Take a walk through awe-inspiring sequoia trees in Giant Forest, or bask in the serenity of Crescent Meadow when you stay at campgrounds near Sequoia National Park.
One of the best reminders nature provides? How very small we are. There are few places better-suited for this particular reminder than campgrounds near Sequoia National Park. Stand alongside the General Sherman Tree, measuring 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter, or hike the hundreds of miles of trails through the magnificent trees. Whether you explore on foot or by car, Sequoia National Park camping is full of incredible sites, from waterfalls to caves.
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So, there’s a bit of confusion when it comes to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. Here’s the quick answer: they are separate parks but jointly managed. This happens with some regularity in the United States Forest Service, but that tends to be due to staffing constraints. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have been jointly managed since World War II. They’re just next to each other, and it’s convenient to do it this way.
You’ll hear Sequoia and Kings Canyon brought up together often, and it’s easy to visit them both in a day. In fact, if you have the time, you should. However, Sequoia is still the more popular park, much in the same way that Yellowstone is more popular than nearby (though not as close as these two parks) Grand Teton National Park. Granted, the difference between Yellowstone and Grand Teton is 120 miles greater, but you get the idea.
Like Redwood National Forest, Sequoia National Forest is known for its massive trees. Its massive trees, though, happen to be—you guessed it—Sequoias. Sequoia National Park, established in 1890 (the second national park established), is actually the first park established to protect a living organism. So, yeah, the trees are the big name here. Of them all, the General Sherman Tree gets by far the most visitation.
Beyond its trees, Sequoia National Park is also known for being home to the tallest mountain in the Lower 48, Mount Whitney. At 14,505 feet, it towers over the rest of the park. Alaska still has 10 mountains taller, but Mount Whitney is a peak that all mountaineers want to summit. The roundtrip to the peak and back takes at least 12 hours (often more) and spans 22 total miles.
Not looking to climb Mount Whitney? Most people are gonna agree with you there. Sequoia National Park has plenty of beautiful hikes, nature-watching, and scenic pull-outs to see if you’re not looking to be over 14,000 feet in elevation.
Ever wanted to see the world’s biggest tree? Probably wasn’t on your bucket list specifically, but I bet it is now. Note, this is not the tallest tree in the world. That honor goes to the Hyperion in Redwood National Forest, standing almost 100 feet taller than the General Sherman Tree. While the General Sherman is “only” 275 feet tall, it’s also 36 feet in diameter, which is nearly three times the diameter of Hyperion. It’s also growing every year!
This is a “look but don’t touch” scenario, as this tree is purely a photo op. In fairness, you didn’t really think you could touch the world’s largest tree, did you? Still, sit back, take pictures, and just take in this 2,200-year-old marvel.
This one is a little more interactive than the General Sherman tree since it’s a tree you can drive through. This massive fallen log has since been opened up to provide visitors passage through it. There’s a handful of these types of trees in Northern California, so if you have yet to experience one, it’s absolutely worth the time.
This tree has been downed and hollowed through for a while now, initially opened up in 1937. The tree was likely more than 2,000 years old and not remotely easy to move, so as a novelty to attract tourists, the park cut through the tree. We aren’t making any more log trees (this is a fact that the Park Service will tell you, not just my guess), so the few we have are the only instance of these novelties we’re likely ever to see.
Sure, there are other parks more known for their rock formations, but Sequoia is no slouch. This massive dome is easily visible from the highway and provides some of the park’s best views. Approximately 350 steps separate you from an incredible panorama of Sequoia National Park, so lace ‘em up and count down from 350.
June through August is easily the best time to be in the park. You’ve got stable and comfortable temperatures during the day, and overnight temperatures aren’t too cold for a majority of campers. Still, highs tend to be around 70, and the lows tend to be about 40, so bring layers anytime you visit this park.
The biggest thing about summertime visiting is that everything is open. Roads close seasonally throughout much of the park, so you’re gambling a bit when you visit in the off-season. The later parts of spring and earliest parts of fall, of course, will be your best bet. Still, note that by October, overnight lows drop below freezing.
Winter camping isn’t advisable for most visitors. However, if you really know what you’re doing, visiting can be an incredible experience. If you’re coming with an RV and all the creature comforts, you may be able to enjoy yourself a little more. Of course, you’ll want to be extra cautious on the park’s roads.
The biggest danger to visitors isn’t wildlife, it’s the water. In this rugged section of the California wilderness, that may sound ridiculous, but it’s a fact. More fatalities are linked to the waterways here than any animal.
