Visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is ideal if you’re craving time in nature or need a break from the hectic city life. The adjoining reserves encompass 1,353 square miles and feature many of California’s most incredible natural attractions and are perhaps the most underrated national parks in California. From giant ancient trees to towering peaks to hidden caves, there are tons of things to do in both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
Whether you’re planning a day trip or a weekend getaway, having a Sequoia National Park travel plan is vital to ensure you experience all the highlights in the “Land of the Giants.” So, to help you plan an epic nature break, we’ve put together a guide to the top things to do in these incredible parks!
Best Things to Do in Sequoia National Park
Along with giant trees, Sequoia National Park attractions include waterfalls, meadows, huge granite rocks, and many more unique natural wonders. Have I mentioned that these parks are also stunning California destinations to visit in winter?
Admire the world’s largest tree
The General Sherman Tree is undoubtedly one of the most popular things to see in Sequoia National Park, holding the title for the biggest tree on earth by volume. The massive Sequoia is named after American army general William Sherman and stands 275 feet (83 m) tall but is still growing! The tree’s base has an impressive diameter of 36 feet (11 m), and the trunk remains wide high above the ground.
Getting to this 2,200-year-old tree isn’t difficult either. You’ll just need to follow a 0.5 mile (0.8km) trail from the General Sherman Tree Car Park near Three Rivers. The paved route is gentle most of the way, but you’ll experience a slight incline coming back up.
Drive through the fallen Sequoia Tree
Another of the most popular places to visit in Sequoia National Park is Tunnel Log, a huge sequoia that fell across a road in 1937. What’s unique about this site is how the tree has been left there, and a was tunnel carved so visitors can drive through it. You can check out this novelty attraction just past the Moro Rock turnoff on Crescent Meadow Road.
Climb a granite dome
The massive Moro Rock is an iconic sight that you will see upon entering Sequoia National Park. While it’s incredible to admire from below, climbing up to the peak is one of the most popular Sequoia National Park activities.
To reach the rock, you’ll have to climb over 300 stairs, but it is totally worth it. The views from the top are magnificent, allowing you to see above the forest’s canopy and as far out as the Great Western Divide. While it may not look like the safest attraction from ground levels, handrails go all the way up and surround the viewing platform, too.
Hike to Tokopah Falls
Lush forests and massive peaks are incredible. However, if you’re a fan of water attractions, you’ll love Tokopah Falls. This waterfall is particularly marvelous if you’re visiting during the Spring or early summer when water is abundant. The 1,200 feet high waterfall sits over granite cliffs, and you can access it via an easy 1.7-mile (2.7km) trail that follows the thundering Kaweah River.
Here you will find several lovely swimming holes to refresh in, making it a wonderful place to go hiking in Sequoia park during the summer. The waterfall is located in Lodgepole Village, and there’s a picnic area close to the trailhead where you can enjoy a packed lunch afterward.
Enjoy a picnic in Crescent Meadow
Crescent Meadow is one of the most peaceful and prettiest places to go in Sequoia National Park. Located next to Moro Rock, Crescent Meadow features a lovely picnic area and a short 1.7-mile (2.7km) loop trail that passes through the forests before opening out to the green meadow.
The picturesque area is full of lush trees and colorful flowers, and it’s also an excellent place to spot some of the park’s native wildlife. As you’re tucking into your lunch, you may see deer, coyotes, or even black bears. Another fantastic sight is Tharp’s Log, a cabin made out of a fallen sequoia tree.
Explore Sequoia’s hidden cave
A cave is not something you would expect to find in Sequoia. Still, the majestic Crystal Cave is a Sequoia National Park must-see for anyone visiting the area. Unfortunately, you can’t enter the cave on your own, so you’ll need to book a tour to go inside. You can then explore the marble cavern with your guide, following a half-mile loop.
The tour takes around 45 minutes, and you’ll see some impressive natural sights like stalactites and stalagmites. You’ll find Crystal Cave just off Generals Highway between the Ash Mountain entrance and Giant Forest. However, note that the cave is only open during the summer.
Sleep under the stars
For a truly unique experience, spend a night in the national park. You can pitch a tent at the 214-site Lodgepole Campground and spend the evening star gazing, toasting marshmallows on the campfire, and listening to the sounds of wildlife. The campground is just two miles from the Giant Forest and is situated on the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River.
There is a camp store and an arena where rangers lead campfire talks on specific dates. Camping is best during the summer when the weather is the most pleasant. This is because Lodgepole has an elevation of 6,700 ft (2,042 m), so spring and fall can be chilly and snowy.
Best Things to Do in Kings Canyon National Park
For awesome things to do near Sequoia National Park, check out the sights and attractions in Kings Canyon. From scenic drives to breathtaking viewpoints, Sequoia’s next-door park is just as impressive.
Hike the Big Baldy Ridge Trail
One of the most popular things to do in Kings Canyon National Park is to hike the Big Baldy Ridge Trail. You’ll need to plan around 3 hours for this 6.4-mile (10km) hike and wear high-quality hiking boots as there is quite a strenuous incline.
It’s certainly not one of the most relaxing things to do, but the effort is well worth it, promise! The view from the ridge is breathtaking with 360-degree vistas, allowing you to see the most significant peaks and as far out to the Great Western Divide.
Watch the sunset/sunrise at Panoramic Point
While Kings Canyon offers many outstanding viewpoints, none can compete with watching the sunrise or set at Panoramic Point. The 7,520-foot high view is close to Grant Grove Village, a 2-mile drive from John Muir Lodge. The drive up to Panoramic Point is also incredibly scenic but be warned, the roads are narrow and winding.
The east view is the best from here, making it the perfect spot to catch the sun rising over the horizon. However, if you cannot make it here in the early morning, come for sunset instead, when you can admire the changing colors of the sky illuminating the surroundings.
Check out Roaring River Falls
Roaring River Falls is one of the most popular places to see in Kings Canyon National Park as it’s one of the more scenic falls and is easy to access. You can reach it via a paved 0.3-mile (0.5-km) trail, a short drive from Cedar Grove.
While the waterfall is small, it’s a magnificent sight during the summer to see the water cascading over granite monoliths and gushing into the rock pool below. It’s suitable for swimming, and the mighty falls create a refreshing mist.
Go horseback riding
If you want to give your feet a rest after all the hiking, why not take a guided horse ride through the national park instead? There are two stables within Kings Canyon that offer guided rides for up to 6 people.
Grant Grove Stables take visitors through General Grant Tree, North Grove, Lion Meadow, and Dead Giant Loop. Alternatively, the Cedar Grove Pack station follows routes along the Kings Canyon River and around the Cedar Grove area.
Drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
While hiking in Kings Canyon National Park is the most popular activity, Kings Canyon boasts an incredibly scenic byway giving incredible vistas of the vast granite cliffs. The epic 50-mile highway spans various elevations, going 6,500-feet-high into the mountains and far down into Kings River.
The drive will take between 2 and 3 hours, depending on your number of stop-offs. You’ll pass many of the park’s top attractions like the General Grant Tree, the second largest sequoia tree, and Boyden Cavern, which lies 2,000 feet below the Canyon.