Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks with kids

On a recent tour through several California National Parks, I heard the same thing over and over again from fellow guests and even park employees: “We love Yosemite, but we’ve actually never been to Kings Canyon.” Or, “We come to Yosemite annually, but haven’t experienced Sequoia, yet.” This tells me two things: Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular in the nation (no surprise there), and neighboring Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will be vastly less congested nearly all year long. Are they worth visiting? Absolutely!

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Park overview:

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are two distinct national parks with one planning site. They have separate entrances, though the same entry fee will get you into both. They sit side-by-side along the General’s Highway off Highway 198 (accessed from Fresno, California) and sit at impressively high elevation: between 6,000 and 8,000 feet for the most part.  We suggest at least two days in the parks in the off-season, and three in summer, with the majority of your time spent in Sequoia.

What to do:

Giant Forest: 

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Most of us come to Sequoia for the Giant Sequoia trees. And yes, they’re absolutely worth the trip. These towering giants reside in this region because of the ideal conditions: they cannot grow like this anywhere else in the world. Take the Big Trees Trail to walk amid these giants (you’ll find the hush of the forest soothing…unless you have restless kids with you!). The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world. Bear in mind: the General Sherman is not the tallest tree in the world, but rather the biggest, measured in circumference around its trunk.  The nearby Giant Forest Museum is worth a stop (in the off-season, it opens at 10 am).

Moro Rock:

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Absolutely plan an hour or so at Moro Rock in the high season. This overlook includes a short but steep hike up the cliff-like rock, which will feel unsettling to anyone with fear of heights. I fall into that category, but had no problem with this short hike, because guard rails are set at key locations. There’s nothing to stop small children from wandering, however, so extreme attention is necessary. From the top of Moro Rock, the views are unparalleled. It’s possible to see the valley floor from one side of the viewing platform, and the peaks of the Sierras from the other. Point out the tops of the Giant Sequoias to kids: they look like bunches of broccoli from this height. Tip: after Moro Rock, continue a very short distance on the same road to drive through Tunnel Log and picnic in Crescent Meadow. Wolverton Snow Park is another nice resting stop in any season.

Crystal Cave:

I had no idea hundreds of caves lay under the surface of Sequoia National Park! The only cave available to tour is Crystal Cave, and it’s only accessible in summer. If you visit during the high season, this should be on your list.

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Tip: Take a tour with Sequoia Sightseeing Tours with Paul Bischoff! Paul is a long-time resident of the area, and runs the best sightseeing tour I’ve taken from a private concessionaire in a national park. We spent a full morning with Paul, and learned more about the parks in a few hours than we ever could have guessed. Paul knows where the animals are, the best ways to avoid crowds, and can walk guests right to the most interesting trails and natural wonders.

Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias:

In Kings Canyon, the Grant Grove offers the General Grant Tree, plus a nice, easy hiking loop of additional Sequoias which includes some naturally downed trees. This is a great place for kids to see the root system of these giants, crawl through a fallen Sequoia log, and walk through a Sequoia tunnel! The Grant Grove Visitors Center is nearby as well, but we found it to be pretty limited.

Tip: While staying at Kings Canyon, catch the John Muir impersonation program by talented Frank Helling. Frank performs most Fridays at the Grant Grove evening campfire program during the summer months. I learned more about John Muir from Frank than I have before or since, and it was entertaining for all ages. Check at the Grant Grove Visitor Center to find out exactly when he’ll be performing during your summer visit.

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Kings Canyon:

In summer, families can drive into the famed canyon, stopping for short hikes along the way. Kings Canyon is home to fabulous backcountry as well: if you plan to backpack in Kings Canyon or Sequoia, apply for a free backcountry permit. The good news: they’re far easier to get than Yosemite permits!

Tip: if you have the opportunity to listen to the storytelling of John Muir impersonator Frank Helling, make time to do this! Frank is absorbing and entertaining, and I learned more about John Muir in the 45 minutes I listened to him than I have before or since! Frank conducts his performances when available; as a park ranger or at the John Muir Lodge about opportunities to hear him speak.

Where to stay:

Kings Canyon offers the busiest ‘village’ of tent cabins, lodging, general stores, and visitors centers at Grant Grove Village. In the off-season, it’s quiet and we recommend the adjacent John Muir Lodge. However, in the height of summer, we’d opt for the less congested Wusachi Village of Sequoia National Park, where you’ll find Wusachi Lodge. This village center houses only the lodge and its restaurant (no adjacent camping and conveniences), which makes it somewhat quieter year-round. Read reviews of John Muir Lodge and Wusachi Lodge.

How to get here:

Access either park from Highway 198 from Fresno California. If you’re doing a loop of Sequoia and Kings Canyon as well as Yosemite National Park (called the Majestic Mountain Loop and highly recommended), you’ll need to depart Kings Canyon and return to the valley floor, then loop around to Yosemite via Highway 41. It’s not possible to drive over the Sierras, which is a good thing for all of us enjoying the parks!

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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  1. This is one of my favourite national parks! The trees are so beautiful and absolutely breathtaking! I can’t wait to go back again! Thanks for the lovely trip down memory lane!

  2. Wow, it’s been too long since I’ve visited there, need to go back again and see nature at its best.

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