Long before exploration and settlement of the Golden Coast of California, the Sierra Nevada mountains were home to the Monache tribes. These indigenous peoples travelled through the Great Basin hunting, crossing mountain passes, and creating settlements. The first American exploration of the mountain range began in 1827 and the Sierra Nevadas were never the same. The first Americans to visit the mountains were led by fur trapper Jedediah Smith. His fellow travelers crossed north of the Yosemite area in May 1827, at Ebbett’s Pass.
As early as 1864 it was clear this magical mountain terrain would attract many visitors. But as more people explored, more damage was done to the ecosystem. The massive granite walls of the famous Yosemite Valley were the first to be protected by the federal government. The conservation did not end there. Arguably the father of the wilderness, John Muir, fought hard to stop the overgrazing by sheep and logging of Giant Sequoia in the Sierras. Muir brought President Teddy Roosevelt on outdoor expeditions to successfully lobby for the protection of the rest of Yosemite National Park. A feat accomplished in 1890. In the same year, Sequoia National Park was formed to protect the Giant Sequoias. And in happy news, all logging of the Sequoias ceased at that time.
Kings Canyon National Park was formed in 1940 to protect the deep canyon of the Kings River. A short three years later these two parks were joined to be managed as one. The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are 1,353 square miles with elevation ranges from 1,000 feet above sea level to the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet in elevation. Adventure truly lives here for all visitors.
When you think of The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks the first thing most likely to pop to mind are the tall, majestic locals. The Sequoias. These massive giants grow, on average, to more than 30 feet in width and over 250 feet in height. The Redwoods grow at a speedy rate of two feet in height per year throughout its first fifty to one hundred years. And if the sheer size of these trees don’t stop your breath, the age and wisdom of them certainly will. Some of the trees, experts have determined, live to the age of 2,000 years. The average age of mature trees is from about 800 to 1,500 years. Sierra Redwoods are the world’s oldest trees.
Want to see them in person? Here are the best Sequoia immersing hikes:
- General Sherman Tree: This paved one mile hike is extremely accessible and popular. Why so popular? The General Sherman Tree is the largest sequoia in the world. Measurements are 275 feet tall and 36.5 feet across at the base. The General Sherman Tree is believed to be 2,200 years old and weigh 1,385 tons. You definitely have to see it in person to believe it!
- Big Trees Trail: This loop is approximately 1.5 miles in length as it weaves around Round Meadow. Since the trail starts at the Giant Forest Museum you can easily add some interactive education to this hike.
- Hockett Trail: A 3-mile out and back trail takes you through the shaded forest to a footbridge that crosses the East Fork of the Kaweah River. Right past this river crossing is where the real collection of ancient sequoias dwell at the East Grove which will add 2 more miles to your hike. Bears are known to frequent here so maybe you can see a cub or two!
Once you have been lost in the forest of giants you may want to climb a mountain or two. Here in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are some of the most incredible mountain ranges you’ll see. The crowning jewel is definitely Mount Whitney. The highest mountain in the lower 48 states, many outdoor adventure lovers train for years to be able to summit it. Now this alpine hike is difficult, dangerous, and has snow obstacles all year round. Not quite ready for that? Here are some other beautiful mountain hikes for all levels:
- Mono Rock: This hike is just over half a mile but not for those afraid of heights. 350 granite steps take you up to the most picturesque views of the entire park.
- Marble Falls: This 8-mile trail takes you past vibrant waterfalls to a seventy foot waterfall. Gorgeous white marble is how this falls got its name. A lovely hike worth the length and difficulty.
- Mount Gould Trail: 9 miles in length and almost 4,000 feet in elevation gain, this is definitely a work-for-views adventure. This amazing climb will overwhelm you with stunning views and leave you feeling quite accomplished once finished. Not for the beginner hiker, I should note.
Where To Stay
If you visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks you must stay more than just a day. With the vast diversity of areas and sheer size of the parks there is just too much to pack in. Here are places to lay your head from camping to resorts:
- Campgrounds: There are 14 campgrounds in the combined National Parks, only three of which are open year-round. Each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and a metal food-storage bear box that is vital to protect yourself and the wildlife. Favorites are Lodgepole Campground that is surrounded by pines, Azalea Campground that is the only one in Kings Canyon that is open year round, and the Sentinel Campground that is close to the Cedar Grove Visitors Center and Village. All campgrounds require reservations prior.
- In the National Parks: Have you ever wanted to stay inside the park? Well you can! The Wuksachi Lodge was built in 1999 and boasts of being Sequoia’s signature hotel. All rooms have the classic cedar and stone vibe with features such as private baths and ski racks for winter sports. The John Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Cabins are located inside Kings Canyon National Park, and you can walk to see the General Grant Tree from your room. Both cabin resorts have hard-sided or tent-cabin options available. Lastly, is the Cedar Grove Lodge which is located in the heart of Kings Canyon National Park at Cedar Grove. This seasonal lodge is open May through mid-October and gives access to North Dome, Grand Sentinel, Zumwalt Meadow, Roaring Falls, and Muir Rock.
- Nearby: Looking for some more budget friendly options? Best Western Plus Frontier Motel is just outside the park in the quaint town of Lone Pine. Plus this hotel has gorgeous views of Mount Whitney. The River Inn and Cabins is on the west side of the park in the area of Three Rivers. Although not the fanciest place it is close to Sequoia National Park entrance and very affordable.
National Park Tips
- Get a National Parks Pass if you plan on visiting multiple parks over the course of the year. For $80 you’ll get free admission to most parks.
- Current military members and dependents can get a free annual pass at a federal recreation site with a valid Military ID.
- 4th Graders are eligible for the Every Kid IN A park Program, gifting them a free annual pass for the school year through the following summer (September-August).
- If you’re taking the kids, participate in the Junior Ranger programs. In addition to learning about the park and its history, they’ll have a souvenir and memories to take home that they’ll be proud to tell about.
The Sequoia and Kings National Park is truly a special place for me and my family. An oasis of grand giant trees and breathtaking mountains just kissing the clouds. No matter what you choose to do it promises to be a memory crafting experience for the entire family!
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus