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Sequoia National Park trail
Sequoia National Park trail

Sequoia and Kings Canyon: A four-for-one deal

When entering Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks you are actually getting a four-for-one deal. In addition to Sequoia, the second oldest national park, you also get Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument plus the wilderness areas and Inyo National Forest attached at the southeast corner. All of this for the price of one admission.

For seniors holding a National Park Service senior pass, it’s an even better deal that includes no entry fee and $9 per day camping.

Within these parks and monuments are some of the oldest and largest trees on this earth, including the General Sherman and General Grant trees. Also present, but not often mentioned, are dozens of wonderful hiking trails, mountain lakes and meadows, abundant wildlife, fabulous scenic views and Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental United States.

Smithsonian hut on top of Mt. Whitney, Sequoia National Park. (photo courtesy of National Park Service)
Smithsonian hut on top of Mt. Whitney, Sequoia National Park. (photo courtesy of National Park Service)

What does all this mean for RVers? First, a few cautions or warnings:

  • Fill your vehicles with fuel prior to leaving the San Joaquin valley. The cost for gasoline was $1.15/gal higher at Hume Lake than in the valley. The only sources of gasoline and diesel fuel inside the Park or National Forest are at Hume Lake and south on the Generals Highway.
  • Most campsites in Sunset and Azalea campgrounds will not accommodate RVs longer than 24 feet. Travel is restricted on many roads for RVs longer than 22 feet.
  • Best travel times are late summer or fall. Parks are basically closed during the winter season.
  • Roads to the parks are steep and winding. Route 63 and the last 20 miles of Route 180 before entering the park are challenging due to steep grades and sharp curves. Drive in low gear going up and down these grades. Turn off the air conditioner.
  • Within Grant Grove Village there are a few parking places for RVs. However, they may be occupied by automobiles.
  • If you miss the turnoff to Azalea campground (at entrance to the Grant Tree) you may have to travel some distance before finding a suitable turnaround.
  • Drive slowly in the parks, watch for hikers, bikers and other vehicles.
  • Although there are several entrances to these parks, the only roads that RVs can safely travel are Route 180 from the west and Route 198 from the southwest. All other entrances are via hiking trails.
  • No hunting or off-road vehicles are allowed.
  • RVers are much more likely to find a campsite on weekdays rather than on weekends when the parks are very busy.
  • Empty waste tanks and fill fresh water tank before entering the parks.
Looking up among giants in Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)
Looking up among giants in Grant Grove, Kings Canyon National Park. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

RVs under 24 feet in length can navigate most of the one-way roads in Sunset and Azalea campgrounds. Large RVs should be parked and suitable campsites searched for using a towed vehicle or by hiking. There is a pull-off at the Kings Canyon park entrance where two or three RVs may be parked to unhook the towed vehicle. The campsite selected should be held by a person or suitable camping equipment.

Most of the larger RV sites are in Azalea campground with several toward the back of the loops. Sunset has a few RV sites. Both campgrounds cater to the tent camper and to smaller RVs. Even the most accessible sites may be difficult to back into depending on the skill of the driver. Several RVs have been driven into the sites rather than backed in. As is usually the case, it is wise to have a helper capable of guiding the RV into the site.

Watch the lower branches of the trees and note that these are BIG TREES that may not be RV friendly. Many of the campsites are not level either front-to-back or side-to-side, so it is wise to have leveling boards or pads.

There are other campground that may accommodate RVs, including one at Hume Lake Christian Camp, and the Princess National Forest Service campground. Reservations are suggested at these private and less accessible campgrounds.

I have now visited the campgrounds at Sequoia National Park and found that there are campsites for large RVs. My daughter, Tammy, was the engineer on-site when the campground was improved about 25 years ago and she indicated that some sites could accept larger RVs, but the campsites were basically designed for the smaller RVs that were more common at that time.

Attractive features of the campgrounds are their location and elevation. Nestled among the towering Sequoia, pines and spruce trees each campsite offers space, shade and cool breezes. Cloud cover, light rain and lazy winds have accompanied the mild afternoon storms that have passed by recently. Mid day temperatures have been in the 70s and the nights are almost chilly. Temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley, 40 miles west are 25 to 30 F higher.

Clean, pine scented, mountain air, green foliage, large tent and RV sites, small, clean, flush toilets, bear-proof food storage and garbage containers, sturdy picnic tables, metal fire rings and friendly neighbors are additional features. Camping and RV sites have 14-day limits. There are no water sources or dump stations in these campgrounds and no information is provided concerning that important component of RVing. Generators may be operated between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. There are no playgrounds, swimming pools, electrical outlets or other features usually found in private RV resorts.

Little 5 Lakes

My son-in-law, Dutch Scholten, has many years of experience working at various positions in the National Park System in these parks. He also operated a ski touring business for several years near the park. In addition, he has been an avid hiker and backpacker whether here or in Alaska. Dutch ranks Cedar Grove as equal to the more famous Yosemite Valley and highly recommends it for a day picnic trip or for a day hike or multi-day backpacking trip across into the eastern Sierras.

Closer to Grant Grove Village is the Redwood Mountain Grove with some of the largest Sequoia in the 60-mile belt of Sequoia land. All areas are replete with superb hiking trails and superior panoramic viewpoints. Dutch recommended reading “They Felled the Redwoods” by Hank Johnston which provides an abundance of historical facts and photos describing the logging of the redwoods prior to the establishment of these parks. The book is very informative.  www.visitsequoia.com/grant-grove.aspx

The driving distance from Grant Grove Village to Cedar Grove and on to the end of the road (Route 180) is more than 30 miles.The destination is well worth the drive. Twenty of these miles are curving, winding, sharp turns as the road descends more than 2,500 feet in elevation. The views are truly spectacular if YOU ARE NOT DRIVING, both going and on the return.

At Cedar Grove Village there is a small store, snack shop, motel, laundromat and visitor center. Several campgrounds are located along the route and between the village and the end of the road. Most of these accept smaller RVs and a few are restricted to tent camping. If you choose to take an RV to this area of the park please know that the return trip will be challenging for RV, tow vehicle and the driver, but it is not an impossible trek.  www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/what_cc_sum.htm

At the end of the road there are several fairly large parking lots for cars, RVs and horse trailers. Vehicles may be parked in these lots for the convenience of hikers or backpackers. Horses are allowed on most of the trails.

Trails lead into the high Sierras where the views of the peaks, meadows, valleys, river and the great canyon are truly beautiful. This canyon is actually deeper from peak to river than the depth of the Grand Canyon. Views captured on the film shown at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center brought tears to my eyes. Tears of pleasure to be able to see the sights on the film and tears of regret and sorrow that, due to my age, I will be unable to see them in person while on a strenuous hike or backpacking trip.

There is no lack of excellent summer and winter activities in these parks.

Kings Canyon. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service.)
Kings Canyon. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service.)

A day trip along the Generals Highway

The Generals Highway begins on Route 180 just 2 miles west of Grant Grove Village. This is a well-maintained, two-lane, asphalt road that flows south through Sequoia National Forest, Sequoia National Monument and Sequoia National Park where it intersects Route 198 near the south entrance to Sequoia NP. This road is open year around, but there are gates than can be used to close the road as is necessary in the event of rock slides, storm damage, or heavy snow falls. Warning signs suggest that RVs longer than 22 feet avoid the use of the highway south of the Giant Forest.

This day trip took me as far south as the Giant Forest Museum, to the General Sherman Tree, past Lodgepole Visitor Center and campground. There were many RVs longer than 30 feet in Lodgepole campground during midweek. Both private and rental RVs were driving southbound.

My first stop was at the Redwood Mountain Canyon. To get to this unique canyon turn west at the Hume Lake Rd and Generals Highway intersection onto a gravel road that descends for 2 miles into the canyon and terminates in the parking lot at the trailhead. Trails offer hikers or horse riders delightful day or overnight hikes or rides through one of the most impressive array of trees on this earth.

Although I was unable to hike the trail for any significant distance, the Sequoia trees within the first mile of trail were awesome for this flatlander to see. One trail leads to the Hart Tree, one of the 25 largest trees on earth. More than 2,500 Sequoia trees that are larger than 10 feet in diameter flourish in this grove. Two veteran horse riders declared that these are their favorite trail rides. The two-mile gravel road is rough and not recommended for RVs, but a large horse trailer and pickup camper were parked in the trailhead lot.

Driving south on the Generals Highway, I passed several campgrounds of different types both in the national forest and the Park. Trailers, popup campers and tents were evident in a few of the campgrounds. As mentioned above Lodgepole Campground accepts large RVs. It may seem wise to obtain as much information as possible both online and at a visitor center before taking a large RV into any of these campgrounds.  www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/lodgepole.htm

General Sherman tree in Giant sequoia forest
General Sherman tree in Giant sequoia forest

At the General Sherman Tree, I elected to walk the 0.5-mile trail down to view this giant tree. The physical mass and volume of the huge trunk makes it the largest tree in the world, although all of the annual growth is in the trunk because the top of the tree has been destroyed by lightening. The 0.5-mile trek from and back to the parking lot can be avoided by taking the free shuttle.

My next stop was the Giant Forest Museum where there is ample parking for RVs and cars. Basic information about the trees, the forest and the history of human impact on the park is featured. Some of the information is redundant to that provided at the visitor centers. The Pine Woods Picnic area was a pleasant, quiet place for my lunch break.

A few miles south of the Hume Lake and Redwood Mountain Canyon intersection be alert for signs pointing the road to Buck Rock and Big Meadow. This road is very RV friendly. There are at least seven designated National Forest Service campgrounds plus other sites offering awe-inspiring views of the mountains and canyons.

Two miles off the Generals Highway is a horse camp at the turnoff to Buck Rock. About one-quarter mile up this road are several camping areas. With four wheel drive a camper can park very near Buck Rock and have tremendous views across the mountains.

Buck Rock is a monolith several hundred feet in height with a fire lookout station and gift shop at the top. One can climb the stairway along the side of the rock to experience one of the most spectacular 360-degree views in the Ppark. I did not climb the stairway; however, even the view from the base of Buck Rock was well worth the time and effort to drive and hike the few miles up the dirt road. I did climb the stairway a few days later while hiking with my daughter’s family.

Big Meadow is just as the name describes it and is a great place for hiking or cross country skiing in season. The meadow is now being restored to its natural state after many years of water erosion took a toll on the vegetation and soils.

For more information about visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, click here.

 

 

About Dr. Bob Gorden

Dr. Bob Gorden is an RVer, hiker and writer. He has a PhD in microbial ecology from the University of Georgia in Athens. He is a retired research scientist from the University of Illinois Natural History Survey. He has owned and operated more than 55 RVs of various types, and has visited every state, except Hawaii, in his RV. He also traveled by RV in New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. He currently owns and travels in a 1978 GMC 26-foot Class A and 2013 Thor ACE 30.1 Class A motorhome. He has a compelling desire to be “On the Road Again!”

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