Julie United States 44 Comments

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks sit side by side in central California. Filled with alpine peaks, deep canyons, and the largest trees in the world, you could spend several days here. However, if you only have one day, you have just enough time to visit the highlights of both parks.

We visited Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park on a road trip through California. Our day started in Mariposa, located just outside of Yosemite National Park. In the morning, we drove south to Kings Canyon, spent the day exploring both parks, and ended in a small, nearby town. Here is our one day itinerary for Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

 

One Day in Kings Canyon & Sequoia NP

  • 9:00 am:  Arrive no later than 9:00 to Kings Canyon. Even earlier is better.
  • 9:00 am – 1:00 pm:  General Grant Grove, Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, and Zumwalt Meadows
  • 1:00 pm:  Lunch at Grant Grove Village
  • 2:00 pm:  Drive Generals Highway into Sequoia National Park
  • 2:30 – 3:30 pm:  General Sherman Tree, Giant Forest
  • 3:30 – 6:00 pm:  Moro Rock, Tunnel Log, and Crescent Meadows

Kings Canyon

There are two main sections to Kings Canyon: General Grant Grove and Cedar Grove/Zumwalt Meadows. General Grant Grove is home to the largest sequoia trees in Kings Canyon, including General Grant, the second largest tree in the world. Cedar Grove and Zumwalt Meadows are located in the valley of Kings Canyon. This is a gorgeous place to visit and for those who want to explore the backcountry of Kings Canyon, this area is the jumping off point.

General Grant Grove

The only vehicular entrance into Kings Canyon is at the west side of the park near General Grant Grove. For us, it was a 2.5-hour drive from Mariposa to get here. We started very early in the day (leaving at 6:30 am from our hotel) in order to maximize our time to explore both parks.

General Grant Grove is located just beyond the entrance to Kings Canyon. The General Grant tree is the world’s second largest tree. Walk the 0.3-mile loop and feel tiny as you stand next to these giants.

General Grant Grove

General Grant Tree

Grant Grove

The General Grant tree is also known as the nation’s Christmas tree. On the second Sunday of December, you can “Trek to the Tree,” an annual Christmas celebration in the park.

Kings Canyon Panoramic Point

After Grant Grove, we crossed Highway 180 and drove on a very narrow and very curvy road to Kings Canyon Panoramic Point. It takes about 30 minutes of driving round trip to get to this point and enjoy the view.

Kings Canyon Panoramic Overlook

Is it worth it? It’s a nice view but it is skippable if you just want to move on to the more popular sites.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is Highway 180. It is 50 miles long, starting at the Hume Lake Ranger District (located east of Kings Canyon, outside of the park) to Cedar Grove.

The drive from Grant Grove to Zumwalt Meadows on this road is 30 miles long and takes between 45 minutes and an hour. It is a beautiful drive, but don’t expect the wide, awe-inspiring panoramas you would see at Yosemite or Yellowstone. The road winds along the mountains, descending down into Kings Canyon. There are several spots for photos at the scenic overlooks.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

Travel Tip #1: This is a very, very windy road. If you suffer from motion sickness, make sure you take your Dramamine or anti-nausea medication before starting this drive.

Travel Tip #2: The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is only open from mid-May through mid-October.

Zumwalt Meadows and Cedar Grove

At the end of the Scenic Byway is a parking area. Get out, stretch your legs, and go for an easy walk. There is a flat walking trail into the Zumwalt Meadows. You are now down in the heart of Kings Canyon, with the mountains looming overhead.

Zumwalt Meadows Trail Kings Canyon and Sequoia

Zumwalt Meadows Kings Canyon and Sequoia

Nearby, you can also visit Grizzly Falls, located just off the road near Cedar Grove.

From Zumwalt Meadows, travel back along the Scenic Byway. Next up is Sequoia National Park.


Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is home to the General Sherman tree, the largest tree in the world. Did you know that Sequoia National Park is also home to Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States?

Sequoia National Park is the more popular of the two parks. During the summer months, expect to share the views with lots of people. These giant trees attract quite the crowd.

To get to Sequoia National Park from Kings Canyon, drive south past Grant Grove and follow the signs for Sequoia National Park. Now you will be driving on Generals Highway, the scenic road that connects the two parks together.

The drive from Zumwalt Meadows in Kings Canyon to our first stop in Sequoia, the General Sherman tree, takes 1.5 to 2 hours (63 miles). Along the way, you can stop at the Grant Grove Restaurant (Kings Canyon) or at the Lodgepole Deli (Sequoia) for lunch.

