There are so many amazing things to do in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon. If you are planning a trip there, we have everything you need to know to get you started from where to stay, what the best activities in Sequoia are and more.
Often dwarfed by the magical and heavily touristed Yosemite National Park just a few hours up the road, Sequoia National Park is worth the extra effort as it’s almost always less crowded than Yosemite and is filled with an amazing tranquility.
The sprawling park, combined geographically with Kings Canyon National Park, is filled with opportunities to hike and camp among some of the world’s largest trees and explore in meadows, along rivers and through deep canyons. There are so many things to do in Sequoia National Park that you could easily spend a few days here. Sequoia also makes for an amazing magical winter wonderland for those of you seeking snow!
Regardless, any time spent among the big trees will leave lasting memories for your entire family. Read on for our top things to do in Sequoia National Park.
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13 Magical Things To Do in Sequoia National Park
Depending on where you enter the parks will determine what you actually have time for. There is so much to do between the two parks that you will never see it all in one day. Start at either park and work your way around the sites mentioned below. Need more information on routes through the park? Go to the park service website for maps to further plan your adventures. Located in the southern Sierra Nevada east, these two parks are quite massive with foothills to high mountain tops with elevation ranges from 1,370 to 14,494!
Earn Your Junior Ranger Badge
On any national park visit, one of the first places we hit up is the Visitor Center. In Sequoia, there are a couple of great visitor centers. The first one you will likely come upon if you are entering from the Sequoia side is Foothills, but we recommend continuing on to Giant’s Museum. This is a great place to pick up your pick up the Junior Ranger booklet and to talk to the rangers about what to do and see in the park given your abilities and time.
Would I do the junior ranger book if I didn’t have a child obsessed with being a park ranger? I’m not sure, but I do know that we learn so much more about the parks when we complete these books, so I actually do recommend it even for the grown ups! The junior ranger booklet also provides great information on the history of the park and animals you might come across.
Visit the Giant Forest Museum
The Giant Forest Museum is meant as a starting point for visitors to the park and is also a starting point for several items on our must do list. Spend some time learning the story of the giant sequoias, the meadows, and how humans have been involved with it all. Catch the shuttle bus from here for Moro Rock (in the summer) or head out on the self-guided interpretive Big Trees Trail.
Learn on the Big Trees Trail
This short 2/3 mile trail circles Round Meadow and is lined with information panels describing the ecology of the sequoias. Keep your eyes peeled for fire scars, baby sequoias growing out of ashy ground as well as juvenile trees scattered around. This is an easy, no elevation gain trail accessible for anyone. The trail begins at the Giant Forest Museum and circles back around. The big draw for kids are the abundance of rocks and logs to climb on just off the trail. Keep an eye out for the log kids can slide down! Also look for the adorable marmots making their homes inside fallen trees along the way.
Check Out the View From Moro Rock
Driving on Generals Highway from Three Rivers, on hairpin turns, Moro Rock is one of the first sites you will see. The steep hike up this protruding granite dome offers spectacular views across the valley and the great western divide mountains in the distance. The short, but steep 350 step climb up a narrow path built into the rock might test your fear of heights and give you wobbly legs, but the payoff will be worth it. There are guard rails along the path, but caution is still needed with small children.
Portions of the trail are so narrow only one hiker can pass at a time, which means it can be slow going during peak season. Don’t be deterred, as you progress up the trail, you’ll be able to see the top of the Giant Forest to the north with spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada range in all directions. There are a couple of resting points along the way as well as guide panels with information on how this rock was formed and the surrounding landmarks.
It is one of the most popular trails at Sequoia, and for good reason. During summer this trail is accessible only by the shuttle bus from the Giant Forest Museum or by hiking from the museum on the Moro Rock Trail (round trip is approximately 5 miles).
Alternative for Moro Rock
In the days of social distancing, everyone is looking for alternatives to crowded areas. While we love Moro Rock and highly suggest visiting if you can, there are other options that provide beautiful views as well without the crowds. We suggest Hanging Rock or Eagle View Trail. Hanging Rock is just before you get to Moro Rock if you walk along the Moro Rock Trail. It’s a short diversion, so worth checking out either way.
Eagle View Trail is best accessed from Crescent Meadow when the shuttle is operating or the road is open.
Look for Bears at Crescent Meadow
The big draw here is an easy hike that is great for children and adults among a meadow filled with beautiful summer flowers. A hike through Crescent Meadow offers a variety of scenery, a tree to sit inside of, as well as a visit to Tharp’s Log (a house made out of sequoias).
In the early morning and late afternoon, watch out for one of Sequoia’s most revered animals which can often be spied here – the elusive bear! A trip to the mountains can only be heightened by a bear sighting. You will hear visitors on the shuttle buses, at viewpoints and along the trails discussing bear sightings with excitement. Luckily the bears in this region are not aggressive towards humans, so the opportunity to see one is met with great excitement, rather than fear. Remember to keep your distance if you do see one.
For families, this is a great trail to explore and is always highly recommend by the ranger. We agree, its fabulous!
Drive Through Tunnel Log
One of the most memorable experiences for any family will be driving through a tree! It has an 8 foot clearance so most cars can make it through. During the winter and early spring, this road is closed, so you can instead have the opportunity to walk through it! You can access this part of the park when the road is closed (or if the shuttle wait is too long) by taking any number of trails from the Giant Forest Museum. It is about 1.5 miles to Tunnel Log one way if walking. If you have the opportunity to walk or drive through Tunnel Log it is an amazing thing to do in Sequoia National Park no matter your age!
Meet General Sherman
One of the main attractions at Sequoia National Park is to see the worlds largest known living tree. It is not the tallest in the world, but is taller than the Statue of Liberty which is pretty amazing! The General Sherman tree is 3000 years old. It’s difficult to grasp how long this tree has been around and how the world has changed in its lifetime. Being in it’s shadow, you begin to think that this must be how an ant feels as a human’s shadow crosses it’s path. The 1/2-mile trail descends through a grove of massive trees. The trail is short, but includes stairs and will tax your lungs a bit on the way back up. Take your time, use the benches and enjoy the beauty of the giant forest around you.
Explore Groves of Giant Sequoias on the Congress Trail
One of the absolute best trails in Sequoia for day hiking is the Congress Trail. This minimal elevation gain trail leaves from General Sherman and can get busy, but is well worth the effort. One you get past the initial incline and head out towards the McKinley Tree, you will start to see beautiful groves of sequoias named accordingly The President, The Senate and The House. If you have seen beautiful photos of Sequoia, most often these photos have come from this section of the park. It’s breathtaking, offers many opportunities to wonder around, to extend your hike and even chances to get inside some massive trees. This is our favorite trail and one of the most recommended things to do in Sequoia National Park and one we highly recommend if you only have time for 1 hike.
NOTE: During summer consider starting in one section of the park and making your way to another via the interconnecting trails. From the Congress Trail near The House, you can continue on to Crescent Meadow.
Hike Tokopah Falls Trail
One of our favorite things to do in Sequoia National Park is this trail. The trail to Tokopah Falls starts just after the bridge in Lodgepole Campground leading you along a meandering fork of the Kaweah River to granite cliffs which end at a waterfall. It is an easy 1.7 mile (one way) walk along the river, with plenty of opportunities to explore. This hike is also shaded for much of the walk, which is a relief during the summer season.
The last quarter of a mile requires stumbling over boulders, which can be fun or tiring depending on your mood! The end of the trail has amazing views of the falls, the canyon and the valley, all carved by the water. There are several spots along the trail where you can set up a blanket and have a dip in the cool water. There are drop offs in the water, so test out the area before letting kids play on their own. This is another area with frequent bear sightings, so keep your eyes open as you cruise along the path. Note, this trail has almost no giant sequoia trees if that is what you are most interested in seeing.
Get Off the Beaten Path
There are more than 40 miles of trails in The Giant Forest area of Sequoia. Don’t just stick to the main trails, if you have time, really get off the beaten path to explore some of the lesser known area. We LOVE exploring all the various trails and highly recommend checking out portions of the Altra Trail, Rimrock Trail, Bear Hill Trail, Bear’s Bathtub Trail and so many more.
