Number 46 - November 2014
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website, www.BlueHeronTours.com, to learn more about our private, custom tours.
Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to nearly half of the world's giant sequoias (sequoiadendrum giganteum), the largest trees in the world by volume. The largest sequoia, the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park, contains 52,508 cubic feet of lumber.
Established on September 25, 1890, Sequoia National Park is the second oldest national park after Yellowstone. Kings Canyon's predecessor park, General Grant National Park, was created shortly thereafter on October 1, the same day Yosemite National Park was created. General Grant National Park was incorporated into Kings Canyon National Park upon its creation in 1940. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have been jointly administered since 1943.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon offer a variety of mountain attractions and activities with far fewer people than their neighbor to the north, Yosemite National Park. While Yosemite receives over 3.8 million visitors a year, Sequoia and Kings Canyon welcome less than half that number.
Getting to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
If you are traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Sequoia and Kings Canyon make a great mid-way stopping point. The drive from San Francisco to the north entrance of the parks takes about 4.5 hours so, if you want to return to San Francisco after your visit, you'll need at least two days. Three days would be better. The same is true if you are visiting the parks from Los Angeles.
If you are traveling to Sequoia and Kings Canyon by car, there are two entrances to the parks. Driving from San Francisco, you'll want to head towards Fresno and then go east on CA 180. You will enter Kings Canyon National Park near the Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias.
Driving from the south, go to Visalia and then head east on CA 198. Once you enter the park, the road is called The Generals Highway. Vehicles longer than 22 feet/6.7 meters are restricted on certain sections of the road. Therefore, longer vehicles should enter the park from the north.
Sequoia National Park is accessible by a shuttle from Visalia to the Giant Forest Museum. Here you can transfer to the free shuttle that takes you throughout the park. These services run between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. The shuttle does not service Kings Canyon National Park.
Please note that there is no gasoline available in either park. Gasoline is available in the adjoining National Forest at Kings Canyon Lodge, Hume Lake, and Stony Creek Lodge. Gasoline may be pricey. Only Hume Lake is open in the winter.
When to Visit
If you want to fully explore both parks, you'll need to visit sometime between late spring and fall when all of the roads should be open. Only at this time of year are you able to drive into Kings Canyon to Cedar Grove and visit Crystal Cave, Moro Rock, and Tunnel Log in Sequoia National Park. I recommend visiting in June, September, or October when the parks are less crowded.
While summer crowds are nowhere near as big as in Yosemite, make your lodging reservations well in advance if you want to stay in or near the park. Between Memorial and Labor Days use the free park shuttles to avoid parking hassles. Also, the shuttle may be the only way to access Tunnel Log and Moro Rock unless you walk to these attractions.
Winter can offer stunning views of snow covered sequoias. Plus there are far fewer people visiting the park. However, many roads close during the winter including CA 180 (Kings Canyon Scenic Byway into Cedar Grove), the road to Crystal Cave, and the road to Tunnel Log. The Generals Highway may also close temporarily during heavy snow. Always be prepared for snow. Carrying chains is a good idea and may be required when snow is forecast. Before driving, check the road conditions both inside and outside of the park. You can get up-to-date information on roads inside the parks by phoning (559) 565-3341. For road conditions outside the park, visit CalTrans' website, www.dot.ca.gov, or phone 1(800) 427-7623.
Lodging options inside the park range from camping to pretty nice hotels. Lodging in both parks is operated by DNC Parks and Resorts. The only lodging in Sequoia National Park is Wuksachi Lodge in Wuksachi Village. This nice motel consists of a main lodge with reception and a restaurant, and three buildings about 100 to 200 yards/meters away where the 102 rooms are located. Wuksachi Lodge is the nicest and largest hotel in the two parks.
