Two Days Visiting the Largest Trees in the World: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Walk amongst the giant sequoia trees, hike to a turquoise waterfall and take in views of the Great Western Divide. This itinerary outlines tips to avoid crowds and maximize your time in these stunning National Parks.
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*A note on driving times
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks combined cover 1,353 square miles. The itinerary below focuses on the western sides of both parks. As you research you may come across hikes on the eastern side, but keep in mind it could be a 4-5 hour drive to reach them. The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range cuts through the parks and you have to drive South around the mountains and then back up North to arrive at the eastern side of the parks.
Kings Canyon National Park
Hike to Mist Falls
The Mist Falls trailhead is about an hour drive beyond the visitor’s center. It is a commitment to go there, but the drive is along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway and is a stunning drive that carves through the canyon and parts of Sequoia National Park. My friend and I drove straight to the trailhead in the morning but made a few stops along the drive back to break it up.
The hike to Mist Falls is 8.7 miles round trip on an out and back trail. It only has 879 feet in elevation gain, so it is a relatively easy trail. Large portions of the hike are exposed, especially the first 1.5 miles, so it is hot in the summer. I recommend starting as early as possible to avoid crowds and the heat. We started at 8am and there were only a couple other people at the falls when we arrived. We largely avoided the heat until the last mile or so. Bring plenty of drinking water if you go in the summer.
If you are hiking in the summer, pack water shoes or hiking sandals to walk around in the stream coming off the base of the falls. The cool water feels great after the hike. There is also a small, calm, secluded pool to the left of the falls that is ideal for cooling off and for photos. To reach the pool requires a bit of hiking off trail and walking in the water.
The hike not only ends at the brilliant, turquoise Mist Falls, it also showcases breathtaking views of the canyon on the way up.
As you are driving back from Mist Falls, stop for a quick view of Grizzly Falls. It is an easy place to stretch your legs and to see a nice waterfall that is a less than a minute walk from the road/parking area.
Boole Tree Trail
The Boole Tree is the largest giant sequoia by volume on National Forest land and is the 8th largest sequoia in the world. If you are visiting Sequoia National Park, you will see many similar trees, but I particularly like Boole because it is the lone standing giant sequoia in the area, so it has a unique, magical feel to it. We only came across two other people on the entire trail during high season in July, so that made the hike experience special as well.
Accessing this trail requires driving 2.5 miles on an unpaved road. I only recommend going with an SUV and/or all wheel drive vehicle. The advantage of the challenging drive is that there won’t be crowds! The turnoff for the trail can be easy to miss. It doesn’t have the same large signage as most of the other points of interest, so watch for a small sign. Coming back from Grizzly and Mist Falls the turnoff for the trail is on your right. Coming from the visitor’s center it is on your left. Note there is a bathroom at the parking lot here.
The trail to the tree is a 2.5 mile loop. If you start the loop going to the left, you begin with 1.5 miles of a gradual incline and then end with 1 mile coming down hill. The left side of the trail offers perfect sunset views as well! If you start going to the right, it’s a steep 1 mile uphill climb to the tree. If you want to make it an out and back trail, start by going right to the tree and then turn around and come back the same way for 2 miles total. The trail is full of wildflowers and butterflies and also offers views of Kings River Gorge.
General Grant Trail
If you want to see the 2nd largest tree in the world, this is it! It's an easy .6 mile paved loop to see the tree. We went towards the end of the day at 3pm, after all of the above hikes and stops and it was not crowded at all.
Sequoia National Park
Hike the Giant Forest Loop Trail
This loop is a combination of 5 other trails in the park. It is not a park-labeled hike that has signage or maps in the park. The Alltrails site created this hike to fit the best of the park into one 7-mile loop hike. This hike has it all—the largest sequoias, secluded areas of sequoias with no crowds, views of the Great Western Divide and surreal meadows with wildflowers and butterflies. It is peaceful and awe-inspiring the whole way. The route includes parts of the 5 trails outlined below. If you want to take this trail I highly recommend using the Alltrails map.There are multiple forks in the road and options for turnoffs along the route. If you don’t use the map, and happen to get lost and add extra mileage, it is okay, it is all beautiful! This is a relatively flat hike with 1,272 in elevation gain over the 7 miles. If you prefer a shorter hike, there’s the option to pick any of these trails to hike individually as well.
1. General Sherman Tree Trail
General Sherman is the largest tree in the world, so this is a must see. There is a short paved walkway around General Sherman and other large sequoias. We started here at 7am and had the area to ourselves, so start early!
2. Congress Trail
From the General Sherman Tree Trail there is clear signage to start the Congress Trail. This 2-mile loop is also paved but winds deeper into the forest. It includes multiple other trees that fall into the list of the top 20 tallest trees in the world. The President Tree is the 3rd largest. This trail also includes two well known groupings of sequoias–the Senate and House.
3. Trail of the Sequoias
When you reach The President Tree, turn east towards Chief Sequoyah Tree and then follow the sign on the right to start the Trail of the Sequoias. The trail is not paved and has fewer crowds than the Congress Loop (although at 7:30 am neither were crowded). This section of the trail is about 2 miles and winds through magical sequoia groves. Hiking in the early morning had the added bonus of early morning light shining in through the forest. The path climbs up to the highest point of the trail with views of the Great Western Divide.
4. Tharp’s Log Trail (Also called Log Meadow Trail)
Eventually turn off of the Trail of the Sequoias slightly early and onto Tharp’s Log Trail. Follow signage to Tharp’s Log which is next to the picturesque Log Meadow. After Tharp’s Log, continue on the same trail to Chimney Tree (a burnt sequoia tree trunk).
5. Circle Meadow Trail
A bit after Chimney Tree, turn onto the Circle Meadow Trail. The signage can be confusing at this point, so when in doubt follow signs to General Sherman. Circle Meadow was one of my favorite spots on the trail. It was full of wildflowers and butterflies and also had giant sequoias around it. This portion of the trail leads you to the Black Arch Sequoia that you walk through, the Pillars of Hercules group of sequoias and the Founders Group of sequoias.
The trail then connects back on to the Congress Loop Trail by the McKinley Tree and finishes the remaining portion of the Congress Loop . It ends back in the General Sherman Tree area.
Moro Rock Viewpoint
Moro Rock is a granite dome viewpoint with 360-degree views of the National Park and views of the Great Western Divide. It's a popular sunset viewing spot as well.
There are two options for seeing the Moro Rock viewpoint:
A 3.6 mile hike that starts near the Giant Forest Museum and shuttle stop. It has 600 feet in elevation gain.
Take the shuttle from the museum to the base of the stairs that lead directly to Moro Rock. It’s .25 miles up steep stairs to the viewpoint. There are 350 steps up to the top. If you are visiting on a weekday, or outside of the summer, parking is allowed at the actual Moro Rock Parking area. During the summer weekends they close the lot and require visitors to take the shuttle from the museum.
Build an Itinerary
This itinerary works well as a stand-alone long weekend trip. We visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon prior to hiking Mt. Whitney. Many visitors also add on Death Valley or Yosemite National Parks.
The most convenient lodging for visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is camping in the parks or staying in one of the park lodges. Both of these options are booked far in advance. Three Rivers is a smaller town with a few lodging options, and Visalia is the closest mid-size town with plenty of lodging, both hotels and Airbnbs. We planned our trip relatively last minute and chose to stay at a Hipcamp (a private campground) near the parks in Miramonte. It was closer than Visalia and less expensive.
Lodging is the only item you need to book in advance for this itinerary. The parks don’t require any reservations unless you want to visit Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park; it requires advanced reservations for a guided tour. You can buy tickets at recreation.gov.
What to Wear and Pack
What to Wear
Hiking boots or shoes
Water shoes or hiking sandals for Mist Falls
What to Pack
To follow this itinerary you need a car. There is shuttle service available within Sequoia National Park, but you need a car to drive to the shuttle pick-up. There is no cell service anywhere in either park, so download offline maps or add your stops to maps ahead of time when you have service.
When to Go
We visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon in early July. The park is open year round but June through September are the best months to visit for hiking weather. June and July have the most wildflowers as well! Outside of those months, the hiking trails can be more difficult or inaccessible depending on snow and ice conditions.
Trip Dates: July 2021
Article Updated: July 2021
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