California Road Trip IV: Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

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On the Road in the Sierra Nevada

After golden beaches of Los Angeles, our Californian trip continued with the phenomenal national parks in the Sierra Nevada. From Venice, the road took us to places where tree giants grow in deep canyons.

Day on the road

From Los Angeles, we joined the popular Highway One and drove along the coast. Pancake breakfast at Oxnard at a local diner gave us a little sugar rush and enough energy for the long drive. The coastline started to get rougher as we reached Pismo Beach around noon.

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Once again, we dipped our feet in the ocean, enjoyed another iconic Californian boardwalk, and bought a bag of tasty Tomasko salt water taffy for the road. It was hard to say goodbye to the reflection of the Pacific in the back mirror as we started heading east.

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We reached our home for the next two nights at the edge of the Kings Canyon National Park just before sunset.

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Hiking among tree giants in Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, Sequoia and Yosemite National Park. However, it offers phenomenal non-touristy hiking opportunities. We chose one of the trails among tree giants, a loop in Redwood Canyon. The hikes start at Redwood Canyon Trailhead. The drive there is a little bumpy, but the few visitors are rewarded with some alone time in the world’s largest grove of giant sequoias. You can choose from the following hiking options according to your fitness and time available:

We hiked the Hart Tree and Fallen Goliath Loop (10.7 km / 6.6 miles) in less than three hours despite many foto stops along the way. First, the path led us to the Redwood Canyon Viewpoint.

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Then we passed through The Fallen Tunnel Tree.

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With a fire scar at the base of the Hart Tree, nature showed us its real power. The Giant Sequoias need natural fire circles to survive. Every 5-15 years, low-density fires release seeds from their cones, recycle nutritional soil minerals and crack the forest canopy open. That way, young seedlings benefit from direct sunlight.

Tip: Before the hike, visit the General Grant Tree, the second largest tree on Earth, and the Nation’s Christmas Tree. It’s a one-mile drive on Hwy 180 after leaving Grant Grove Village. Also, in the village’s market, you can stock up your backpack with lunch.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

After the hike among the world’s biggest living things, our legs needed some rest. We headed for the viewpoints of Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Hwy 180) on four wheels. The byway leads to an actual end-of-the-road sign at Kanawyers located about 40 miles (64 km) away from the park’s entrance (one-way).

There’s no exit on the other side of the park, so you need to turn back unless you plan on camping in the wild. The road offers breath-taking views over Kings Canyon – a cleft deeper than Grand Canyon. Because of the elevation range, you can observe changing habitats from the comfort of your car.

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The geological forces, which sculptured the scenery of Sierra Nevada, are vividly present around every bend. The colors of the surrounding mountains change throughout the day. The soft late afternoon sun turns rocky peaks into tender guardians of the valley.

Tip: To get to the Scenic Byway from the Redwood Canyon, you can take the curvy 10 Mile Road and pass by the serene Hume Lake. Don’t forget to check the conditions and possible road closures on the park’s website.

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After an exciting day in the Kings Canyon National Park, we spent the evening watching hummingbirds passing by on the front porch of our B&B in Squaw Valley.

Driving through Sequoia National Park

The next morning Generals Hwy 198 led us through the Sequoia National Park and its famous attractions. Compared to Kings Canyon, the traffic was thicker and the crowds much bigger.

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Good to know: The advantage of Sequoia National Park is, that nearly all sights can be reached from Hwy 198. You can drive through the park from Kings Canyon to Three Rivers or vice versa. 

Along the road, stop to pay your respects to General Sherman, the world’s biggest tree. Your neck will hurt for sure after glancing as high as 275 feet (83 meters) to its top. A short loop trail will lead you to the bottom of the tree and back to the parking area.

Getting off the highway pays off as well. The Crescent Meadow Road will take you to Auto Log. Although you can’t use it as a road anymore, the scale of the single piece of giant tree log will make you feel like a hobbit. After another few feet, you’ll be able to pass through the famous Sequoia National Park’s Tunnel Log.

Good to know: The drive through the park from the Big Stump Entrance in Kings Canyon to the Sequoia National Park Ash Mountain Entrance close to Three Rivers is about 50 miles (80 km) long. You only need to pay the entrance fee once, and it’s valid for both parks.

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Back on the Generals Hwy, enjoy many hairpin bends and magical Sierra mountain vistas.

Continue the trip with us

Part 1From Las Vegas to Joshua Tree
Part 2Joshua Tree National Park 
Part 3: Venice Beach
Part 4: On the Road in the Sierra Nevada (You are here)
Part 5: Yosemite
Part 6: San Francisco and the Bay area

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