One Trip, Two National Parks: Sequoia and Kings Canyon
by Bethanie Hestermann
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range are two spectacular national parks that share a border—Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. Because they bump up against each other, visiting one beautiful place can very easily become visiting two beautiful places. If you enjoy taking the scenic route, gazing at huge trees and spectacular valleys, and being off the grid, then this 2-in-1 national park adventure is for you.
Get to Know Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Home to about 40 groves of giant sequoia trees, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are two separate parks administered jointly by the U.S. National Park Service. Sequoia National Park was established in September 1890 to protect the giant sequoias within its borders from logging. It’s the U.S.’s second oldest national park after Yellowstone. Sequoia is also home to the tallest mountain in the lower 48—Mt. Whitney.
Kings Canyon National Park started out as General Grant National Park but was expanded and renamed in 1940. The park’s namesake feature, the glacier-formed Kings Canyon, is the deepest canyon in North America—yep, even deeper than the Grand Canyon! John Muir once described Kings Canyon as “a rival of Yosemite,” and that’s no small compliment. And yet, compared to the more than 3.3 million visitors that flock to Yosemite each year, Sequoia and Kings Canyon accommodate closer to 1 million.
Choosing a Home Base
There are 14 campgrounds throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, as well as four lodges. Most campgrounds are seasonal, but the South Fork, Azalea, and Potwisha campgrounds are typically open year-round. There are no hookups available in the parks. Be sure to check with individual campgrounds for detailed information, including reservation requirements.
Things to See
There’s plenty to see and do on your trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Don’t miss the Giant Forest, home to the largest tree on Earth by volume—the General Sherman Tree. You can also walk through the Fallen Monarch, a fallen and hollowed out giant sequoia on the trail to the General Grant Tree, which is the second largest tree on Earth by volume.
Hiking trails within the parks will lead you alongside rivers, through meadows, and to the foot of waterfalls. Trails range from easy to multi-day and strenuous, like the High Sierra Trail, which leads from the Giant Forest to Mt. Whitney. (If you’re looking to climb Mt. Whitney, you can reach it through Sequoia/Kings Canyon, but most people start within Inyo National Forest.) For something a little different, climb Moro Rock or explore Crystal Cave (closed until 2023 due to the KNP Complex Fire). A $35 entrance fee gets private vehicles into the parks for seven days.
There’s no wrong way to experience Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, so next time you’re in East Central California, why not grab a map and go! Enjoy the winding roads and don’t forget your portable fridge, because you never know when you’ll find that next scenic view—and when you do, you will want to pull over and stay awhile.