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Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks - California

These adjoining national parks in the southern Sierra Nevada are less famous (and much less crowded) than their neighbor to the north -- Yosemite. Perhaps this is because, in Yosemite, most of the scenic grandeur comes together in one small valley. In King's Canyon and Sequoia, the grandeur is just as much there, but you have to drive around this vast area to see it. And there is no canyon in Yosemite so deep as King's Canyon.

The parks are more noted for the stands of Giant Sequoia, which are also located in the surrounding Sequoia National Forest. Along with your fellow visitors, you will gaze in awe at these trees -- the largest living things on earth. In addition to the gigantic trees, the parks abound with scenic splendor: deep, wide canyons; racing mountain rivers; 14,000 foot peaks; 900 miles of trails. The two parks offer many chances for recreation, including riding, camping, and Nordic skiing.

How to Get There

The parks are accessible from two directions. The easiest road for driving is the northern route, via Highway 180, which leads from Fresno. The southern access route is Highway 198, from Visalia. The extremely steep ascent on the southern highway has many sharp switchbacks. For RV and Trailer owners, it's much easier on the nerves (and the health of you and your vehicle) to stick to the northern access road for coming and going. For people with cars and pickups, the route down the mountain from Sequoia National Park is a fine adventure.

What to See and Do

Kings Canyon National Park

Three major areas in the parks attract most visitors, and all are accessible by car. As you enter Kings Canyon National Park, from the west on Highway 180, you're quickly in Grant Grove, which was originally named General Grant National Park (in 1890), and renamed when the park was expanded in 1940. This is the home of General Grant Tree, named the "Nation's Christmas Tree" by Congress. Ceremonies are held at the tree each December.

Named El Rio de los Santos Reyes, The River of Holy Kings, by Spanish explorers, the Kings River has two forks which rage through their own canyons. Only the south canyon is easily accessible to visitors, and the King's Canyon Highway leads east to the South Fork and the Cedar Grove area. This is mountain drama of high excitement, with the South Fork descending through the Grand Canyon of the Kings. Above the 4,500 foot line, the gorge becomes a flatter glacial valley, with Cedar Grove Village situated here. The 36-mile drive to the "End of the Road" turnaround offers temptation to spending several days in this area.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park covers a vast area of High Sierra peaks and canyons, with only tiny sections accessible by car. The most popular site, the Giant Forest, is located along the General's Highway, south of Kings Canyon National Park, via a short stretch of highway that runs through Sequoia National Forest. The star of this grove is the General Sherman Tree -- the world's largest. Visitor facilities are located in this area, including the Lodgepole Visitor Center, and facilities in Giant Forest Village. Attractions in this part of the park include guided tours of Crystal Cave, an underground delight which is open during the summer months. Tickets for the tour are purchased at Lodgepole Visitor Center. There's a picnic area on Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road, 2.6 miles from Giant Forest Village. Facilities in this area are being moved and rebuilt, in keeping with the Parks Service policy of removing overnight lodges and other facilities from the most scenic areas, so it is best to phone ahead for information, and to make reservations (go to Where to Stay)

Off the Generals Highway, via a 30-mile road, is the Mineral King Area. This excursion offers a great backroad drive to an alpine valley which was the subject of intense controversy in the 1960s. Previously, the valley had been a mining region, and then a rustic vacation community, but when the Walt Disney folks got together with the Forest Service to plan a huge destination ski resort, tempers rose. Many people felt that such a small, fragile valley could not support developments on that scale. After more than a decade of acrimony -- with the Sierra Club weighing in for the battle -- Congress decided to end the issue by annexing the Mineral King area to Sequoia National Park. The unique natural beauty of the valley, with its chains of small lakes, and breathtaking views, has been preserved for all to enjoy.

Kings Canyon Trails

For panoramic views, climb the Buena Vista Trail, leading west from the Generals Highway -- the trailhead is south of Kings Canyon Overlook. This is a one-mile hike to the top of the peak, with views of the Sierra Crest, Kings Canyon, and Redwood Canyon.

The Mist Falls Trail starts near Zumwalt Meadows, in the eastern end of the Cedar Grove area. This 4-mile trail passes The Sphinx, a massive stone formation, and ends at the wispy waterfall.

For hardy hikers, the ten-mile walk along the Sugarbowl/Redwood Canyon Trail, through impressive Kings Canyon country. The hike begins on Sugarbowl Trail, connecting with Redwood Canyon Trail, passing the Hart Tree -- at 280 feet, the tallest of the Giant Sequoias -- on the Hart Tree Loop.

Sequoia Trails

From the trailhead at the Lodgepole Campground, the Tokopah Falls Trail runs through Tokopah Valley, following the flow of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River. Pear Lake Trail also begins at this campground, climbs beside Emerald Lake, and through meadows to a valley filled with small lakes.

Fine views of the Sierra peaks are available from Little Baldy, reached by a trail that starts at Baldy Saddle, along Generals Highway, 1.1 miles south of Giant Forest.

For communing with giant sequoias, you can't beat Muir Grove Trail. Start from the trailhead just beyond the Dorst Campground, north of Lodgepole. Walk for two miles through a magnificent grove of the giants.

The Mineral King area is a wonderful place to walk, with two trails available, beginning at the same trailhead near the end of Mineral King Road. Sawtooth Pass Trail leads three miles, following Monarch Creek, to Groundhog Meadow, where the trail crosses the creek and climbs through pine forest to the Monarch Lakes. Timber Gap Trail leads four miles through a red fir forest, crosses a ridge, and then enters beautiful meadow lands beside Meadow Gap Creek.

Camping in the Parks

Kings Canyon -- Grant Grove Area

Azalea, Crystal Springs, and Sunset campgrounds are found at Grant Grove. Azalea has a dump station, and groups may reserve at Sunset. Otherwise, all campgrounds are filled on a first come, first served basis.

Cedar Grove Area

Four campground are located in this area, to the east of Grant Grove, in the Kings Canyon scenic region. These are Sentinel, Sheep Creek, Canyon View, and Moraine. Canyon View takes reservations for organized groups. Sheep Creek has a dump station.

Sequoia -- Southern Foothills Area

Buckeye Flats, Potwisha, and South Fork campgrounds are found in this area, accessed by the Generals Highway. Potwisha has a dump station.

Sequoia -- Mineral King Area

Atwell and Cold Springs campgrounds are both found along Mineral King Road, west of the ranger station. No trailers are permitted at either campground.

Sequoia -- Lodgepole Area

Lodgepole and Dorst campgrounds are here -- off the Generals Highway. Both campgrounds have dump stations. Lodgepole sites can normally be booked.

Special Camping Note:

A reservations service is in effect for campsites in many national parks. For information, go to this page.

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