Congress Trail, Sequoia National Park
California National Parks North America

Weekend Itinerary: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (COVID-19 edition)

August 3, 2020

First off, it’s been an extremely long time since I’ve posted anything! And if you follow me, I apologize. Honestly, since the last time I posted (oh, you know, like last year), I spent a lot of time planning my wedding for May 2020. Needless to say, no one could have imagined that we would spend most of 2020 trying to survive a pandemic. I feel like I’ve barely made progress with this blog, and now who knows when I will have the courage to fly again. But it doesn’t mean I won’t travel — it’ll just look different. No international travel for a while (tear), but domestic destinations (especially national parks) will be my new focus — while maintaining safety measures, of course!

My now husband Eric and I recently visited Sequoia and Kings Canyons National Parks in June. Sequoia National Park is known for its groves of giant sequoia trees, many of which have been alive for at least 3,000 years! Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in North America, and has its own fair share of sequoia trees. We were really excited to finally check out these national parks, but since everybody was probably itching to get outdoors after quarantine, we were nervous about potential crowds.

tl;dr We enjoyed both parks, but Sequoia was pretty busy and social distancing wasn’t observed nor enforced in certain areas. Kings Canyon was far less busy, and we actually liked this park more. Read on to find out why.

Where to stay

If you plan to visit both Sequoia and Kings Canyon, then you’ll want to stay somewhere fairly equidistant to both parks (unless you plan to camp!). We stayed at an Airbnb in Lemon Cove, which is about 25 minutes to the entrance of Sequoia, and a little over 1 hour to the entrance of King’s Canyon. Note: it does take about 1 hour from Sequoia’s entrance to get to the park’s major sights, so be sure to factor that into your travel plans.

While we stayed in a pretty small town, we found some food options in Woodlake (which requires you to backtrack away from Sequoia) and in Three Rivers (along the way to Sequoia).

What to expect (safety-wise)

We live in the Bay Area, California, where people generally comply with wearing masks and social distancing. In smaller towns (like in Tulare County), it’s a bit more lax, and masks were generally seen as optional. Here’s some things that stood out to us at the time:

  • Indoor dining was allowed as of late June, but mask wearing was not enforced while moving about inside (Note: I doubt indoor dining is allowed now in Tulare County).
  • Social distancing was not enforced in the park. This was a bit concerning for us, especially in Sequoia. There were a ton of people on the trails leading up to the General Sherman Tree, and as it was super hot outside, most people didn’t wear masks (okay, we admit — us included!). At minimum, we expected one-way trails or markers to enforce 6-feet of distance, but that was not the case.
  • Some bathrooms have soap and water. In Sequoia, that includes the bathrooms by the General Sherman trail, and in Kings Canyon, I recommend the bathrooms by Grant Grove Village (they’re so clean!). Anywhere else, though, you can probably expect a single stall, lid-less toilet. Be prepared and bring some hand sanitizer.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park Welcome Sign

Sequoia is known for its giant sequoias, some of which are the largest in the world. While you can see tall redwoods in other parts of California, these sequoias are distinct in that they are generally older and have thick, chunky trunks.

We stayed only a day at Sequoia, but you could easily spend a week or so exploring. With just a day, I’d recommend splitting your time between seeing the sequoias and visiting Moro Rock, a vista point with sweeping views of the western half of Sequoia National Park and the Great Western Divide.

General Sherman Tree

Picture in front of General Sherman (it’s busier than it looks!)

General Sherman is not the tallest tree in the world, but it is the largest in terms of volume. Take a walk around the tree and note how many steps it takes to do so!

Lots of educational content on the park trails!

From the park entrance, it takes about an hour to get to the trailhead. Parking for the Main Trail is off the Wolverton Road (between the Sherman Tree and Lodgepole). While parking may seem limited, there are actually a few sections or levels, so don’t turn away if you can’t find anything immediately.

The trail runs half a mile down to the tree. It’s a easy walk down a paved road, but note that when we were there, it was pretty packed. We didn’t bring our masks because we thought it would be too hot, so we did our best to distance ourselves from others. Still, it was pretty tight in some parts of the trail. In retrospect, I would have worn a mask in addition to social distancing.

Congress Trail – “The Senate” trees

In addition to seeing General Sherman, we went on the Congress Trail, which is a 2-mile fairly leveled hike through the heart of the sequoia grove. True to the trail’s name, we saw clusters of trees named “The Senate” and “The House.” The trail was not packed at all and it was a nice escape from the crowds, so I’d recommend checking it out if time allows!

Big Trees Trail

Big Trees Trail Meadows

Big Trees Trail also showcases giant sequoias, but through a different landscape. It’s about a 1-mile loop through a lush meadow, and it features educational panels along the way. The trailhead starts at the Giant Forest Museum (which unfortunately was closed during our stay).

I really enjoyed the hike. It was beautiful, educational, and much less packed than the General Sherman Trail.

Moro Rock

At the top of Moro Rock!

Moro Rock is a giant granite dome that offers spectacular views of the park and the Great Western Divide mountain range. We tried to save this hike for as late in the day as possible, mostly to beat the heat. Sunset would have been great, but that would have meant staying at the park for 2-3 more hours (and you know, dinner calls!). To get to the summit, you have to climb up some winding stairs and paved trails for a quarter of a mile. While the incline wasn’t too bad for us, parts of the path are fairly tight and you’ll have to make room for others coming up or going down. Once you get to the top, you walk along a walkway and can see the views of the valley to your right.

Tunnel Log

Our turn to go through the Tunnel Log!

Going to or from Moro Rock, you can also check out Tunnel Log. It’s basically a fallen giant sequoia log that you can drive through. It sounds cool in theory, but it’s definitely a bit of a tourist trap. We waited a while behind 3 or so cars, since people took their sweet time taking selfies and videos. If you’re patient, though, more power to you! But I’d say skip this if you don’t have time or if it’s too busy.

Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon National Park Sign (that’s nowhere near the entrance lol)

Kings Canyon neighbors Sequoia National Park to the north. We were quite impressed with how beautiful it was — in fact, we liked it more than Sequoia! Kings Canyon has a just about everything (canyons, rivers, giant sequoias, and meadows) and was way less packed. In addition, some of the main sites (like the General Grant Tree) are not too far from the park entrance.

Here’s what we checked out during our stay at Kings Canyon.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

From General Grant Grove to the end of the byway at Roads End Wilderness Permit Station is about a 1-hour drive. Be sure to take your bathroom break beforehand (I recommend the bathrooms at Grant Grove Village, near the Visitor Center — they’re so nice and clean!)

Kings River, featuring Moe the Roaming Bear

We made plenty of stops to take photos, dip our hands in the roaring Kings River, and to check out the waterfalls at Grizzly Falls.

Grizzly Falls

Zumwalt Meadow

Zumwalt Meadow Loop Trail

Toward the end of the byway is the beautiful Zumwalt Meadow, where you can walk among the Kings Canyon valley floor. The 1.5-mile loop takes you through the lush meadows and the Kings River, with views of the high granite walls. If you like Yosemite (like we do), you’ll enjoy the scenery here.

Blocked trail, Zumwalt Meadow Loop

Note: you can take the loop either way, but we decided to go counter-clock wise. Toward the further end of the loop there were some large piles of rocks, which we scrambled up. (Going the other way would have required scrambling down, which may be harder for some people.)

Also, when we went, part of the loop was blocked off due to damage on the walkway. We went through anyway, but please use your best discretion.

General Grant Tree

General Grant Tree is the second largest tree in the world. A visit here is similar to visiting General Sherman Tree, though the trails are shorter and less crowded. It’s a lovely 0.5-mile loop, with educational panels throughout. You can even walk through a fallen log!

Vermont Log, General Grant Tree

Summary

We found it was quite doable to visit both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for a weekend, and we really enjoyed the parks. If you love being immersed in the forest, then you may want to spend more time in Sequoia. We found that Kings Canyon had just about everything, so we would probably return there before Sequoia.

Have you been to Sequoia, Kings Canyon, or any national park during COVID-19? I’d love to hear how your experience went!

You Might Also Like...

No Comments

    Leave a Reply