Sequoia National Park and National Forest

Sequoia National Park and National Forest

In the middle of California lie the largest living organisms in the world.  The Sequoia trees are massive, easily coming in at nine times the mass of a blue blue whale.  The two adjacent areas – Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest – have amazing groves of sequoias for the family to see!  Anyone visiting California should consider stopping bye to see these amazing giants!

Within these parks, you will see large canyons and giant trees, groves of sequoias, diverse plants and wildlife. Given the size, at any given time of the year you might see snow tipped peaks at the higher levels of elevation with steep highways that take you back down through sunny foothills.  

How to Get There

Getting to the National Forest is going to change based on where visitors are coming from and what season it is.

  1. Visitors can take Highway 198 to the Ash Mountain Entrance, but this is not recommended for any vehicle longer than 22 feet.
  2. Highway 180 enters the Kings Canyon National Park entrance from the west. This is a straighter road perfect for those worried about winding roads or with longer vehicles.
  3. Two miles before the Ash Mountain entrance is the Lookout Point Entrance which takes you to the remote Mineral King region.

There are additional entrances from the South, for visitors from San Diego or Los Angeles. The map below indicates the various entrances to the park and forest

map of sequoia national park and national forest

Camping

The National Park has 14 camp grounds, three of which are open all year round. Most of them are a first-come, first-serve site. All camp sites have picnic tables, fire rings with grills, and metal food storage boxes. Campground reservations are available for those who want to stay overnight, but visitors must make a reservation at Recreation.gov up to six months in advance of your stay. There are group sites that have extra parking, picnic tables, and camping amenities for larger groups. Visitors who camp must be aware that bears are active 24 hours. This requires approved food storage boxes to mask the scent of all food and trash. Camping is limited to 30 days total per year for the park, and no more than 14 days during the summer months. The opening and closing times for each camp ground might change due to weather or fire. If visitors are camping or just visiting for the day, they must be aware that drought and beetle damage can cause trees and branches to fall, especially during the summer. Visitors should listen for and be cognizant of falling trees, which can fall at any time. Likewise, even a falling pine cone from a high tree can pose a threat, as can rocks that tumble from overhead. One should look out for such hazards when setting up a camp site or a picnic. Fleas from rodents can carry diseases like hantavirus or plague so one should never walk or camp near rodents nor let pets near them. Visitors should never touch or feed animals, or touch dead animals.

What To Bring

Visitors should bring water, sunscreen, and a camelbak and dayback as a minimum. Campers should bring a tent and appropriate sleeping bag. Finally, climbers should bring appropriate climbing gear. Bringing food is okay, although all food must be properly stored in bear proof storage.

Activities

  • Ranger Programs are available for anyone who wants a demonstration, a walk around guided paths, or has questions. Visitors can join a Ranger for a special program during the day.
  • The Visitors Centers and museums have everything you would need to plan your trip, complete with exhibits to explore, as well as park stores where souvenirs can be purchased.
  • Sequoia Groves can be explored from the comfort of your car or on foot. The giant sequoias can be enjoyed on day hikes and more.
  • On that note, day hikes allow for a unique opportunity to explore the wilderness on foot, wander through the sequoia groves, and see wildlife.
  • For those with more time, backpacking and camping are great things to do as well. Backpacking can be done along the roads less traveled.
  • For those who want to stay in their cars, there are drives and viewpoints designed to optimize your time. Traveling along the Generals Highway and the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway are both full of chances to pull over, stretch, and take in the sights.
  • Any families with children should stop by and enjoy Junior Ranger Day which is complete with activities for each age group. Participation earns a free patch.
  • Native American cultural celebrations take place throughout the year where participants can engage in a cultural blessing, listen to traditional drumming, or learn Native American crafts.
  • Anyone who has an evening to spare should participate in the annual Dark Sky Festival which takes place at night and allows a chance to see the full moon in all its glory.
  • Climbers should climb Moro Rock, which is a stone stairway that climbs that granite dome inside of the Giant Forest. Once you reach the top you can enjoy views of the wilderness and hills.
  • Crystal Cave is a separate activity which requires tickets from the Sequoia Parks Conservancy, but gives you a chance to go underground and explore the natural caves.
  • In the winter there are chances to ski and travel the trails with snowshoes.
  • Once the weather clears, visitors can bring climbing gear and start climbing the granite cliffs and domes throughout the park.
  • If you don’t want to use your own legs, then climb on a horse and take a guided horseback ride through the park.

