Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, California | Travel Tips & Stories Galore!

Updated: May 2, 2020 (This update was huuuuuuge)

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Our Perspective

Very simply said, we highly recommend visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Each of us thoroughly enjoyed our stay and would love to go back if we are ever in the area. The experiences we had were full of adventure, confusion, scary and not so scary moments, relaxation and self-reflection. The quiet forest is not short on places where one can find himself totally secluded from the outside world. In fact, you can almost completely forget about cell service. Although this can be intimidating, we both agree that the loss of connection to the modern world reignites our connection to the natural world; something that everyone needs from time to time. If you have never been, you would be doing yourself a favor to go and have your own adventures among the enormous Sequoia trees.

He Said

This place has been on my bucket list since the day I first learned about giant Sequoia trees, which can only be found in this region. The years of hype did not disappoint. In fact, I was even more in awe by these massive beautiful beasts than I ever could have imagined. There were a few tense moments on this trip (getting lost in the forest multiple times, finding fresh bear crap and ascending/descending a steep snow-covered hillside), but the adversity only helped me appreciate the unforgiving beauty even more. Sequoia National Park is one place that I can safely recommend to anyone, even if you’re not the biggest fan of nature. Walking among these thousand-year old giants is something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

She Said

Our trip to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks turned out to be quite adventurous. There are two situations that I remember better than I’d like to. We covered one of them further down in this article under the “funny story” section. So, if you would like to read about what all can happen when driving on curvy, narrow mountain roads, you should go ahead and read it. The second story deals with us getting lost in the woods and the fact that you shouldn’t take trails in the middle of nowhere that are obviously inaccessible. Why? Because we did that and it ended up being a total disaster. Read the detailed story further down in our “how to not get lost” section.

Nevertheless, these horrifying experiences couldn’t ruin the amazing area where our cabin was located. We were in the middle of the Sequoia National Park—totally secluded with no service, no stores, no gas stations; nothing but majestic trees and wildlife. It’s a place where nature is still in power and where you can actually be alone and think. The same applies to Kings Canyon National Park.

Luckily, we didn’t experience any kind of life-threatening situations in Kings Canyon National Park. Unfortunately, most roads were closed at the time, so we were only able to see a small part of this wonderful park.

Tips & Tricks

As always, we made some mistakes on this trip, but we learned from them and were able to come home with some nice tips to help you avoid making the same mistakes we did. In the upcoming sections, we’re going to cover how to not get lost in the Sequoia forest, how to avoid bears, where to stay and even how to get to both sections of the park.

How to Not Get Lost

It’s really easy to get lost in Sequoia National Park. We got lost at least 2-3 times and there were two (or three, depending on who you ask) main reasons for this:

  1. There are no signs marking the hiking trails.
  2. We were using a hand-drawn map to navigate.
  3. Ryne likes to play ranger and loves to take trails that are obviously inaccessible. So stick to trails that you can actually see and that are not covered in snow! (Read Denise’s story about this horrifying experience in the upcoming section)

The first point is unavoidable for anyone. You’ll just have to deal with the fact that there are no trail markers to guide you along the way. Occasionally, you will see a sign for a special landmark, such as the Amos Stagg tree, but you’ll only come across these signs once you’re already on the right path and quite close to the landmark, itself.

As for the second point, you can avoid this by downloading an official map online or by using a trail guide that you can usually obtain from any national parks visitor’s center. The map we were using was provided by our AirBnB hosts. We know they meant well and we really did appreciate the attempt, but sadly, we couldn’t differentiate between roads, trails and creeks, nor could we estimate distances. All of these things combined caused tons of confusion and a 3 mile hike quickly turned into 14. It wasn’t fun.

Bottom line: Make sure you have a clear map of where you’re going and plan your route before beginning your hike.

