On the slopes of the western Sierra Nevada, between 5,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level, a unique species of sequoia has found its only home in Sequoia National Park. Its neighbor, Kings Canyon National Park is a hidden gem of the Sierra but with dramatic, Yosemite-like cliffs and waterfalls.
You can visit Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park in a single day if you are short on time, but it would be much better to take more time to enjoy these national parks because they are home to so many unique treasures and sights.
Read on to find out the best time to make this exciting trip to the high Sierra and if the route from San Francisco or Los Angeles better suits you. You'll be thankful that you put in the little extra effort to see both of these phenomenal parks on the same trip.
What is the distance between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks?
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, which lies in the eastern portion of Central California. At first, people might not be aware that they are actually contiguous, sharing a border at several places.
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park also border Sequoia National Forest and the tallest mountain in the Lower 48, Mount Whitney, is located on the eastern border of Sequoia.
The closest major city, Fresno, is about 60 miles from the entrance of Kings Canyon and 80 miles from the entrance of Sequoia National Park.
There are two ways to travel between the parks. During the summer you can take the breathtaking Generals Highway along CA-180 to travel between the parks. This route is about 50 miles and contains many twists and turns with countless vista points.
A longer route via Badger and Three Rivers is about 50 miles and would take 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive. The main reason you'd take this route is if there are road closures due to snow along CA-180.
Can you visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in a day?
It is possible to comfortably visit both parks and see their main attractions on a one or two-night trip. In fact, these parks are so close together that they are jointly administered by the park service, and the $35 national park 7-day vehicle pass covers access to both of them. (*Calculated at the time of writing)
Additionally, one of the most exciting activities you can do on a visit here is driving the scenic highway that connects the parks. Hence, it doesn't take much extra driving and no additional cost to see both of them on the same brief trip.
Best one-day itinerary for visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
If you find yourself with only one free day to see Sequoia and Kings Canyon, don't fret. There are only a few winding roads in each park, and they are all dotted with panoramic viewpoints, hikes, record-breaking trees, and other curiosities.
Here's how we'd spend one overflowing day of exploration split between the parks.
Best 1-day itinerary for visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
|Activity||What you'll be doing|
|1||Drive to Sequoia National Park||Enter via Three Rivers Entrance Station|
|2||Scenic views||See Moro Rock from Vista Point|
|3||Hike||Take a refreshing hike through the Giant Forest|
|4||Explore||Admire the General Sherman Tree|
|5||Lunch||Enjoy a bite either at Sequoia National Park or on the way|
|6||Drive to Kings Canyon National Park||Drive via Generals Highway|
|7||Arrive at Kings Canyon National Park||Enter via Big Stump Entrance|
|8||Hike||Visit Grants Grove and hike to General Grant Tree|
|9||Scenic views||Drive to Panoramic Point Overlook|
|10||Drive back||Drive back to your hotel or home|
Is one day enough to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks?
As you can see, there would be a moderate amount of driving for one day. That said, in this case the journey is part of the destination. Generals Highway is one of California's most scenic roads with hair-raising turns that reveal ever more stunning Sierra scenery.
If you only have one day to see both parks, we say go for it.
Best 2-day itinerary to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Perhaps you're lucky enough to have a full 48 hours in these sanctuaries of sequoias. In this case, you'll have more time to absorb the distinctive wonder each park evokes while still keeping a pretty full schedule.
Kings Canyon has two sections, separated by Hume Lake and Sequoia National Forest, which take 1.5 to 2 hours to drive between.
If you want to visit both the Grants Grove area, which is closer to Sequoia National Park, as well as the Cedar Grove area, then it would be best to plan on staying two nights so that you can have a full day to see all of Kings Canyon.
Day 1 Itinerary: Kings Canyon National Park
|Activity||What you'll be doing|
|1||Drive to Kings Canyon National Park||Enter via Big Stump Entrance|
|2||Hike||Visit Grants Grove and hike to General Grant Tree|
|3||Scenic views||Panoramic Point Overlook|
|4||Explore||Relax by the scenic Hume Lake|
|5||Lunch||Enjoy your packed lunch at the beautiful picnic area by Grizzle Falls|
|6||Drive||Drive down to Cedar Grove on King's Canyon Highway|
|7||Hike||Hike one of the stunning trails starting from Zumwalt Meadows at Road's End|
|8||Dinner||Enjoy a meal at the hotel or in a nearby town|
Day 2 Itinerary: Sequoia National Park
|Activity||What you'll be doing|
|9||Drive to Sequoia National Park||Enter via Three Rivers Entrance Station|
|10||Hike||Hike to Moro Rock|
|11||Explore||Stop by the Giant Forest on your way to see General Sherman Tree|
|12||Hike||Hike out to Crystal Cave if you have time before heading back|
|13||Drive back||Drive back to your hotel or home|
Where to stay between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
This trip into the remote regions of the southern Sierra is a perfect opportunity to step away from the crowds and commune with the regenerative power of nature.