General Sherman Tree

The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree, by volume. It is 275 feet tall (almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty) and has been growing for 2,300 to 2,700 years. Just think about how much human history has taken place during this one tree’s lifetime.

General Sherman Tree

The General Sherman Tree is located in the Giant Forest. There are many giant sequoias here, but finding the General Sherman is easy. Not only is the General Sherman massive in size, it will also be the tree with a crowd of people standing around it.

Sequoia in July

Walk the General Sherman Trail, a short walking trail that wanders through this grove of giant trees.

Sequoia National Park

Tyler Kara Tim in Sequoia

Huge Tree TrunkTyler and Kara Kings Canyon and Sequoia

If you want to explore further, walk the Congress Loop, a 2-mile loop that heads further into the forest.

Moro Rock

Moro Rock is a short but strenuous climb to a fabulous viewpoint in Sequoia National Park. This is well worth the effort.

To get to the top, you will climb 400 steps (0.6 miles round trip) to the summit of a granite dome. For us, this was our favorite viewpoint of the day.

Moro Rock Hike Kings Canyon and Sequoia

Moro Rock

View from Moro Rock Kings Canyon and Sequoia

Getting here: On weekdays, you can drive directly to Moro Rock on Crescent Meadow Road, but parking is limited. Consider taking the free shuttle from the Giant Forest Museum. On weekends and holidays, the road is closed to private vehicles and the only way to get here is via the shuttle. During the winter months, the road is closed, so the only way to get to Moro Rock is by hiking the 2 miles to it from the Giant Forest Museum.

Tunnel Log

Tunnel Log is a passageway that was carved into a fallen sequoia tree. Visitors to the park can drive through this tunnel, but only on weekdays when Crescent Meadow Road is open. We were here on a Saturday so we had to take the shuttle. During our visit, the shuttle drove right past Tunnel Log so we could only see it on a drive-by.

You do have the option to walk here from Moro Rock. It is a 0.75-mile walk one way and should take about 15 minutes to get there.

Crescent Meadow

Crescent Meadow is a quiet meadow located at the end of Crescent Meadow Road. There is a 2-mile leisurely walk (Crescent Meadow Loop) through alpine forests and a meadow filled with wildflowers during the summer months.

Crystal Cave

Go underground and explore this marble cavern. To visit Crystal Cave, you can only do so on a tour. Tours last 50 minutes and cost $16 for adults and $8 for children. Tours are only offered from the end of May through the end of September.

We skipped Crystal Cave. To get here, it is one hour of driving round trip from the Giant Forest Museum. Add in the time for the tour and this little excursion takes about half of a day. For us, the thought of walking through a cave on a guided tour sounded uninteresting. With the limited time we had, we would rather wander among the giant sequoia trees and explore Kings Canyon.

Even though we didn’t do it, I still wanted to include Crystal Cave in this post since this is a popular spot to visit in Sequoia National Park.

Learn more about Crystal Cave.

Exit the Park

From Moro Rock, we drove south on Generals Highway, exited Sequoia National Park, and drove to Visalia. Visalia is a good-sized Californian town with lots of options for accommodations and restaurants. We stayed at the brand new Holiday Inn Express.

Another place to consider is Three Rivers. This town is a short drive from southern entrance to Sequoia National Park. It’s a very small town with limited options for accommodations and restaurants, but it is close to the park entrance.


Things to Know Before You Go

Park Entrance Fee

The National Park Service charges $35 for a vehicle pass. This fee includes both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park and is valid for up to 7 days. To save time at the entrance, you can purchase your ticket online in advance.

Hours of Operation

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are open 24 hours a day 365 days per year. However, road closures due to snow will limit access to several areas of the park from October through May.

Be Prepared for Crowds

In this itinerary, the most crowded spots will be the General Sherman Tree, the General Grant Tree, and Moro Rock. During our visit on a Saturday in July, parking in Sequoia National Park was extremely limited. We found a parking spot on the side of Generals Highway and had to walk up to the Giant Forest and to the shuttle for Moro Rock.

The National Park Service operates a shuttle in Sequoia National Park. This shuttle connects Moro Rock, the Giant Forest Museum, and the General Sherman tree for free. Learn more about the shuttle service here.

To avoid the worst of the crowds, especially during the summer months, it helps to get an early start to the day (7 am is ideal). By 9 am, Kings Canyon and Sequoia are filling with people. The earlier you get here, the more you can do crowd-free.