Why you shouldn’t take trails that are inaccessible

I (Denise) must admit, I was super scared throughout our entire hike because I expected a bear to show up any second (we didn’t bring a bear bell). However, that wasn’t the worst part of our hiking experience. Apparently, the hiking map we used wasn’t as accurate as we thought. Of course, this day ended up being a total catastrophe. We got lost in the middle of the woods and didn’t really notice until we hit a dead end. I had a bad feeling the entire time since the hiking trail on the map didn’t seem to match the actual hiking trail we were taking. However, nobody seemed to listen to me (bad decision), so we kept taking different trails that just led to more dead ends. We finally took the trail I was suggesting all along and that eventually led us to the 5th largest Sequoia tree in the world.

Let’s get back to the catastrophe I was pointing out in the beginning. The catastrophe wasn’t the fact that we got lost in the woods. I can handle that. However, I couldn’t handle climbing up an abandoned, secluded, snow and ice-covered ski-slope, which we were obviously not supposed to climb. The hiking trails that you’re supposed to take in summer weren’t even visible. Nevertheless, the male-instinct seemed to take over because Ryne’s mom and I could barely say anything against this suicidal act before he and his dad had already climbed half of the mountain. I want to spare you the details of my rage, so I’ll skip the part of wanting to kill someone while attempting to climb up the ski-slope. Interestingly, they claimed to have found the right trail approximately 10 times. Doesn’t that tell you something? Yes exactly, there is no trail because the actual trail is covered by snow and if it’s there somewhere, we wouldn’t even be able to see it!

By the time I reached my dear boyfriend, I made a huge mistake (on top of all the things that were already going wrong around me); I turned around. I could feel my knees getting weaker while my heart seemed to try to escape my body—that’s how hard it was beating against my chest. Obviously, the slope went straight down right in front of me and everyone who knows what it’s like to be afraid of heights can relate. This is something you definitely cannot handle. Consequently, I had a panic attack right in the middle of an abandoned ski-slope with the high potential of a bear showing up (his dad had just yelled from the top of the mountain that he found fresh bear poop). What an awesome way to spend your vacation.

Fortunately, my boyfriend finally said goodbye to his male-instinct and tried to calm me down, but it was too late. Nothing could help me other than leaving this place. So I hysterically ran down the mountain, almost killing myself by sliding on the ice with my Nikes, which are not made for hiking in this kind of weather by the way. In the end, this catastrophe in combination with getting lost turned a 3 mile hike into a 14 mile hike and I’m not kidding. This is a true story.

So, be smart, don’t make the same mistakes we did (or Ryne to be more precise).

How to Avoid Bears

The best time to visit this park is during the spring and summer. With that in mind, you have to understand that bears will be out foraging for food. They’re hungry and if you come across a mama bear with a baby or two, then you better hope she doesn’t feel threatened. When it comes to bears, you’re most at risk when you surprise them. Bears don’t want to be around humans, so if they can hear you coming, then they will have time to run away and will most likely do so. If they don’t hear you coming and you pop around the corner and come face to face with them, then that scares them and there’s a good chance they will feel threatened. This brings us to our tips on avoiding bears:

  1. Be loud and make plenty of noise while hiking. This tip really hurts our hearts because there’s nothing better than taking in the blissful silence of an isolated forest. Unfortunately, we have to avoid accidentally sneaking up on bears here. Just make sure you’re talking loudly, laughing and having a good time.
  2. Bring a bear bell. If you want to take an extra precaution, then a bear bell is a good way to make sure your presence doesn’t go unnoticed. A bear bell will ensure you’re making enough noise to make the bears aware of your presence and give them time to scurry off.
  3. Bring bear spray. If you are unlucky enough to come face to face with a bear who is standing its ground, then your best defense in the event of an attack is bear spray. Bear spray is comparable to mace and can shoot a stream of spray up to 12 meters (50 feet). This should also be your last line of defense. If the animal isn’t showing aggression, premature use of the spray could make it aggressive.

What do I do if I see a bear?

As we mentioned a couple of times already, bears don’t actually want to attack humans. They will generally only attack if they feel threatened by you. So what do you do if you come across a bear? We’re going to leave this one to the experts. We highly recommend you to familiarize yourself with the U.S. NPS tips on staying safe around bears before you travel.