These are all easy to access from the Giant Forest Museum. If you want to make a full day of it, pack a full bag of water, lunch, snacks and a trail map to explore from one area to another. In the summer months you can then take the shuttle back from wherever you end up. Some route options would be to start at Giant Forest Museum and hike through the Altra Trail heading towards Crescent Meadow where you can then take the shuttle back. Another option is from the Congress Trail to Crescent Meadow. Note, shuttle wait times can be long during busy seasons, so always be prepared to be patient!
Go Underground with a Visit to Crystal Cave
One of the most difficult parts of the park to visit seems to be Crystal Caves! Entrance tickets to the caves tend to sell our quickly, so if this is something you would really like to do, you will need to book in advance. The Sequoia Parks Conservancy is the group that actually manages the caves as well as issuing tickets. This means that your visit will be education and supporting the park!
Crystal Caves are only open from the end of May through the end of summer. Guided tours are 50 minutes long and are available for all ages. For 2021, the guided hike groups will be no more than 25 people per group, which means the availability of tickets might be even tougher to come by. Book your visit early!
Consider a Guided Hike
Looking to get more out of your visit to Sequoia but not sure where to turn? We recently experienced a guided hike through the park which was fantastic! Not only did this give us someone to ask all of our questions to as we walked along the trails, but we also were able to further support the park through their non profit arm the Sequoia Parks Conservancy.
The Sequoia Conservancy offers private custom guided hikes for those who have already visited the park and don’t want the main sights as well as a couple of cookie cutter hikes that are very popular. In addition, once COVID restrictions lift a bit more they offer Night Sky Astronomy events.
We highly recommend a tour with any of the guides, but we loved Scott and his enthusiasm and passion for the park.
What is the Best Hike in Sequoia National Park?
People often ask what the best hike in Sequoia National Park is – which is a tough one to answer. In our opinion, they are all magical, but depending on what you want, we can provide you with a quick answer.
One of the best all around trails in the park in our opinion is the Tokopah Falls Trail. This 1.7 mile one way trail to the falls is spectacular. It follows along a beautiful river, mostly under a canopy of trees, ending with a rocky path up to the falls. However, there are NO sequoia trees on this trail.
For the best hike in Sequoia with actual Sequoia trees, we highly recommend the Congress Trail. This 3 mile trail offers views on some of the biggest and best sequoia trees, shade, an opportunity to walk through trees and even climb some fallen ones too.
+6 More Stunning Things to Do in Kings Canyon National Park
For visitors who have the time, we highly suggest you extend your visit into Kings Canyon National Park as well. This section of the park tends to be less visited than the Sequoia side, but there are still a great number of amazing things to check out here. I must point out that visiting most spots inside Kings Canyon via the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway take 1-2 hours one way, so for the best day, plan at least 1-2 days for this section of the park.
Check Out Grant Grove
Congrats, if you have made it all the way to the northern entrance at Kings Canyon while visiting Sequoia National Park. Or welcome if you are just starting your visit here. Grant Grove is home to the second largest tree in the world, the General Grant Tree. This area is similar to General Sherman in that it has nicely paved walking paths through a gorgeous grove of giant trees and is considered a must see for the park. The difference here is the opportunity to walk through a fallen tree, not a tunnel through the width of a tree, rather a tunnel through the length! It’s a cool experience and learning how this ‘shelter’ has been used in the past makes it even more interesting.
Big Stump Trail
Talk about a little known trail that packs a punch – it is Big Stump Trail. This trail is listed on maps and signboards as a picnic area, not necessarily a hiking area. Don’t be fooled though, this is one of the best little strolls in the park! Located just off Highway 180 near the Kings Canyon Entrance, this area has ample space to park as well as picnic as well as big stumps to climb around on!
Kids will love this area as they can see actual sequoia trees that have been cut down and in a few instances they can even climb up on the stumps to see the world from a new perspective.
This beautiful lake between Grant Grove and Kings Canyon was initially built as a water supply for a flume. Now it’s a recreation area where you can swim or paddle boat. Much of the area is run by a Christian camp, but it is still open to the public and a beautiful place to explore on the land and in the water. Note, there are rules for bathing suits on the Christian camp side of the lake. Also, the burger shack here is supposed to be amazing as are the shakes!
