NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

Sequoia &  Kings Canyon National Parks

Kings Canyon

Two Forks of the Kings River Come Together in Kings Canyon National Park

Two adjacent parks treated as one. Sequoia is the second oldest national park in the U.S., established in 1890. It houses the world's oldest living tree, the General Sherman tree, as well as the highest mountain in the U.S. outside of Alaska, Mount Whitney. Kings Canyon was established in 1940 and the canyon is one of our deepest. Together the parks encompass over 865,000 acres, much of it is designated wilderness. Elevations range from 1,300 to 14,494 feet. There are two major road arteries and both need to be driven. Hwy. 180 takes you past the Big Stump Entrance and ultimately leads to a dead end (Road's End). But on the way the road parallels the very pretty (and wild in the spring) Kings River. This is the road with the canyon views and for many the better campgrounds. It's a must. The Generals Highway is the primary park road; it leads southeast from the Big Stump Entrance and offers a very different visual experience. Here the attraction is giant sequoia groves rather than canyons and the Kings River. Both roads are slow going and in the Things To Do section we have what we consider to be a very smart approach to seeing the parks to minimize driving frustration, particularly if you are a first-time visitor. In the end, allow much more time than you would think and you won't be disappointed. The road situation is unique in that Hwy. 180, the Generals Hwy. and tributaries are accessed only from the western side of the park and there are no roads that cross the Sierra's to get to the east side. For example, you can't drive to Mount Whitney from the western part without making a significant detour. To get there from the western side you have to cross the mountains elsewhere and then access the eastern side of the park off Hwy. 395. There are also no national park campgrounds on the eastern side, but there are plenty of others. Check our write-up on Hwy. 395 for some choices should you be traveling on that side of the world.

The General Sherman TreeThe parks contain over 140 miles of roads and 800 miles of trails. Off-road vehicles are not allowed in wilderness areas, but are allowed on some national forest lands. The only reliable year-round fuel stop is in Hume but the services expand from Spring until winter. Stony Creek Village is a good place to fill-up in summer, and they sell diesel fuel. As you traverse the area national park and national forest areas are commingled, so you frequently move from one to the other. Sequoia National Forest incorporates the Jennie Lakes & Monarch wilderness areas. At left, the General Sherman Tree is billed as the world's largest and for that reason is a prime attraction here. Largest means in terms of mass, because the tree is dead at the top; you'll see many taller sequoias elsewhere.

For backcountry enthusiasts, Mt. Whitney is the start (or finish) of the 225 mile legendary John Muir Trail. The High Sierra Trail bisects the park as well.

This is black bear and mountain lion habitat. Lion incidents with humans are rare, but this is wild country and these are wild animals. Mountain lion sightings and encounters seem to be on the rise in many areas, so our advice is carry a sturdy hunting knife so you're not totally helpless should an attack occur. Black bears are plentiful and if you are camping in any of the campgrounds at the end of Hwy. 180 there is a high likelihood that they will pay you or your neighbors a visit after dusk. On a trip in early summer 2010 we had a nightly visit near Cedar Grove.

The bottom line: Kings Canyon is pretty but don't expect anything approaching the Grand Canyon. The General's Hwy. is the major road, and it offers access to several groves of giant sequoias. But for those who have seen those majestic trees here or elsewhere Hwy. 180 is the far prettier drive. It is here that you will have your canyon views and drive along the very pretty Kings River. And try to visit in June or early July when the river and its tributaries are in full bloom as they attempt to harness the snowmelt and funnel it downstream. It's quite a sight. In summer the weather can be hot, so watch for pit stops. They are well marked, as this one is as one approaches Kings Canyon Lodge off Hwy. 180.



Things To Do Campgrounds Photo Gallery