Where to Stay

It may be tempting to just book some motel at the base of the mountains in a more densely populated area, but this would be a mistake. The absolute best experiences are had in the forested mountains. Therefore, it is our opinion that the only way to experience Sequoia & King’s Canyon is by renting a cabin for the duration of your stay. There are a number of websites where you can find cabin rentals, but AirBnB and are usually the easiest places to find a reliable cabin where you can spend your vacation.

IMPORTANT TIP: It is very difficult to find a cabin that is actually inside a national park. If you do find one you like, then it’s best to book it ASAP because it can be gone at any second. We were able to find a cabin in Sequoia Crest which is close to the 5th largest Sequoia Tree in the world.

What to See

  1. Sequoia National Park is basically one gigantic forest that covers many beautiful mountains. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter where you go in Sequoia National Park as there are plenty of hiking trails; all of which are covered in giant Sequoia trees. You can’t possibly miss them. Nevertheless, we recommend that you drive to Sequoia Crest and hike to the Amos Stagg tree, which is the 5th largest Sequoia in the world!
  2. In contrast to Sequoia National Park, there is a scenic byway that you can take with your car in Kings Canyon National Park! It starts at Grant Grove on Highway 180 and goes all the way to Cedar Grove (50 miles). We highly recommend taking this scenic route as you will experience amazing mountain views, giant Sequoias, wildlife and the beautiful Hume Lake. Please take a look at the map for the exact route. We’ve included an additional point on the map where you absolutely must stop when driving down to Hume Lake. The views from that exact point are incredible. There is no sign, so make sure to look out for the spot. You will recognize it by the huge rock you can walk on (see picture below. We’re sitting on it).

So, which of the two parks is better? In general, both parks are quite similar, although Sequoia National Park seemed to have way more of the giant trees than Kings Canyon National Park. But everyone who enjoys the mountains and loves nature, as well as hiking, will find these parks incredibly gorgeous. We’re sure you will have unforgettable experiences in both parks. Therefore, we wouldn’t have wanted to miss either of them. Since they are so close to each other, there is really no reason to skip one of them. 😉

For more information on this route, please look at the official forest service website.

How to Get There

If you just look at the map, it may seem like there are lots of ways to enter the parks. Unfortunately, this is not true. In fact, these two parks are entirely inaccessible from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. If you’re coming from Las Vegas, for example, you won’t be able to just drive through Death Valley and right into Sequoia National Forest. Unfortunately, you have to first drive around the southern tip of the mountain range to Bakersfield, CA, then north to Porterville and finally east into the park. If you go in Summer, then you may be able to cut off some of this detour, but even then you need to check on road closures before committing to the shortcut, as there are a number of reasons why the “shorter route” could be closed.

When going to King’s Canyon from Sequoia, you have two options. You can either take the General’s Highway (which we did) or you can take Highway 245 North. The General’s Highway is the more scenic route, but this takes at least twice as long; especially if you get stuck behind a semi truck. If you’re short on time, just take 245 North and you’ll be there in no time. We took the General’s Highway there and then 245 South to go back to our cabin in Sequoia Crest.

Quick Transportation Tips:

  • If you aren’t taking your own car, then you’ll definitely need a rental car. We recommend for English speakers and Check24 for German speakers.
  • Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Park is only accessible from the west (California).
  • Always check on the latest road closures before entering the park: Road Information – Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Parks
  • Make sure your vehicle can handle the roads you plan on taking. Most roads are beautifully paved, but winter weather can render any vehicle obsolete.

General Tips

  • Bring proper hiking gear. Some of the trails you will take can be unforgiving if you’re not wearing the right shoes or didn’t bring the right supplies.
  • Bring warm clothes! The forecast might tell you that it’ll be sunny and warm, but it most likely won’t be. The huge sequoia trees keep the forests very cold and even in late spring you might have to hike on snow because of the high altitude.
  • Don’t overestimate your capabilities. Overconfidence is usually the cause of many accidents.
  • Don’t take nature for granted. Respect your surroundings, including animals (bears, especially).
  • Don’t smoke in the forest and don’t start any unauthorized fires. This area is highly prone to wildfires, which are often ignited by a single tiny spark. Just don’t take the risk of being responsible for such a catastrophe.