Cedar Grove Area
There are two visitor centers in Kings Canyon. The one farthest into the canyon is Cedar Grove. This is a great place to come unwind along the river, grab some snacks and drinks and find out what trails you should visit in this section of the park. Note, the center is not always open, so don’t count on it for maps or snacks! If you have made it down this far into the canyon, it’s worth a quick peak and chat to the rangers to see what they recommend.
One of the most beautiful areas in the Kings Canyon area is down in the canyon at Zumwalt Meadows. This is a beautiful area with a super fun suspension bridge to walk across. This 1.5 mile walk is easy for families and offers stunning scenery. Since this area is quite far removed from other areas of the park, it is often quite empty. Perfect for a hot busy summer day! On the way here, make sure to stop off at Grizzly Falls. It’s a quick stop off the main road.
Mist Falls Trail
Congratulations you have made it to Roads End! This is the furthest reach of road in Kings Canyon! Here, at the Road End is the start of the Mist Falls trail. This 8.7 mile trail is a bit strenuous for families with small children, but starts off mostly flat and meanders alongside a roaring river. For those who don’t have the stamina to make it the full way, you can always walk a bit and return the way you came once you start to get tired. But for those who can make it to the falls, you will be welcomed with some mist (hence the name!) and a beautiful scene unfolding before you. Again, this trail is quite far off the beaten path, so please come prepared with all your snacks, water and a full tank of gas!
Tips for Visiting Sequoia National Park in One Day
If you only have one day to visit on your way to or from Yosemite, don’t fret, you aren’t alone if you are visiting Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks on a day trip. It is said that more than 80% of the parks visitors visit this way. While there is so much more to be seen at the park than can be done in one day, you have to make the most of what time you have. In our opinion this is one of the most underrated national parks in the United States.
Start Early for the Best Day at Sequoia National Park
If you are staying outside of the park, start as early as you can. If you are entering from Three Rivers the distance is short, but can take longer than you expect as you wind up curvy 2 lane roads with 10 MPH sections. Plan for 45 minutes to 1 hour driving to the main parts of the park.
Stay in One Area of the Park
Instead of going through both parks, take your time and spend more time in one section of the park. The areas near the Foothills Visitor Center and the Giant Forest Museum have an abundance of sites to see which makes it an ideal place to spend your one day.
Go One Way Through the Park
Plan your route to take you one way, starting at one entrance and exiting through another. The General’s Highway is a 25 mile road that cuts through both parks. During the summer months you can drive from one entrance (Three Rivers) and exit out of another. This will allow you to see both parks with no backtracking. If you enter from the north of the park, you will actually be entering at Kings Canyon and can start your day off at Grant Grove to see General Grant and walk through a fallen sequoia tree.
Plan for approximately 2 hours to drive through the park, plus whatever additional time to park and/or take shuttle buses and to sightsee. Note: During winter and early spring, the General’s Highway is closed, so check with park officials before planning your route.
Pack Food for the Day
Bringing your own meals such as breakfast, lunch and dinner will reduce the amount of time you spend looking and waiting for food. Instead, you can eat on a trail by the river, on a picnic table outside a visitor center or wherever you find yourself during meal times. There are very few options for meals within the park which can cause quite a delay waiting in line. We highly recommend bringing a cooler to keep your food and drinks cool while parked. But please remember to pack out EVERYTHING you brought with you!
More Information for Visiting Sequoia National Park
>>>> There are no gas stations within the park, so fill up before you enter and ensure you have plenty of gas to power up the small hilly roads.
>>>> Phone service is touch and go. If you are meeting friends, bring walkie talkies or plan out meeting points in advance.
>>>> Food options are limited – pack plenty of water and snacks for visiting the park. Grab a quick sandwich or check out other lunch options at the Lodgepole complex.
>>>> Due to the elevation, you will feel tired much more quickly than you think. Drink lots of fluids to keep hydrated, wear a hat and take frequent breaks.