Fees and Permits

If you plan to stay overnight you will need a wilderness permit which you can get outside the visitors centers or permit stations outside the quota season. During the quota season (high tourism season) you will need to fill out an application and pick up your permit in person from the permitting desk. The cost is $10 plus an additional $5 per person within the quota season. Day hikes do not require wilderness permits.

Entrance to the parks for a vehicle is $35 and it is valid between 1 and 7 days. If you are on foot or have a bike, it is $20 per person. You can arrange for groups of 16 or more if you are using a large bus. Motorcycles, scooters, or similar sized motorized vehicles are $30. Annual passes are $60.  

Summer Traffic

During the summer, especially weekends and holidays, there are long lines of cars just to enter the park, let alone to find parking. With limited spaces, you might very well be waiting for hours. You can expedite this issue if you have money ready ahead of time, buy a pass online, come early in the day, and avoid road construction delays by reviewing the National Park Service updates on construction areas. Be aware that high traffic might result in rangers diverting you to a parking area other than the one you wanted. Just be prepared to wander on foot some of the way if you are not just driving through.

Summer Shuttle

During the summer there is a Sequoia Shuttle which goes from Visalia to the Giant Forest. It costs $15 and includes your entrance to the park. You will need to make reservations. Once you are inside the park, you can take free shuttles from the Giant Forest to Dorst Campground, Lodgepole, and Wuksachi campgrounds and back. The shuttles are free and run between 8 am and 6pm during the summer. This helps reduce road congestion.

Hiking

There are a multitude of hiking trails and camping grounds in the park. Again, one should take care to stay hydrated and avoid heat exhaustion while partaking in these activities.  This great page by hikespeak.com contains information on 21 amazing hiking trails for visitors to Sequoia National Park.  This includes maps, elevation information, distances, photos, and trail ratings. Similarly, this page by hikerspeak.com contains information on 5 hikes in Sequoia National Forest.

Weather

Weather.com provides up to date information on the weather at the park. The National Park Service gives generic information on the weather patterns in the park:

The weather tends to vary based on the time of year as well as the elevation. The lower elevations tend to be hot and dry in the summer and mild and wet in the winter. Highs in July and August can reach close to 100 degrees. Weather tends to be less extreme around the Sequoia groves.

Because of the potential for hot and dry conditions, there are fire warnings that change regularly. Visitors must be cognizant of the no fire rules and make sure food is only cooked in approved areas.

During the rest of the year it is important that visitors pack accordingly. Review local weather updates on the National Park site before heading out and be sure to wear layers in cooler months, with adequate protection against cold and rain, with ample sunscreen, hats, and water during the summer months.

Food and Restaurants

There are multiple great dining opportunities within both Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest. The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge is open from 7:30 AM to 10 AM, 11 AM to 2:30 AM, and 5 PM to 9 PM. A quick eight minute drive is the Lodgepole Cafe which offers various quick meals for visitors. Thirty minutes Northwest of these restaurants is the Montecito Sequoia Buffet. Breakfast is from 7:30 AM to 9:00 AM. Lunch is 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM (or 1:30 PM in the summer). Dinner is from 6:00 PM (or 5:30 PM in the summer) to 7:30 PM (or 7:00 PM in the summer). 10 minutes away from the Montecito Sequoia Buffet is the Restaurant at the Stony Creek Lodge, which serves pizza.

Plant Life

Sequoia National Park has a diverse platelet of plant life which varies between the various ecological zones within the Park. The National Park Service details four major zones in which differing varieties of plant life grow. The foothills are dominanted by non-native grasses, oak, and shrubbery. At higher elevations, in the mantane forests, are various conifers of different species. Amongst these species is the Sequoia, the namesake for the Park and forest and the most massive tree species in the world. Most visitors of the park spend a majority of the time in this environment. Slightly higher is the subalpine forest, where sparse pines slowly become less and less common closer to treeline. At alpine altitudes, only small flowering plants are able to survive. At this altitude, most of the ground consists of nothing more than bare rock.