Funny Story

If you can’t handle winding roads and altitude, you’re gonna have a bad time.

In order to reach our cabin in Sequoia National Park, we first had to drive up a rather steep mountainside while weaving, winding, accelerating and braking the entire time. It often took us at least 5 minutes to drive even one mile. As soon as we began our ascent through the beautiful sequoia-blanketed mountains, one passenger (let’s call her “Marcy” to protect her anonymity) immediately started getting very sick. We had to stop the car multiple times so that Marcy could get out and get some fresh air to alleviate her nausea. Meanwhile, Denise was in charge of navigation. Unfortunately for Marcy, stopping the car only provided temporary relief and her situation was only getting worse. After an hour on this road, she was reaching her breaking point.

Marcy was doing everything she could to keep her breakfast down, but was able to open her mouth just long enough to ask, “How much further?”

“We’re almost there. Only about 2 more minutes,” said Denise, falsely assuming Marcy was asking about the next turn.

Marcy breathed a sigh of relief, as the end of her nightmare was finally near. Soon she will have her much needed reprieve.

We finally got to the turn and Denise said, “Okay. So now we only have 6 miles left on this road until we get to the cabin.”

“Are you $%&$ing kidding me?!” said Marcy. “Stop the car, I need out!”

Now, put yourself in Marcy’s shoes. Can you imagine bearing that torment for so long and then finally being given that joyous sense of hope that this nightmare is almost over, only to find out you actually have to hold on for another 30 minutes? We stopped the car and Marcy could barely get the door open before spewing a 3-foot stream of pulpy yellow liquid through the air (Orange juice, anyone?). We all felt so bad for Marcy, especially Denise, but we just couldn’t stop laughing. We were so exhausted and this was one of those situations where you just have to laugh at the misfortune because you can imagine how terrible that must have been to have that false sense of hope ripped away from you in an instance, knowing the only option you had left was to open the flood gates. Unfortunately, this is not where this story ends.

It took us even longer than expected to reach the cabin and Marcy’s situation went from bad to worse. When we arrived, I (Ryne) jumped out of the car to go find the keys to the cabin, while Marcy ran to the door and desperately waited for me to open it. After finding the keys, I couldn’t seem to unlock the door. The extra minute must have felt like a lifetime for Marcy. The door finally unlocked and Marcy was in the bathroom before I could even remove the key. I don’t know what that drive did to Marcy’s stomach, but horrors occurred in that bathroom. To top it off, there was no running water in the entire cabin, meaning Marcy couldn’t even flush her shame down the toilet. We did eventually find the instructions for turning on the water, but the cabin was practically uninhabitable for the next hour. Thankfully, that was the end of Marcy’s nightmare; at least until the next trip down the mountain; then again on the following trip back up the mountain and one last time on the final trip down the mountain.

Tip: Bring some Dramamine if you’re prone to motion sickness.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Facts and History

Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 in order to preserve the giant Sequoia trees from logging. The massiveness of the trees makes them prime targets for loggers. In fact, this was only the second National Park ever established in the United States. The U.S. National Parks Service was not even founded until 1916.

In 1940, Kings Canyon National Park was established expanding upon Sequoia National Park. This was to include the majestic canyon carved out by glacial melt. Today, the parks combine to stretch across an area of 1,353 square miles in the state of California.

California is well-known for its wildfires, which is why one must be very careful when using any kind of flammable material. Furthermore, one must note the current regulations on burning. These change based on the weather situation at any given time and non-observance could lead to hefty fines in the best case scenario. In the worst case scenario, you could start a forest fire and destroy the environment that we are working so hard to protect.

For further information, visit the official Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park website.

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About the Authors

Authors Ryne Cook and Denise Braun from He Said or She Said

Ryne and Denise Cook: We spent 4 days in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California where we were able to discover the best trails to take, find the best scenic drives and come back with plenty of knowledge on these gorgeous national parks.

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