Badger is a small, unincorporated community along CA Route 245 just to the west of both parks, being slightly closer to CA-180 and the Big Stump Entrance to Kings Canyon. It is known for its peaceful and charming surroundings in the Sierra hills.
Nestled in quiet Badger, the Sequoia Resort capitalizes on its scenic location, being spread out over 370 acres of oak and manzanita-studded hills.
Each of the accommodations is a private and comfortable bungalow with a kitchen, so you can cook your favorite foods that will fuel your 24-hour saunter through the sequoias.
There's even a tranquil pond on the premises which you can hike to or use their free bike rental service to cycle around and make the most of the private grounds.
The only restaurant for miles, the Baker Mountain House, makes sure to keep the quality of its food high despite the utter lack of nearby competition.
There's a bar filled with colorful locals; don't be surprised if a large group of bikers or cyclists suddenly descends upon this watering hole, transforming it from lonesome to lively.
In fact, you might want to consider heading out along CA-245 for a scenic drive or cycle in between visiting the national parks.
Taking a road trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
As we've shared, one of the most delightful aspects of visiting these parks together is the drive between them. During warmer months when the scenic Generals Highway (CA-180) is open, you can take this all the way through Sequoia to Kings Canyon or vice versa.
If you're visiting in the winter or would like to drive in a loop to see different scenery, there's an alternate route along CA-245, Dry Creek Drive, and Sierra Drive.
If you're coming through Sequoia National Park first, then you'll take Generals Highway all the way through Kings Canyon and then follow CA-180 West to CA-245 and past Badger to Dry Creek Drive. This will take you to Lemon Cove, where you can link back up with CA-9 via CA Routes 198 or 65.
|Starting point||Destination||Distance||Driving Time|
via Sequoia National Park
|Kings Canyon National Park||250 miles||5 hours 10 minutes|
via Kings Canyon National Park
|Sequoia National Park||295 miles||5 hours 40 minutes|
Driving from Los Angeles to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
The route from Los Angeles is slightly shorter than the route from San Francisco. To begin, you'll hop on Interstate 5 and drive north of Los Angeles, passing through Santa Clarita and the Grapevine, before exiting onto CA-99 North in Wheeler Ridge.
Take this all the way through Bakersfield before changing on to CA Route 65 North which will take you towards the Sierra foothills and Sierra Drive/ CA Route 198. Follow this past Lake Kaweah and the Three Rivers area all the way to Sequoia National Park.
You can then take Generals Highway onto Kings Canyon and follow the route we've described above.
Things to see on the way to Sequoia and Kings Canyon from Los Angeles
On this route, you'll pass through the hills surrounding Los Angeles into the expanse of the Central Valley before you come into the lap of the Sierra. Even though you might not have much time on this trip, here're a few places that you might want to check out on the way.
- Santa Clarita - Santa Clarita is known for its picturesque suburban neighborhoods and for being home to the popular Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park. It also features extensive hiking and biking trails, a thriving arts scene, and is near the historic gold mining town of Newhall.
- Fort Tejon State Historical Park - Fort Tejon State Historical Park, situated in the Grapevine Canyon of California, is a preserved 19th-century military post that played a crucial role in the state's early history. It provides visitors with a glimpse into the frontier life of the 1850s, including restored adobes, exhibits, and frequent reenactments of historical events.
- Bakersfield - Bakersfield is a city recognized for its rich agricultural industry and as the birthplace of the Bakersfield sound—a distinctive genre of country music. It also hosts the Kern County Museum, which showcases local history, and the California Area Living Museum, a zoo highlighting the state's native wildlife.
- Porterville - Porterville is surrounded by picturesque natural landscapes, including the Sequoia National Forest. Known for its agricultural roots, it is a hub for citrus farming and also offers a range of cultural and recreational activities, such as the Barn Theater, Lake Success, and the Zalud House Museum.
- Lemon Cove - Lemon Cove is a small community in Tulare County, California, named for its historic lemon groves. Nestled at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, it serves as a gateway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and offers a peaceful, rural setting with a rich agricultural history.