Wildlife

The National Park Service provides information on the different kinds of animals which inhabit the park. As the websites shows, the type of animal tends to depend on what part of the park visitors are staying in. Most animals tend to be small, although black bears, bighorn sheep, deer, and mountain lions are known to exist in the park. The foothills have gray fox, bobcat, bears, and sankes. At mid level elevations there are mule deer, bear, and mountain lions. At high elevations, smaller animals tend to dominate. It is advised to travel in groups and to use common sense when visisting the park. As mentioned below, food must be properly stored to prevent scavenging by bears.

Bear Storage

If food is left unattended or in your car, there is a high likelihood a black bear will break into the vehicle. Failure to properly store food can lead to fines. There are metal food storage boxes in parking areas and camp sites for anything with a scent—not just food. This includes:

  • Garbage
  • Recyclables
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • first-aid kits
  • baby wipes
  • lotion
  • hairspray
  • scented tissue
  • air freshener
  • pet food
  • insect repellent
  • tobacco products
  • baby car-seats
  • window cleaner

Ice chests, cans, bottles, and grocery bags must also be stored because bears have learned to recognize them as potential food sources.

Operating Hours and Visitor Centers

Barring weather related closures, the park is open 24 hours a day, all year long. The various visitor centers, on the other hand, have standard hours which are published on this website.

Cellphone Access

Since Sequoia is located miles away from major metropolitan centers, cell phone access varies from patchy to nonexistent. According to the website whistleout.com, Sprint largely has no coverage in the park. AT&T has some 3G coverage in Sequoia National Forest, while T-Mobile has 4G coverage in a similar area. Verizon has 4G access in about 40% of Sequoia National Forest as well as Sequoia National Park.  Visitors should understand that they may not be able to make calls or use data depending on where they are an what carrier they are using.  With this in mind, visitors should let others know of their itinerary and travel plans beforehand as a safety measure.

When you visit the park you will find a great many activities at your disposal thanks to the diverse landscape offered. You can find adventure in whatever level of difficulty you prefer.  Regarding the activities mentioned, weather changes can inhibit safety so visitors should read National Park Service safety updates prior to departing.

Places to Go

Given the large expanse and interconnectedness of Sequoia and Kings Canyon, stop by the Giant Forest first.

sequoias

At the Giant Forest museum, learn about the natural history of giant sequoias. The General Sherman Tree, the largest living tree in the world, is located here. Hiking trails abound through meadows and sequoia groves. Moro Tock, the High Sierra Trail and, and Tunnel Log are here. There is an easy hike here for those in wheelchairs or with families, the Big Trees Trail.

general sherman sequoia tree
General Sherman – the largest tree on Earth, Sequoia National Park.

At Grant Grove you can enjoy day hiking and see the Big Stump Grove which contains a sequoia logged in the 1880’s.

The Grant Tree Trail

The Grant Tree Trail will take visitors to the General Grant Tree, the second biggest living tree in the world. It also provides access to the Panoramic Point Trail. At its elevation, it is warm during the day but cool at night. There are great picnic areas here and perfect spots for snow play during wintertime.

Cedar Grove features tumbling waterfalls, towering cliffs, and beautiful rock formations: Grant Sentinel and North Dome. There are many wilderness trails here through the meadows below and up the rim of the canyon.

general grant sequoia tree

Hiking trails are available for all levels of difficulty, fit for people visiting for the day and those camping long term. The Cedar Grove Visitor Center is where any Ranger led activities start . It is also the location for a permit station is for wilderness permits. There is a snack shop and showers inside Cedar Grove Village. You will also find the Pack Station here for those interested in taking single hour or multi hour horseback rides.

Mineral King Valley is the highest place you can access by car. It has a mix of sequoia, fir, and pine trees. It also features the Mineral King Trail.

External Links

Alerts and Conditions for Sequoia National Park

Want to learn more about Sequoia National Park?  Visit the National Park Service website here!

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