If you are looking for a magical getaway, consider visiting Sequoia National Park in winter. The majestic red giants are covered in glistening white snow creating a breathtaking landscape that is hard to beat.
Sequoia National Park is one of our favorite national parks during the busy summer months, but now that we have visited in winter we are even more in love. Have you been to see the giants of Sequoia National Park in winter? If not, put it on your bucket list and get busy planning your trip with our tips below.
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Planning Your Visit to Sequoia in Winter
One of the most important parts of planning a visit to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in winter is understanding what is open, what is closed and what the road conditions are during your visit.
When visiting Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks, you can enter from either the North (via Squaw Valley), or from the South (via Three Rivers). During the winter, the General’s Highway, a 25 mile road connecting the two parks is often closed due to high snow levels. Typically once the road is closed for the season it will not open up again until the spring. However, the rangers told us there have been years when there is little snow that the road re-opens mid season. Thus, it is best to check on current conditions before planning your adventure.
If the General’s Highway is closed, visitors will need to make a choice in where they want to enter the park. The distance between the two entrances from outside the park is about an hour and a half.
Driving in Sequoia National Park in Winter
One of the biggest reasons folks steer clear of Sequoia National Park in winter is fear of driving on the snowy and icy roads in the high sierra. This one aspect that makes visiting in winter so majestic is also the part that makes it scary and dangerous! If you are visiting during winter you have to be prepared for both sunny, clear days as well as cloudy, overcast snowy days.
Snow tires and/or snow chains are required from November to March regardless of the current weather and state of the roads. However, rangers will often not press too hard about chain requirements if the roads are very clear and there is no chance of precipitation in the forecast. During stormy or snowy times, park rangers will require that you show them your chains and will not let you proceed if you do not have them.
During our visit, even a week after the last snowstorm, there were areas of the road towards the Lodgepole Market and beyond that were still a bit icy. Had we needed to continue on we would have probably put on chains just to be safe.
Main roads are plowed inside the park often, however as snow accumulates and the sun is hidden, parts of the road can become icy and slick.
Need Tire Chains? Rentals of chains are available in Three Rivers if you are arriving from that area.
- A-1 Totem Market & Gifts This is the closest rental place to the Sequoia entrance.
- Chevron Gas Station They may not always have someone on hand so plan to rent them in advance if possible.
NOTE: During winter, parking is very limited within the park. Park rangers will turn guests away once the park reaches capacity, so it is advised to go early especially on weekends or holidays.
7 Things to Do in Sequoia National Park in Winter
There are a variety of amazing options for hiking in Sequoia National Park in winter. In addition, there are also big trees to visit and snow play areas available on both sides of the park. Since travel times to the two areas are increased during winter it is advised to pick a section for each day of your visit. Below are our top things to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon in winter, however most items on the list fall more on the Sequoia side If you have limited time in the park, we highly recommend the Sequoia section of the park which has more available during the winter months. If you are looking for more seclusion and off the beaten path adventures, consider Kings Canyon. Also stop into the visitor center for more information on what is currently open and available.
Play in the Snow or Go Sledding
There are two areas within the park for snow play and sledding depending which side of the park you are on. For those entering on the Three Rivers/Sequoia side, Wolverton Meadows is the best option. Wolverton Meadows is about 2 miles from the General Sherman Tree. This is a large area perfect for running around in the snow as well as large hills for sledding. It can get busy during weekends, so plan to visit early!
For visitors arriving on the Kings Canyon side of the park, head to Big Stump for sledding. This is another large area great for snowshoeing and sledding.
Note for the 2021 winter season, the Lodgepole Market is closed so there are no rentals within the park available. Bring your own sleds, snowshoes and all food and drink required for the day.
Walk the Big Trees Trail
If you are entering the park from the Sequoia side one of the first places with a lot of snow that you will come upon is probably the Big Trees Loop. This is a great place to get out, stretch your legs and start your magical journey into the world of the giant sequoias! This trail is a short boardwalk trail in the summer, but during the winter it’s all covered in piles and piles of snow! There are interactive sign boards along the walk that explain the area during the summer (it’s a marsh!). Overall, this is a great family friendly trail for all ages. This trail is also easily accessible even for those without proper snow gear. However, stay on the trail because the snow can get deep! While some adults might find this trail boring, kids LOVE it. Look for the huge fallen sequoia to climb through and even a small tree slide!
Hike the Congress Trail
If you only do one hike in Sequoia in winter, the Congress Trail should be the one you do. This is the most epic of the trails in Sequoia offering amazing groves of sequoia trees, nature, tranquility and beauty. Depending on the snow levels, you can either snowshoe or hike with or without crampons. We did all three during our visit.
This trail is where most photos that you might see of Sequoia come from with images of The Senate, The President and The House. These clusters of giant sequoias are mesmerizing and filled with absolute magic.
Some guides suggest that this trail is 2-3 miles long. During our visit, we managed to walk about 3.7 miles total. As you can tell from our number, the trail is not well signposted along the way. In summer months the trail is a concrete path, but during the winter it is covered in snow so it is much easier to lose your way once you get off the highly traveled areas by General Sherman. I recommend using AllTrails or Strava to map your route so you can easily retrace your steps if needed. It’s easy to get disoriented while spending your time looking around at the scenery.
Visit General Sherman
No visit to Sequoia National Park in winter or summer is complete without stopping by to say hello to General Sherman. As we learned during our visit, General Sherman is the largest tree in the world only by weight and volume, not height. Regardless, this record holding tree is spectacular and worth waiting in line to see. The beauty of a winter visit means you most likely won’t have to wait in line though as the park is much quieter. This is also the starting point for the Congress Trail mentioned above. Parking is limited in the small lot, so plan to arrive early or wait around for a spot during busy times.