- Lake Kaweah - Lake Kaweah is a reservoir in the southern part of California's San Joaquin Valley. It offers a variety of outdoor activities including boating, fishing, hiking, and camping, with picturesque views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada foothills.
Driving from San Francisco to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Coming from San Francisco will only add a few miles to your drive. From the City, start driving east along Interstate 80, which will take you across the Bay Bridge into Oakland. Here, navigate to 580 East towards Livermore.
After passing through the wind-turbine-covered hills, once you reach Tracy, change onto CA Route 120 to get to CA Route 99 (CA-99) South.
Take CA-99 through Modesto all the way through Fresno. Here you can link up with CA-180 East. This highway takes you through Centerville and into Kings Canyon National Park. During the summer and early fall, you can stay on CA-180 as it turns on Generals Highway and heads south into Sequoia National Park.
If you wanted to make a loop like the one described above on this, exit Sequoia National Park heading west on Sierra Drive then take Lomitas Drive to Dry Creek Drive and Badger. From there you can get on CA-180 West back towards Fresno.
Things to see on the way to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks from San Francisco
This route takes you through the vibrant East Bay Area where it's not hard to find something mouth-watering to take along with you. You can also pick up a bottle of red at one of Livermore's up-and-coming wineries to make your one-night trip extra special.
Here are a few of the places along the way that we think are worth seeing if time allows.
- Oakland - Oakland is known for its vibrant arts scene, diverse community, and rich history, which includes a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. It boasts numerous attractions, such as the Oakland Museum of California, the historic Fox Oakland Theater, and the bustling waterfront area, Jack London Square.
- Livermore - Livermore is renowned for its wine industry, with over 50 wineries dotting its landscape in one of the oldest wine regions in the country. It is also home to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a center for scientific research, and the iconic Livermore Rodeo, an annual tradition since 1918.
- Modesto - Modesto is the birthplace of George Lucas. It also features the Gallo Center for the Arts, which hosts a variety of performances, and the McHenry Mansion and Museum, showcasing local history.
- Fresno - Fresno is the gateway to Yosemite National Park and hosts a number of attractions such as the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Forestiere Underground Gardens, and the Fresno Art Museum.
- King's River - The King's River is a major river of Southern-Central California that is known for its swift, glacier-fed waters, and deep canyon. It is a favorite among whitewater enthusiasts, offers excellent trout fishing, and its watershed is home to Kings Canyon National Park.
- Yokuts Valley - While there's no place officially named "Yokuts Valley," the Yokuts were a group of Native American people that inhabited the San Joaquin Valley and foothills of central California. Today, their history and culture are preserved in various ways, such as through the Tule River Indian Reservation and at local museums like the Tulare County Museum, which contains artifacts and exhibits related to the Yokuts.
Best time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Given the extensive road closures in the surrounding area, you'll have to plan according to the seasons or be content with only being able to see a fraction of each park. Basically, access to the entirety of both parks is only possible from mid-May to mid-October.
So this is one trip that we'd generally advise against in winter. While there are unique activities like sledding and snow-shoeing available in Kings Canyon, there are other places in the Sierras to do this without the cost of entering a National Park.
Additionally, the road closures mean that sometimes the most iconic features of Sequoia National Park, like the General Sherman Tree and Moro Rock are completely inaccessible by road.
The summer is a great time to visit the higher reaches of the Sierra Nevada. Given the parks' elevation, the summer highs are in the 70s and low 80s degrees Fahrenheit. The nights can be much colder, so be sure to bring extra layers regardless of when you visit.
While these national parks don't see anywhere near the number of visitors as the nearby Yosemite, they are getting increasingly crowded during these peak summer months, so be prepared to see crowds around the area's main attractions.
Both shoulder seasons of spring and fall offer a good compromise between lower crowds and manageable weather.
While you'll certainly need to bundle up during a May or September visit, prices on hotels will be much lower and you won't have any stress over finding a parking space. Note that the scenic Generals Highway typically isn't open until late May.
The remote locations of both Sequoia and Kings Canyon make them ideal places to observe the night sky. In an effort to promote cosmic curiosity and celebrate the stars, for the past nine years, there has been a Dark Sky Festival held between the parks.
Each festival happens over several days, in multiple locations and includes a mix of star gazing and music performances. In 2023 it is slated to take place in September; see the park websites for more details.
No matter when you take this trip, you will be met with some of the most incredible forests you have ever seen, which stand out in any season. We hope this guide has been helpful in planning a lightning-quick visit to the abode of giants in the southern Sierra.