Only 200 miles by road from often-overrun Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks still feel like untrammeled wilderness. Only one road, the Generals Highway, loops through the area, and no road traverses the Sierra here. High-altitude hiking and backpacking are what these parks are really all about; some 700 miles of trails traverse this terrain of snowcapped Sierra Nevada peaks (including Mount Whitney, which at 14,494 ft. is the highest point in the lower 48 states), high-country lakes, and alpine meadows. For families, though, there's one main attraction: the largest groves of giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada.
Though they are two separate parks, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are contiguous and managed jointly from the park headquarters at Ash Mountain -- you hardly know when you're leaving one and entering the other.
Of the 75 or so groves of giant sequoias in the parks, the two most convenient to visit are Grant Grove (in Kings Canyon, near the Big Stump park entrance), and Giant Forest (in Sequoia, 16 miles from the Ash Mountain entrance). In Grant Grove, a 100-foot walk through the hollow trunk of the Fallen Monarch makes a fascinating side trip. The tree has been used for shelter for more than 100 years and is tall enough inside that you can walk through without bending over. In Giant Forest, the awesome General Sherman Tree is considered the largest living thing in the world; single branches of this monster are more than 7 feet thick. Giant Forest has some 40 miles of intersecting footpaths to wander; the 6-mile Trail of the Sequoias will take you to the grove's far eastern end, where you'll find some of the finest trees.
While Sequoia's primary attraction is those incredible trees, Kings Canyon encompasses the deepest canyon in the United States: Drive to Road's End on the Kings Canyon Highway (open late April to early Nov) to stand by the banks of the Kings River and stare up at granite walls rising thousands of feet above the river.
Nearest Airport: Fresno Yosemite International, 53 miles.
Where to Stay: $ Dorst Campground, in Sequoia, near Giant Forest (tel. 877/444-6777). $$ Wuksachi Village & Lodge, 64740 Wuksachi Way, Sequoia National Park (tel. 866/807-3598 or 801/559-4948 [international]; www.visitsequoia.com).