In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Kings Canyon National Park is found just north of Sequoia National Park. As such, this travel guide will cover both parks, starting with Sequoia.
The only park lodging in Sequoia National Park is the large Wuksachi Lodge in the Lodgepole/Giant Forest area. It offers a restaurant and a lounge. If you want lodging convenient for both parks, stay in the southern part of Kings Canyon at either the John Muir Lodge or Grant Grove Cabins. They have a restaurant as well. For camping, the Lodgepole/Giant Forest area has Lodgepole Campground and Dorst Creek Campground. The Foothills area features the Potwisha Campground, Buckeye Flat Campground, and the primitive South Fork Campground. Finally, the more remote Mineral King area offers the Atwell Mill Campground and Cold Springs Campground. RVs are only allowed at Lodgepole, Dorst Creek, and Potwisha.
When entering Sequoia from the south, you can either divert east to the Lookout Point Entrance for the Mineral King area, or continue north to the Foothills Visitor’s Center just past the Ash Mountain entrance. I recommend the latter so you can see exhibits and purchase Crystal Cave tickets (if you didn’t buy them in advance). Crystal Cave is about 20 miles from the Visitor’s Center and is only accessible by a 45-minute guided tour. It is a beautiful example of a marble cavern. If you want to do a quick hike before getting to the cave, try the Middle Fork trail that leaves from the Buckeye Flat area. Just head in for one-mile for a glimpse of Moro and Castle Rocks through the chaparral.
When back on the main park road (Generals Highway), continue north. You’ll pass the turnout for Moro Rock, a giant granite dome that gives amazing views. It is accessible by a .6-mile round-trip trail that consists of a 400-step stairway. When finished, keep going east on this road to pass by Tunnel Log. At the end of this road is the Crescent Meadow Picnic Area. Here, you’ll find the 1.8-mile Crescent Meadow Loop Trail, which offers stunning wildflower blooms in the spring and passes by Tharp’s Log, a hollowed out Sequoia that was converted to a settler’s cabin.
After heading back to the main road and turning north, you’ll come to the highlight of the park - the Giant Forest area. First, you’ll see the Giant Forest Museum, an excellent place to start your grove visit. Two easy and informative 1-mile loop trails leave from here, the Hazelwood Nature Trail and the Big Trees Trail. Further up the road is the famous General Sherman Tree. This is the largest tree in the world by volume, with a base over 36-feet in diameter and a circumference of 103 feet. Towering 275 feet high, it is estimated to be about 2,200 years old. You just have to see it in person to truly appreciate the immense size! The half-mile paved General Sherman Trail will take you to this tree.
For more huge trees, I highly recommend you continue on to the Congress Loop Trail. If you’re looking for something different and more difficult, drive up the road to the Wolverton trailhead for the 7-mile (one-way) Alta Peak Trail. This strenuous trail is often referred to as the best day-hike in the park. The 11,000’ summit offers beautiful views. Continuing north is the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center. On your way out of the park to Kings Canyon, you’ll pass the Lost Grove. Many large trees can be seen from the roadside pullout.
This road leads out of Sequoia National Park and into the Sequoia National Forest before taking you into Kings Canyon National Park. Coming in this way provides an overlook to see a Redwood grove. However, the official entrance to the park from the west is the Big Stump Entrance. By this entrance is Big Stump Trail. This easy 2-mile trail is less populated and takes you by giant stumps – remnants from the old logging days. There is a giant stump with a staircase that provides a great photo opportunity.
In the Grant Grove area, you’ll find a Visitor’s Center. One mile northwest is the short and paved General Grant Tree Trail to the General Grant tree. It's the third largest giant sequoia and is about 3,500 years old. It is also considered the nation’s Christmas Tree. Also here is the 1.5-mile North Grove Loop trail, which gives you more big trees to experience. Besides the lodging here, camping is available at Azalea Campground, Sunset Campground, and Crystal Springs Campground.
Before leaving Grant Grove, drive out to Panoramic Point. This half-mile paved trail offers an amazing overlook. To explore the other half of Kings Canyon National Park, you must then take the main road east to Cedar Grove. Along the way, stop at Hume Lake for a picnic and beautiful scenery. Once at Cedar Grove, there is a lodge that has a snack bar. For camping, Sentinel Campground, Sheep Creek Campground, Moraine Campground, and Canyon View Group Campground are all open to RVs.
The real beauty here is the canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon in some places. A notable trail near the Cedar Grove Visitor’s Center is the Cedar Grove Overlook, a 5-mile round-trip strenuous hike with a top-notch canyon view at the end. But my favorite trail is the Zumwalt Meadow Trail, which is further down the road and past the pretty Roaring River Falls. This 1.5-mile loop takes you along the Kings River and around a beautiful meadow. The canyon towers above. You can't go wrong with any of the trails near the river. For a longer adventure, the 9-mile round-trip Mist Falls Trail leaves at the end of the road. I find this area a great place to catch a glimpse of wildlife, including black bears.