Seeing the Parks in 1 or 2 Days
Eighty percent of the parks' visitors come here on day trips -- an amazing statistic, considering the geography of this place. It takes 3 to 4 days to do the parks justice, but it is possible to take a short walk through a grove of big trees in an afternoon. Day-trippers should stick to Grant Grove, if possible -- it's the most accessible. Coming from the south, Giant Forest is a good alternative, although the trip takes a while on the steep and narrow Generals Highway. Cedar Grove and Mineral King, two other destination points, are farther afield and require an early start or an overnight stay.
If you have only 1 day, we recommend driving from the Foothills through Giant Forest to Grant Grove, or vice versa. It's about 2 hours through the park, plus whatever additional time is necessary to resume your route outside its entrances. Start at a park visitor center -- there's one near each location -- to get your bearings. Whether traveling from the north or south, you'll see the varied terrain within the park as you pass through dense forest, exposed meadows, and scrubby foothills covered in oaks and underbrush. In spring and summer, much of the route may be dotted with wildflowers. The southern portion runs along the Kaweah River. This route also passes two large stands of giant sequoias: one at Grant Grove and the other at Giant Forest. Both have easy trails looping through the majestic stands. At Grant Grove, a footpath passes lengthwise through a fallen sequoia.
Seeing the Parks by Car & Shuttle
Although these two parks are generally considered the domain of hikers, and they contain only 127 miles of paved roads between them, you will have a use for your car here. Those not willing or physically able to lace up a pair of hiking boots and take off down a trail will still be able to enjoy the scenery, often from the comfort of their motor vehicle or from roadside and near-roadside viewpoints.
The Generals Highway runs nearly 50 miles from Sequoia National Park's Ash Mountain Entrance to Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, passing through the Giant Forest, home of the world's largest sequoia trees. It's a very pretty drive, with optional stops to see the Giant Forest Museum and the General Sherman Tree. There are also several easy walking trails along the way. From several miles inside the Ash Mountain Entrance to Giant Forest, Generals Highway is narrow and winding and not recommended for vehicles over 22 feet long.
For a short, scenic drive in Sequoia National Park, we recommend the paved Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road, a 3-mile dead-end road (open in summer only) that runs from the Giant Forest Museum, along the Generals Highway, south and east through a grove of sequoias. Along the way, you can see the fallen sequoia at Auto Log (now too rotted to support a vehicle), drive through a hollowed-out fallen sequoia at Tunnel Log, and stop for a steep 0.3-mile walk up to the top of Moro Rock for a spectacular panoramic view. This road ends at Crescent Meadow, known for its colorful wildflowers in summer.
Kings Canyon Highway, from the Grant Grove area to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, is a lovely drive of some 35 miles, but most of its especially scenic sections are not in the park. Instead, some of the best roadside scenery is in Giant Sequoia National Monument. For part of the journey, Kings Canyon Highway (also called CA 180) is high above the Kings River, offering breathtaking vistas of the canyon; then it seems to almost join the river, giving motorists a close-up view of the rapids as the water crashes over and among huge boulders. Well worth a stop along this route are the spectacular Grizzly Falls. Allow about an hour. The eastern two-thirds of this road are open during the summer only.