Adventure on the Tokopah Falls Trail
This is one of the few trails open at Sequoia National Park in winter and is beautiful! The park newspaper says that the trail is a bit scary in some sections when the trail is icy and covered in snow, but overall this 3.74 mile trail is beautiful to hike in the winter. For those wanting to center their visit around the giant sequoias, it’s good to note that this trail has almost no sequoias. Rather, the main attraction is that the trail follows alongside the Kaweah River ending in a waterfall. I would not recommend this one for first time snowshoers or snow hikers.
For visitors looking for more of an adventure, check out the overnight camping option on the Pear Lake Winter hut hike. I wish I was this adventurous!
Snowshoe the Road to Auto Log & Moro Rock
While Moro Rock, one of the most famous hikes in the park is closed during winter, you can still hike along the road in search of Auto Log and Tunnel Log. The wide road is typically covered in snow during the winter as it is not plowed, making it the perfect place to try your hand at snowshoeing or cross country skiing. During our visit we hiked about 2.5 miles in almost to Moro Rock before turning around and heading back. It’s an easy walk if the snow isn’t too high, but can be exhausting when there aren’t well defined tracks to follow. It’s beautiful, quiet and the perfect place to socially distance!
Explore Kings Canyon
If you have the time, we highly recommend making a visit to the Kings Canyon portion of the park during your visit. Here you can visit the General Grant tree. This tree used to hold the record for the second largest tree in the world by width, but I believe that has been overtaken by The President which can be found on the Congress Trail mentioned above. Either way, this is a fabulous area to visit, another massive tree whose scale is hard to even comprehend with a variety of beautiful trails to explore. Note that some of the smaller roads like the road to Kings Canyon Panoramic Point are closed in winter.
Weather in Sequoia National Park in Winter
The weather here can range from downright cold to moderate at anytime of the winter season. During our recent visit we had chilly 32 degree mornings with warmer afternoons reaching up into the low 50s. If you visit during a snowstorm, expect even colder temperatures. As the park is located at elevations of 6000 -7000 feet, you should expect things to change quickly! Keep an eye out on the weather forecast and ask rangers if any inclement weather is expected before heading out for the day.
What to Pack for Winter in Sequoia National Park
Layers, layers, layers is what everyone always says for any winter destination and Sequoia is no different.
Waterproof Outer Layers: If you plan on doing any winter hiking, or snow play, you will want waterproof hiking pants (these are also great) and a waterproof jacket. Right after a snowstorm when snow is melting off the trees above you might get drenched!
These are the snow pants and snow jacket my son wore and loved. He was kept warm and dry even rolling around in the snow all day long. His snow boots weren’t quite as great as we had hoped! Check out sturdy types of snow boots, like these.
Warm Under Layers: Under your waterproof outer layers, make sure to have your wool thermals, wool socks and perhaps a sweater or fleece depending on the temperatures.
Winter Accessories: No matter what the temperature is like, it is always good to bring along a selection of winter accessories: a hat, waterproof gloves, and a scarf. If there is snow falling or fresh powder, considering bringing ski goggles as well to keep your eyes clear during sledding!
Snow Boots: One of the most important things to have during any winter visit to Sequoia is decent winter boots. You don’t need to get all fancy and order Sorel boots (but you can if you want!), but you will need a decent pair of boots that go up to your mid-calf if you can find them. The snow can get DEEP here! I used these snow boots during our visit and they worked well. I felt secure with the anti-slipping soles, my feet were mostly dry (except when snow slid down from the top!) and I was able to hike 3-7 miles a day in them.
Snowshoes: Depending on the snow conditions during your visit, you may want/need snowshoes. The main trails tend to get packed down relatively quickly, but if you plan to be off trail at all, snowshoes will come in handy. Trust me.. I learned the hard way by sinking in several feet of snow at every step off trail! (Note: snowshoes are not snow boots – these are different than regular boots and something you add onto your existing waterproof boots).
Crampons: This was one of our favorite purchases for our trip to Sequoia in winter. Crampons just add on to your shoes making whatever you are wearing just a bit more slip resistant! These are great if you plan to hike on packed down trails that are still covered in snow.
Hiking Poles: I really enjoyed having my lightweight hiking poles with us during the trip. They are useful to test how deep snow is, to keep your balance and to help you from sliding around. I highly recommend these poles for snow and regular hiking! There are cheaper options, but I have used these for more than 5 years from hiking the Narrows in Zion to the Andes in Ecuador.
During the 2021 winter season there are no rentals inside the park like in previous years. You will need to bring all of your own snow play gear – sleds, snowshoes, cross-country skis, etc. In other years, you can rent snowshoes from the Lodgepole Market or the Grant Grove Gift Shop on the Kings Canyon side.
Where to Stay in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in Winter
One of the first questions I am asked about visiting Sequoia National Park in winter is where to stay. Granted this was my first concern too. In normal years I might suggest staying inside the park so you can avoid driving on the windy curvy roads every day, however during COVID I highly recommend staying outside of the park where you have more flexibility in cooking your meals and keeping socially distant. Below are our top picks on places to stay inside the park as well as in Three Rivers near the Sequoia side of the park.
If you 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 hotel has been closed on/off during COVID, but is currently reopened. While social distancing measures are still being enacted, the restaurant and bar are available for take out only. 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. The main campgrounds open year round include: Potwisha Campground in the Foothills of Sequoia and Azalea Campground in Grant Grove.
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.
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