53 Best Sights in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Big Trees Trail

Fodor's choice

The 0.7-mile, wheelchair-accessible portion of this path is a must, as it does not take long, and the setting is spectacular: beautiful Round Meadow, surrounded by many mature sequoias. Well-thought-out interpretive signs along the way explain the ecology on display. Parking at the trailhead lot off Generals Highway is for cars with handicap placards only. The full, round-trip loop from the Giant Forest Museum is about a mile long. Easy.

Sequoia National Park, California, 93262, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Shuttle: Giant Forest

Congress Trail

Fodor's choice

This 2-mile trail, arguably the best hike in the parks in terms of natural beauty, is a paved loop that begins near General Sherman Tree. You'll get close-up views of more big trees here than on any other Sequoia hike. Watch for the clusters known as the House and Senate. The President Tree, also on the trail, supplanted the General Grant Tree in 2012 as the world's second largest in volume (behind the General Sherman). An offshoot of the Congress Trail leads to Crescent Meadow, where, in summer, you can catch a free shuttle back to the Sherman parking lot. Easy.

Sequoia National Park, California, 93262, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Shuttle: Giant Forest

Crystal Cave

Fodor's choice

One of more than 200 caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Crystal Cave is composed largely of marble, the result of limestone being hardened under heat and pressure. It contains several eye-popping formations. There used to be more, but some were damaged or obliterated by early-20th-century dynamite blasting. You can see the cave only on a tour. The Daily Tour ($17), a great overview, takes about 50 minutes. To immerse yourself in the cave experience—at times you'll be crawling on your belly—book the exhilarating Wild Cave Tour ($140). Availability is limited—reserve tickets at least 48 hours in advance at or stop by either the Foothills or Lodgepole visitor center first thing in the morning to try to nab a same-day ticket; they're not sold at the cave itself. 

Recommended Fodor's Video

General Sherman Tree

Fodor's choice

The 274.9-foot-tall General Sherman is one of the world's tallest and oldest sequoias, and it ranks No. 1 in volume, adding the equivalent of a 60-foot-tall tree every year to its approximately 52,500 cubic feet of mass. The tree doesn't grow taller, though—it's dead at the top. A short, wheelchair-accessible trail leads to the tree from Generals Highway, but the main trail (½ mile) winds down from a parking lot off Wolverton Road. The walk back up the main trail is steep, but benches along the way provide rest for the short of breath.

Sequoia National Park, California, 93262, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Shuttle: Giant Forest or Wolverton–Sherman Tree

Generals Highway

Fodor's choice

One of California's most scenic drives, this 46-mile road (also signed as Route 198) is the main asphalt artery between Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. Named after the landmark Grant and Sherman trees that leave so many visitors awestruck, Generals Highway runs from Sequoia's Foothills Visitor Center north to Kings Canyon's Grant Grove Village. Along the way, it passes the turnoff to Crystal Cave, the Giant Forest Museum, Lodgepole Village, and other popular attractions. The lower portion, from Hospital Rock to the Giant Forest, is especially steep and winding. If your vehicle is 22 feet or longer, avoid that stretch by entering the parks via Route 180 (from Fresno) rather than Route 198 (from Visalia or Three Rivers). Take your time on this road—there's a lot to see, and wildlife can scamper across at any time.

Grant Grove Trail

Fodor's choice

Grant Grove is only 128 acres, but it's a big deal. More than 120 sequoias here have a base diameter that exceeds 10 feet, and the General Grant Tree is the world's third-largest sequoia by volume. Nearby is the Robert E. Lee Tree, recognized as the world's 11th-largest sequoia. Also along the easy-to-walk trail are the Fallen Monarch and the Gamlin Cabin, built by 19th-century pioneers. Easy.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

Fodor's choice

The 30-mile stretch of Route 180 between Grant Grove Village and Zumwalt Meadow delivers eye-popping scenery—granite cliffs, a roaring river, waterfalls, and Kings River canyon itself—much of which you can experience at vista points or on easy walks. The canyon comes into view about 10 miles east of the village at Junction View. Five miles beyond, at Yucca Point, the canyon is thousands of feet deeper than the more famous Grand Canyon. Canyon View, a special spot 1 mile east of the Cedar Grove Village turnoff, showcases evidence of the area's glacial history. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, you'll understand why John Muir compared Kings Canyon vistas with those in Yosemite.  Without any stops, this out-and-back drive takes about two hours, but check ahead to see if there are any roadwork delays.

Moro Rock

Fodor's choice

This sight offers panoramic views to those fit and determined enough to mount its 350 or so steps. In a case where the journey rivals the destination, Moro's stone stairway is so impressive in its twisty inventiveness that it's on the National Register of Historic Places. The rock's 6,725-foot summit overlooks the Middle Fork Canyon, sculpted by the Kaweah River and approaching the depth of Arizona's Grand Canyon, although smoggy, hazy air often compromises the view.

Zumwalt Meadow Trail

Fodor's choice

One of the most popular day hikes in the Cedar Grove area is just 1.6 miles long and takes in not only the lush meadow, but also the South Fork of the Kings River and the high granite walls above, including those of Grand Sentinel and North Dome. Easy.

Annual Trek to the Tree

On the second Sunday of December, thousands of carolers gather at the base of General Grant Tree, the nation's official Christmas tree.

Auto Log

Before its wood showed signs of severe rot, cars drove right on top of this giant fallen sequoia. Now it's a great place to pose for pictures or shoot a video.