>>>> 80% of visitors to Sequoia come on a day trip. Don’t be one that just drives through. Get out and experience the park even if you are here for only one day.
Where to stay In or Near Sequoia National Park
One of the most difficult aspects to visiting Sequoia National Park is deciding where to stay. The park itself has very little in the way of options to stay and neighboring towns are a bit of a distance. I’ll be honest and say that we have never managed to stay inside the park. In order to secure accommodation inside the park, you must plan well in advance, which I am not the best at! However, we have stayed in Three Rivers and in Visalia on all of our visits to the park and had a great time.
If you have the time and want to visit both sides of the park, we suggest staying 1 or 2 nights near Squaw Valley or inside the park and 2-3 nights in Three Rivers or on the Sequoia side of the park to maximize your visit.
Wuksachi Lodge | Sequoia National Park
Wuksachi Lodge is the only hotel located within the Sequoia National Park area. The lodge fills up quickly, so plan your stay long in advance or check for cancellations closer to the dates you wish to travel. Note, the hotel is the furthest spot on the General’s Highway, right before the road closure begins.
Airbnb | Three Rivers, CA
If you cannot get a reservation inside the park or prefer to stay outside, we highly recommend staying in Three Rivers. It’s a bit of a drive from the main parts of the park, but it adds much more convenience to your overall trip in these times of social distancing. Renting an airbnb allows you to cook your own meals rather than relying on the offerings at the hotels inside the park. Here are a few places we recommend in Three Rivers:
- Sequoia Park Garden House only 3 miles from Park Entrance. (This is where we stayed during our visit)
- Mineral King Guesthouse – Beautiful hidden gem only 4 miles from the park
- Sequoia Heights – 3 bedroom house perfect for bigger families
Comfort Inn | Three Rivers, CA
Another option in Three Rivers if you cannot find an Airbnb rental is the Comfort Inn. This is the only chain hotel in the area and is quite comfortable. We especially love it as it’s directly across the street from our favorite place in town – Gorilla Quesadilla!
Camping | Sequoia National Park
There are 14 campgrounds in the two parks, including several that are open year-round. Reservations can be made at Recreation.gov. Most visitors tend to flock to Lodgepole campground first as it’s centrally located and near by the shops. However if you are lucky enough to snag a spot at any of them, take it!
Sequoia National Park
- Lodgepole Campground – 214 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Dorst Creek Campground – 218 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Potwisha Campground (open year-round) – 42 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Buckeye Flat Campground – 28 sites for tents
- South Fork Campground (open year-round) – 10 sites for tents
- Atwell Mill Campground – 21 sites for tents
- Cold Springs Campground – 40 sites for tents
Kings Canyon National Park
- Azalea Campground (open year-round) – 110 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Crystal Springs Campground – 36 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Sunset Campground – 157 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Sentinel Campground – 82 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Sheep Creek Campground – 111 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Moraine Campground – 121 sites for tents, RVs, and trailers
- Canyon View Campground – group sites only
John Muir Lodge | Kings Canyon National Park
The John Muir Lodge is the only hotel on the Kings Canyon side of the park. The lodge is probably considered a 2 star and is quite basic, but it is convenient to trails and sights in Kings Canyon if you wish to spend more than 1 day here.
Visalia | Outside of Sequoia
Another option for visitors looking to make more out of their stay is to book a hotel in Visalia. Visalia is about 35 miles from the entrance of Sequoia National Park, but is the closest large town. Visalia provides a great deal of options for your stay as well as activities for everyone in the family to enjoy in addition to visiting the national parks. Visalia is also a great option if you are looking for more budget friendly options, or have booked late in the season and have limited options within the park area.
Note that the tourist center of Visalia often has deals running where they provide gifts or free items for visitors staying in town. The most recent deal is for every 3 nights booked in Visalia hotels, you will receive either an annual pass to Sequoia National Park or a $50 gas card. Always a great incentive if you plan to be there and don’t mind adding a bit more time to your drive. To avail of this incentive package you must book through their portal. Prices are the same as other booking engines.
If you stay in Visalia, check out all the other great things to do in town, places to stay and eat!
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