The John Muir Lodge is the nicest lodging in Kings Canyon National Park. When we visited earlier this year, the 34 rooms were being renovated. Nearby are the Grant Grove Cabins. Both timber and tent cabins are available. The Deluxe Cabin and Honeymoon Cabin are open year round. The other cabins open in late May and close in early November. The Lodge and Grant Grove Cabins are in Grant Grove Village, a short walk from Grant Grove and the General Grant Tree.
Cedar Grove Lodge is the only lodging in Kings Canyon proper. This basic hotel opens in late May and closes in mid-October. The rooms were being renovated during our visit but don't expect anything fancy. If you want to stay overnight in Kings Canyon and don't want to camp, you'll need to stay at the Cedar Grove Lodge. Since the hotel has just 21 rooms, make your reservations well in advance.
If you need to be connected to the outside world during your visit, please note that internet service is very slow at both Cedar Grove and Wuksachi Lodges. Good service is available in the public areas near the restaurant and gift shop at Grant Grove Village. I couldn't find a cell phone signal anywhere in the park, but others told me that one might exist in certain places. Don't count on it.
DNC also operates six tent cabins at Bearpaw Meadow. To get to the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, you need to hike 11.3 miles from Crescent Meadow. Each cabin sleeps two people on beds and one person on the floor. Bedding is not provided for the person on the floor. Dinner and breakfast are included. A box lunch may be purchased. Reservations may be made starting at 7:00 a.m. PST on January 2 by phoning 1 (866) 807-3598.
More information on lodging within the park can be found on DNC's website, www.visitseqoia.com.
Campgrounds are found throughout the parks. Some take reservations year round and some only during the summer. Others do not accept reservations. Reservations may be made at www.recreation.gov or 1 (877) 444-6777 (7:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. PST, from March through October).
Lodging is also available just outside the park. Kings Canyon Lodge is located between Grant Grove Village and Cedar Grove Village and is closed during the winter.
Montecito-Sequoia Lodge and Stony Creek Lodge are located between Grant Village in Kings Canyon National Park and Wuksachi Village in Sequoia National Park. The former offers all inclusive lodging and a variety of activities. It's a great place to go with a large group. Stony Creek Lodge has eleven rooms of varying sizes and is open late May through October.
Silver City Resort is located on private land in the Mineral King area near the southern boundary of Sequoia National Park. The Resort is quite isolated and consists of chalets, cabins, and historical cabins. Silver City is closed during the winter.
Restaurants can be found at Wuksachi Lodge and in General Grant Village. The food is pretty good at both places. Cedar Grove Lodge has a snack bar that serves basic food. It's open late enough for hotel guests to have an early dinner. Lodgepole Village in Sequoia National Park is home to a market, snack bar, and deli. During the summer, barbecues are held every night at Wolverton in Sequoia National Park.
Hiking is the premier activity in both parks. You'll definitely want to walk through the Grant Grove, visit the General Sherman Tree, and take a hike through the Giant Forest. The view from the top of Moro Rock is worth the climb to the top. If you like backpacking, more than 800 miles/1,200 km. of trails can be found in the parks.
If you prefer to see the park from the back of a horse, stables in Grant Grove, Big Meadow, and Cedar Grove offer horseback rides.
Kayaking, rock climbing, and fly fishing opportunities exist in the parks and the surrounding National Forest. In the winter, try your hand at cross-country skiing and snow shoeing.
From May through October, tours of Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park are offered. Boyden Cave, along the Kings Canyon Scenic Highway between Grant and Cedar Groves, may be visited during the summer months.
Daily sightseeing tours in Sequoia National Park are offered by DNC.
Finally, the Giant Forest Museum gives you a very good overview of the parks and the giant sequoias. The park is open daily during the summer and on weekends and holidays during the remainder of the year. Excellent information is available at the parks' visitor centers.
It took me 35 years to make the time to really see these two beautiful national parks. I hope you won't wait that long. More information is available at the National Park Service's website, www.nps.gov/seki, and DNC Parks and Resorts' website, www.visitsequoia.com.
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