Now, the water isn’t leaping out and grabbing you if that’s your concern, but visitors who aren’t careful have fallen in. Luckily, this is very easy to avoid. Just because you’re in a campground doesn’t mean you’re not still in the wilderness. Be smart around the water here, and you’ll be perfectly fine.
Sure, the water is the thing you have to be the most careful about. Water is not more afraid of you than you are of it. However, you are in bear country, and that’s something to be taken seriously. There are bear lockers in every campsite and in some parking lots throughout the park.
It’s quite challenging to snag a campsite here, but let’s assume you can. Don’t assume it’ll be fine to leave any food outside. Really, anything with a scent needs to be in a locker. If you’re thinking about leaving it in your car, let me dissuade you from that. Bears can (and sometimes do) break into cars, and their sense of smell is even better than you think. Anything with a scent needs to be in a bear locker for your safety and the bear’s.
Like any popular park, it’s tough to grab a campground. Almost all of the campgrounds here are by reservation only, so book in advance. Can you take a chance on a couple of first-come, first-serve sites? Sure, you can. You better be really lucky, though. Luckily, the surrounding areas have some private campgrounds if you strike out.
Yes, that’s sort of a ridiculous tip. What else would peak season be? The point is this: arrive early if you can. I mean, as early as possible. Still, you might have better luck waiting until mid-day when entrance lines die down. The trade-off is that parking may be harder to find. There’s only so much good weather when you get up into elevation, so people flock here in the summer months.
Know that you’re going to see crowds and that things may take a while. Sequoia and Kings Canyon have gotten hit with major weather events recently, and it’s not unreasonable to think that the near future of the park is going to be filled with construction and rehabilitation projects. Just be patient; it’s not the fault of anyone working there—they don’t control the weather.
There are three total entrances to the two parks. One goes to Kings Canyon, one goes to the main portion of Sequoia, and one goes to the remote Mineral King Area of Sequoia.
The Ash Mountain Entrance is the popular one that takes you into the main part of Sequoia National Park. Of all of them, that’s the only one you really need to commit to memory.
The Lookout Point entrance takes you to Mineral King. Mineral King is quite a remote portion of Sequoia National Park and, as such, less popular. However, because it’s more remote, the road (a turnout roughly two miles before Ash Mountain) is not the nicest, so RVs and trailers are strongly advised against traversing it. They’re also just not allowed in the campgrounds, so consider other options. That road is winding, narrow, and not great. RVs, see Ash Mountain.
Of course, this pertains more to RVs, motorhomes, trailers, and the like. However, even full-sized trucks can have some issues on these roads. The mountain roads here are windy and narrow, meaning everyone has to go slowly. The larger your vehicle is, the tougher these narrow, winding roads are.
While the worst of them all is the Lookout Point entrance to the Mineral King Area, none of the roads are particularly compatible with oversized vehicles. Sequoia National Park recommends that any vehicles 22 feet or longer approach these roads with extra caution, though everyone should observe reasonable driving practices.
“Get a spot early” is easily the best piece of advice you’ll get. It’s also the most obvious. As national parks go, Sequoia is quite well-equipped in amenities, with lodging and food on-site. You won’t find that level of luxury in every national park.
There are some first-come, first-serve campgrounds in the park, but the majority are going to require reservations, and you want to make those as far in advance as possible. There is some off-season camping available, but the off-season at this altitude gets pretty cold, so those willing to camp there are few and far between.
There aren’t too many privately-owned campgrounds near Sequoia National Park, but luckily there are a couple of good ones! Located right on the scenic Kern River, you may leave the park, but you certainly won’t be heading back to the city. Keep your nature experience going among the greenery and with the sounds of the flowing river in the background.
This is a fantastic basecamp for all the best adventures out this way, but it’s also a resort. You can go white water-rafting, hiking, or fishing. Alternatively, you can take the pets to the dog park, play some volleyball, or just relax on the banks of the Kern River. When you’re ready to turn in for the night, all the spots here are nestled among the trees, and you can also get a spot close to the river if you reserve far enough in advance.
Look, there isn’t a square inch of this part of California that lacks a scenic view. Everywhere you look, pretty much at all times, is breathtaking. With that in mind, when I tell you there are few campgrounds more ruggedly beautiful than Creekside RV Park, I want you to take that with every bit of seriousness. Look up the pictures if you don’t believe me!
The RV park here has some of the best mountain views, all while being right on the river and steps from some of the West Coast’s most enjoyable fishing. You’ll hardly have to rough it either if you don’t want to. There are plenty of trailers to rent, spacious RV spaces, and amenities that include a general store, showers, and internet access.
The country’s second-oldest national park is one that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Even if you’re short on time, you can probably add in a Kings Canyon day trip, though Sequoia is going to be most campers’ focus.