Are you going to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks? If you have any questions, comment below.

More Information for Your Trip to California:

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Comments 44

  1. The hike to Mist Falls is an absolute must. I would add it to the itinerary and remove something else. My two cents, love your posts!!

  2. Any suggestion on staying inside park Cabins or outside like Visalia hotels as mentioned? Though, I checked the pricing and it bit higher than the hotel outside the park. We’re planing a family trip during 2nd week of July.

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      Author

      For us, staying in Visalia was convenient, since hotels were a little cheaper and there was a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. Sometimes, the hotels and lodges in the national parks can be nice, and at other times, not so nice. Unfortunately, I do not know what kind of reviews the cabins get. Cheers, Julie

  3. Hey! I love this itinerary! A friend and I were going to try it but we’ll be starting at the coast with the goal to end(a few days later) in San Francisco. Could you use this itinerary backwards and start at the entrance to Sequoia NP and end at the entrance to Kings Canyon?

    *I’m from TN, so I’m sorry if this is a dumb question! 🙂

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      Author

      Hello Shelby from Tennessee. This is not a dumb question. 😊 Yes, you can do this in reverse order. If you get into the park early, 9 am or earlier, you should be able to see the General Sherman tree and walk through the Giant Forest with low crowds (you could do this first and then go to Moro Rock). That will be an advantage. Before you go, check the national park service website for updates. We are looking to visit Rocky Mountain National Park this summer and this park is making reservations mandatory and will only be running at 60% capacity. That doesn’t mean that Sequoia and Kings Canyon will be doing this, but it is something to be aware of. I hope you have a great road trip! Cheers, Julie

  4. love your blog! super helpful. we would like to do something like this with kings canyon and sequoia in mid May, however it would have to be while towing our 23 ft airstream. do you think that’s feasible on the roads and parking situation?

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      Author

      I don’t think that driving these roads will be an issue. Your issue will be parking. Even with a small SUV, we had trouble finding a place to park once in Sequoia National Park. It might also be an issue at Zumwalt Meadows. Is there a chance that you can leave your Airstream outside of the parks and return to it at the end of the day?

    2. Hello Emily,
      Although you may have already completed your trip I wanted to chime in to let other readers know that there is a 22 foot vehicle length restriction for the Moro Rock/Tunnel Log/Crescent Meadow portion of this itinerary and that vehicles beyond that length cannot enter the park via Highway 198 (Sequoia entrance) due to the narrow, winding nature of the road. They must enter and exit the park via Highway 180 (Kings Canyon entrance). You can park vehicles that are over 22 ft at the Giant Forest Museum and explore the Giant Forest area by foot which is an absolutely lovely option! With that said THIS ITINERARY IS AWESOME! I would add a little more time to account for stopping at the many scenic lookouts but this really is a great line up! Thanks Julie for creating such a great resource for information!
      -Krista, Sequoia Guides

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      2. Hi Krista,
        Thank you for adding your note about HWY 198. with a vehicle larger then 22′ (in our case 33′) how did you get to Moro and the Tunnel? With Covid I believe all the shuttles are not running but can’t find any information as the visitor centers are closed.

        And Julie, this is a great site, thank you for putting it together.
        Richard

  5. Heading there today! Looking forward to this trip, we will be following most of your “One Day Itinerary.”
    This blog was exactly what I was looking for. I will check out the one for the Grand Tetons/Yellowstone/Glacier Park next.

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      Author
      1. The weather was perfect! Upper 40s/50s depending upon the elevation. The park was not really very crowded, except for General Sherman Tree, and that wasn’t too bad. There was a small line to get a photo in front of the sign. You could drive down to Hume Lake, but the ranger recommended not driving the rest of the Scenic Byway due to the snow. So we parked and got out, it was very peaceful, only a few people there. A good place to rest and just appreciate nature. The driveway/parking lot for Moro Rock was closed, so we skipped it.
        Also, I instant messaged the park through Facebook about the weather, and they replied back within a couple of hours.
        Have a great trip!
        DeAnna

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      Author

      I am not sure. Usually, dogs are not allowed in national parks. You can check the national park website for more information.

  6. This is exactly what I was looking for! Have very indecisive friends coming in for a visit and your blogs have been very informative. Thank You!! Will be doing much of what you say for Kings Canyon and Sequoia as well as in Yosemite….again thank you!

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      Author

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