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The parks are roughly equidistant -- 5 hours by car -- from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Kings Canyon National Park borders Sequoia National Park on the north and is nearest to Yosemite and Fresno. Kings Canyon contains the developed areas of Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. Sequoia National Park is home to the Giant Forest sequoia grove, as well as Lodgepole, the Foothills, and Mineral King. The main entrance (for all except Mineral King) is on CA 198 (which becomes Generals Highway in the parks), via Ash Mountain through Visalia and Three Rivers. From Sequoia's border, Visalia is 36 miles and Three Rivers is 7 miles away.

Although it's impossible to drive through the parks from west to east -- the High Sierras get in the way -- the north-south Generals Highway connects Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park with Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. The highway runs 25 miles between two giant sequoias named for famous American generals -- the General Grant Tree and the General Sherman Tree. Allow at least an hour to drive between the two on this slow, winding route -- not including delays for construction, planned for the foreseeable future. From several miles inside the CA 198 Ash Mountain Entrance to Giant Forest, Generals Highway is narrow and winding and not recommended for vehicles over 22 feet long, which should enter the parks from CA 180.

The road to Mineral King turns south off CA 198 about 3 miles east of Three Rivers, crosses private and public land, and heads 11 miles to the Lookout Point Entrance. From here it's another 15 miles to Mineral King. This steep, narrow, twisting dead-end road is closed in winter and does not reconnect with any other park roadways, which puts the Mineral King area off-limits to motor vehicles during the winter and well into spring.

National park trips aren't cookie cutter -- a backpacking expedition is far different than a family vacation -- but all of them are best preceded by good planning. Good gear is critical, distances are far, lodgings and campgrounds fill up quickly in summer, and so on -- so the earlier you plan, the better. In this guide, you'll find all the information you need before setting off on your adventure to one of these spectacular national parks.

Packing -- Prepare yourself for every possible situation: Bring warm- and cold-weather clothing in layers. A jacket is a necessity year-round; it can be considerably warmer in the low country around the parks than in the elevations of the High Sierra. If you are camping or backpacking, good packing is of the essence. For more helpful information on packing for your trip, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.