Sequoia National Park Visitor Guide for Families

In this Sequoia National Park Visitor Guide for families, we have shared a two day itinerary for Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Parks.  Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are  located in in the southern Sierra Nevada in California. Here are some tips to help your family get the most out of your visit to Sequoia.

Image of Mom and Kids

Preparing to visit Sequoia National Park with kids

Image and Link to Amazon for Camping Trip That Changed America 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. 

Image of Passpport To Your National Parks Book

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.  We enjoyed visiting Sequoia National park in May so the flowers were in full bloom.  Spring is definitely of the best times to visit Sequoia National Park.

Amazon Image Sierra Nevada Wildflowers Book

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.

Yuca Plant Alongside Generals Hwy
We also recommend you do the following before visiting the park If you are wanting to camp in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, be sure to look up the campsite reservation policy and start looking to book your site 6 months in advance.”

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.  

Things to see 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.  

Image of Indian Head Entrance Sequoia National Park

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! 

Image of Tunnel Log In SQNP
By Didier B (Sam67fr) (Own work)
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.

Image of Giant Forest Museum

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! 

Entrance To The Sherman Tree Trail

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.

By Jim Bahn - Sherman TreeUploaded by hike395,

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. 

Things to see 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

Grant Grove

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.  

General Grant Grove Parking
Image by Alen Ištoković

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. 

Image in front of Fallen Monarch

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.

Centennial Stump

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!  

Viewing Kings Canyon National Park

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!  !  

Grizzly Falls May 2017

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.  

Other options are the Wuksachi Lodge, Bear-Paw High Sierra camp, or driving on toward Grant Grove to stay in Grant Grove Lodge. There is the option of staying outside the park in Three Rivers, Exeter, or northwest in Fresno, however this adds a minimum extra hour one way into and out of the park.

Image of Wuksachi Lodge
By Davide D'Amico from London, United Kingdom (Wuksachi Lodge Resort)
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

For more national park inspiration, check out these articles:

If you enjoy national parks around the world, check out this post on Jim Corbett National Park located in India.