
Once you arrive, there is parking located off of Wolverton Road. After parking, 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.
Lodging Options Within The Park
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. From the General Sherman Tree parking lot, head back out onto General’s Hwy toward your lodging for the night.
Lodging within the park is limited to camping and 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.
Day 2: More Big Trees and An Amazing Canyon!
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. 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.
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.
Other Points Of Interest In General Grant Grove
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 and 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, but lingering another night would have definitely been preferable!
Optional Day 3 Itinerary: Cedar Grove Hikes
If you choose to stay and explore Cedar Grove, here are some other points of interest that could be added for a third day’s itinerary.
If your itinerary allows, you could choose to lodge at the Cedar Grove Village and explore that area for another half a day or so, before heading out of the park toward Yosemite as our family did. In the Cedar Grove area, you will find the Hotel Creek Trail which climbs to Cedar Grove Overlook. There is also Zumwalt Meadow which is 1.5 mile trail. 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.