Sequoia National Park, in California, is home to the largest trees in the world, but that’s not all you’ll find there. Between Sequoia and its sister park, Kings Canyon, there are over 1300 acres of trees, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, caves, mountains, campgrounds, and plenty of wildlife. Spectacular views are everywhere, and you’re not likely to run into crowds like you might at other popular national parks. With all that it has to offer, is it possible to visit Sequoia National Park in one day? Yes, it is possible. While you might prefer to spend more time exploring, a one-day itinerary will allow you to see many of the most amazing sights. If you have only a day, you will still experience the feeling of wonder and awe that I did. It truly is a magical wonderland!
Want to know why my husband and I had only one day to spend in Sequoia? We had to fit in a quick getaway between family visits and other responsibilities at home. But deciding whether it was worth the drive to spend just one day in the park was easy. Ultimately, it most certainly was worth it! If you have the opportunity to stay longer, you won’t regret it. The nice thing about Sequoia and Kings Canyon is that it is all very drive-able. You can drive to most points of interest, making much of the park fully accessible to all ages and abilities.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to Sequoia National Park as the sum of both Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks. They are administrated together and treated as one park.
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When should you visit Sequoia National Park?
The park is open year-round, although some of the roads may be closed because of weather conditions. Most people visit during the late spring and summer months — between mid-May and the end of September. Temperatures are much cooler at the higher elevations so there can still be snow in the spring. The day we visited, Visalia temperatures would reach the 90’s (an hour away). But in Sequoia, the temperatures were very comfortable in the low 70’s. It was a bit warmer than that in Kings Canyon along the river.
Sequoia National Park is not as crowded as Yosemite or Zion National Parks. We actually visited on the Fourth of July. Because of the holiday, it was impossible to reserve any campground sites on short notice. But if the campgrounds were full, we certainly couldn’t tell. We saw very few people on the trails we hiked, and even the most popular sites, like the General Sherman tree, were only moderately crowded. So, really, you don’t even have to avoid holidays.
I’ve heard the Sequoia National Park is particularly beautiful and serene during the winter, when trees are frosted in snow and you have the park nearly to yourself. But you may need snow chains to navigate the park in winter.
Where should you stay?
If you want the most ideal outdoor experience, you should reserve a campsite within the park. There’s nothing like living in the great outdoors, smelling the fresh air, cooking over a campstove, and hearing the birds sing or the music of a nearby stream.
There are three large campgrounds open year-round, and sites are only $22/night. However, you will need to reserve in advance, as they are popular places to camp. Unlike some parks that require reservations up to a year in advance, Sequoia only allows reservations one month in advance.
In our case, we planned our visit at the last minute. That made it difficult to find even a reasonably priced hotel. The closest town to Sequoia’s main entrance is Three Rivers. While there are several lodging options there, we found them to be more expensive than we wanted to pay. Instead we opted to stay at Lamp Liter Inn in Visalia, CA, about one hour’s drive from Sequoia.
What do you need for a day in Sequoia?
If you’re not camping, you need very little. Here are my suggestions:
- Comfortable clothing in layers you can adjust for varied temperatures
- Good walking/hiking shoes
- Waterbottle or Camelback for hiking
- Sunscreen and possibly bug spray, although I didn’t see mosquitos
- $35 to pay park admission fee (good for 7 days and can be paid online to save time)
- Snacks and lunch, or money to buy food at Grants Grove Village
- The park map you receive at the entrance; there’s no cell reception for GPS navigation
- Something to take photos with (I brought my Canon Powershot SX70 and my phone)
Which park entrance should you use?
Most park visitors enter at the Sequoia Foothills Visitor Center south entrance. You’ll drive uphill on a crazy winding road for several miles (it will feel like forever!) to get to the main park attractions. We chose to enter at the Kings Canyon Big Stump entrance (north) instead. It was a little farther from our hotel in Visalia, but we wanted to end our day at Moro Rock (more about that later), and that was close to the Sequoia entrance. In other words, choose your attractions, and then try to travel in a loop rather than doing a lot of backtracking. Note: if you want to visit both parks, it is impossible not to backtrack somewhat.
Sequoia National Park in one day itinerary
Here’s what we fit into one day in this order. Feel free to choose your own itinerary, but perhaps this will help!