Sequoia National Park, California, 93262, USA

Big Baldy Trail

This hike climbs 600 feet and 2.2 miles up to the 8,209-foot summit of Big Baldy. Your reward is the view of Redwood Canyon. Round-trip, the hike is 4.4 miles. Moderate.

Kings Canyon National Park, California, 93633, USA

Big Fresno Fair

Over 12 days in October, agricultural, home-arts, and other competitions, plus horse racing and a carnival make for a lively county fair.

Big Stump

Some trees still stand at this site at the edge of a sequoia grove logged in the 1800s. Near the park's entrance, the area is paved and next to the road, and overhead structures protect tables from sun and inclement  weather. It's the only picnic area in either park that is plowed in the wintertime. Toilets, grills, and drinking water are available, and the area is entirely accessible.

Big Stump Trail

From 1883 until 1890, logging operations (there was even a mill) were conducted in this area. The 2-mile loop, whose unmarked beginning is a few yards west of the Big Stump entrance, passes by many enormous stumps. Easy.

Kings Canyon National Park, California, 93633, USA

Blossom Days Festival

On the first Saturday of March, communities along Fresno County's Blossom Trail celebrate the flowering of the area's orchards, citrus groves, and vineyards.

Boyden Cavern

The Kings River has carved out hundreds of caverns, including Boyden, which brims with stalagmite, stalactite, drapery, flowstone, and other formations. In summer, the Bat Grotto shelters a slew of bats. If you can't make it to Crystal Cave in Sequoia, Boyden is a reasonable substitute. Regular tours take about 45 minutes and start with a steep walk uphill.

74101 E. Kings Canyon Rd. (Rte. 180), California, 93633, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $18

Buena Vista Peak Trail

For a 360-degree view of Redwood Canyon and the High Sierra, make the 1-mile ascent (2 miles roundtrip) to Buena Vista. Difficult.

Kings Canyon National Park, California, 93633, USA

Cedar Grove Visitor Center

Off the main road and behind the Sentinel Campground, this small ranger station has books and maps, plus information about hikes and other activities.

Kings Canyon National Park, California, 93633, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Closed mid-Sept.–mid-May

Columbine Picnic Area

This shaded picnic area near the sequoias is relatively level. Tables, restrooms, drinking water, and grills are available.

Crescent Meadow

A mile or so past Moro Rock, this comparatively remote picnic area has meadow views and is close to a lovely hiking trail. Tables are under the giant sequoias, off the parking area. There are restrooms. Fires are not allowed.

Crescent Meadow Trails

A sea of ferns signals your arrival at what John Muir called the "gem of the Sierra." A 1-mile trail loops around meadow to Tharp's Log, a cabin built from a fire-hollowed sequoia. From there you can embark on a 60-mile trek to Mt. Whitney, if you're prepared and have the time. Brilliant wildflowers bloom here in midsummer. Easy.

Sequoia National Park, California, 93262, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Shuttle: Moro Rock–Crescent Meadow

Don Cecil Trail

This trail climbs 4,000 feet up the cool north-facing slope of the Kings River canyon, passing Sheep Creek Cascade and providing several fine glimpses of the canyon and the 11,000-foot Monarch Divide. The trail leads to Lookout Peak, which affords a panorama of the park's backcountry. This strenuous, all-day hike covers 13 miles round-trip. Difficult.

Kings Canyon National Park, California, 93633, USA

Exeter Murals

More than two dozen murals in the Central Valley city of Exeter's cute-as-a-button downtown make it worth a quick detour if you're traveling on Route 198. Several of the murals, which depict the area's agricultural and social history, are quite good. All adorn buildings within a few blocks of the intersection of Pine and E streets. If you're hungry, the Wildflower Cafe, at 121 South E Street, serves inventive salads and sandwiches. Shortly after entering Exeter, head west on Pine Street (it's just before the water tower) to reach downtown.

Fallen Monarch

This toppled sequoia's hollow base was used in the second half of the 19th century as a home for settlers, a saloon, and even a U.S. Cavalry stable. As you walk through it (assuming entry is permitted, which is not always the case), notice how little the wood has decayed, and imagine yourself tucked safely inside, sheltered from a storm or protected from the searing heat.

Foothills Picnic Area

Near the parking lot at the southern entrance of the park, this area has tables, drinking water, and restrooms.

Gamlin Cabin

Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this replica of a modest 1872 pioneer cabin is only borderline historical. The structure, which was moved and rebuilt several times over the years, once served as U.S. Cavalry storage space and, in the early 20th century, a ranger station. It's along the Grant Grove Trail.

General Grant Tree

President Coolidge proclaimed this to be the "nation's Christmas tree," and, 30 years later, President Eisenhower designated it as a living shrine to all Americans who have died in wars. Bigger at its base than the General Sherman Tree, it tapers more quickly. It's estimated to be the world's third-largest sequoia by volume. A spur trail winds behind the tree, where scars from a long-ago fire remain visible.

Giant Forest Museum

Well-imagined and interactive displays at this worthwhile stop provide the basics about sequoias, of which there are 2,161 with diameters exceeding 10 feet in the approximately 2,000-acre Giant Forest.

Sequoia National Park, California, 93262, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Shuttle: Giant Forest or Moro Rock–Crescent Meadow

Grizzly Falls

This little gem is worth a pull-over, if not a picnic at the roadside tables. A less-than-a-minute trek from the parking lot delivers you to the base of the delightful, 100-foot-plus falls. On a hot day, nothing feels better than dipping your feet in the cool water. An outhouse is on-site, but grills are not, and water is not available.