Kings Canyon NP:
- Big Stump entrance at 8:00 am
- Grants Grove to see the Grant Tree
- Panoramic Point – an easy 1/2 mile trail to a spectacular overlook
- South Fork of Kings River near Boyden Cavern – dramatic river views and boulders
- Hume Lake
- Roaring River Falls – a .3-mile hike to a 40-ft waterfall (don’t try to swim here!)
- Trail to Zumwalt Meadow – short hike from parking lot to bridge and meadow, saw deer here
- Grizzly Falls, right next to the parking lot
- Grant Grove Village for lunch – about 1:30 pm (there’s a food market here as well)
From Grant Grove Village, we drove directly to the parking lot for the General Sherman tree. However, by this time, the park was crowded enough that we were diverted from the parking lot. We were directed to the Wolverton Ski Area parking lot to use a park shuttle. We didn’t have to wait long for a shuttle bus that dropped us off right in front of the General Sherman tree. From there, we did some hiking, spotted some bears (!), found a place to eat the food we’d packed for dinner, and bided our time till we could have access to the Moro Rock parking lot (7:00 pm). Before 7:00 pm, only shuttle buses can drive there.
- General Sherman Tree
- Congress Trail, Forest of the Giants
- Circle Meadow, where we spotted two black bears
- Planned to hike to Crescent Meadow and the Tharp’s Log home, but turned around
- Drove past the Overlook view of Moro Rock, to Hospital Rock picnic site
- Drove to Moro Rock parking lot
- Hiked the stairs to the first Moro Rock west viewpoint; there’s another on the very top of Moro Rock, but we decided it wasn’t necessary to be on top to enjoy the sunset.
This may seem like an aggressive itinerary for seeing Sequoia National Park in one day, but it didn’t feel that way to us. We were in the park for a little over 12 hours, and it actually felt pretty relaxing for us. For an easy to scan list of facts and points of interest from Sequoia NP’s website, click here. The only place we visited that I would omit was the Hospital Rock Picnic Site.
Tips for getting around Sequoia
Generals Highway is the main road through Sequoia. It continues into Kings Canyon but is then called the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway until the road’s end. There are lots of winding sections, and if you are prone to getting carsick, you may need some motion sickness help. One really nice thing about Sequoia is that there are lots of turnouts, where there is room for one or more cars to stop on the side of the road to see the views and take photos. Take advantage of them!
It’s pretty easy to navigate with the use of the park map and many well-placed signs. Signage in the park is very good, with site information, trailhead markers, and more. You’ll find parking lots at most of the points of interest. In the morning they have plenty of parking spots, but as the day continues, they’ll get more crowded. Often you can find more parking along the road. Also a plus: there are plenty of restrooms in the park, although many are vault toilets.
What expenses should you expect?
Unless you love to buy collectible souvenirs at National Park gift shops, you really just need the $35 for admission and money to buy a meal if you don’t pack one to bring. Because we didn’t want to leave the park before sunset, we ate our picnic lunch for dinner and bought lunch at the restaurant at Grant Grove Village. We spent about $30 on two generous chicken salad wraps. They came with cups of pesto macaroni salad also.
The only other expense is your gas and lodging. The gas does add up at today’s inflated prices, but we figured we spent about $500 for two nights at a hotel, gas from San Diego, park admission, and one restaurant meal.
Why you should visit Sequoia National Park
I’ve given you lots of suggestions and tips, but I haven’t yet shared with you the big WHY. As in, WHY should you visit Sequoia? I’m just going to give you my emotional answer. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before! The majesty of the Sequoia groves is incredible. These trees really are gigantic. When you are among them, it feels like you are walking in a giant’s wonderland. You should feel smaller than small. But instead you feel like part of something so much grander that you feel one with it. And these forests are truly ancient. The General Sherman tree is estimated to be 2200 years old. Just think of the tales these trees could tell!
But it isn’t just the trees. Huge granite domes, lush mountain meadows with gorgeous ferns and wildflowers, powerful waterfalls, sparkling lakes — everywhere you look, you see big and beautiful sights! Watching baby bears in a sunlit meadow and driving between huge monoliths in Kings Canyon — so amazing! The sunset we watched from Moro Rock was also spectacular. Peaceful. Majestic. Even magnificent. This is how I would describe Sequoia.
But should you try to fit in Sequoia National Park in one day? If that’s all the time you have, definitely don’t miss it. I am so grateful I got to see and experience Sequoia and Kings Canyon. I think you will be too. Please enjoy our video tour through Sequoia…