Tips For Exploring Sequoia National Park

If you’re visiting Sequoia National Park for the first time, brace yourself for a super sized treat and an experience that will rival anything else you’ve ever seen during your travels. Known for its gigantic trees that can grow as high as a 26-story building, the park features over 800 miles of hiking trails, incredible scenic drives, and is home to Mount Whitney – the tallest mountain in the lower 48.

During a 30 day road trip packed full of amazing sights and experiences – this was easily in the top 3 of a very long list. So, let’s talk about some of the things that make this place so majestic and some tips that will make your visit just as good, or even better.

Where To Start & When To Go

If you’re not camping you should consider using the town of Visalia as your home base. Even if you do plan to camp, keep in mind the park’s 14 camp sites fill up extremely fast and do require reservations. Visalia is about 45 minutes from the park’s main entrance and provides a great mix of lodging, local shops and restaurants.

With more travelers enjoying outdoor activities, it’s hard to pin down the ideal time to visit. Try for weekdays and avoid spring break. If you don’t mind cold weather and have experience driving in snow, you might consider late fall or early spring. I picked a Tuesday in early May and it was beautiful and the crowds weren’t overwhelming.

Lastly, and most important – get there early. As you’ll see in the video below, getting a good night’s sleep before your visit and heading out before the sun comes up pays big dividends.

Have A Plan But Don’t Overdo It

One of the things you’ll quickly notice about Sequoia National Park is that it’s almost visual overload. There are so many things you’ll want to take a second glance at and places you’ll want to explore. It’s a good idea to map out the things you absolutely want to see and check them off your list early in the day. The park’s most popular spots are prone to crowding and it’s not so enjoyable when you’re lost in a big group of tourists all trying to get the perfect picture next to the General Sherman Tree or at the top of Moro Rock.

Once you’ve done the things you consider “must-do” – slow down a bit, enjoy a scenic drive, and soak up as much of the park as you can. The visitor centers can help steer you to some great hiking spots or places where you can enjoy a picnic lunch.

FUN FACT: The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park has a mass of 52,500 cubic feet. That’s half the size of an Olympic swimming pool. The trunk alone weighs about 1400 tons or the equivalent of 15 blue whales According to the National Park Service, all that lumber could be used to build 120 average-sized homes.

Grab A Map!

Paper maps – remember those? Be sure to grab one as you first enter the park because you’ll need it at some point. Your phone won’t have any cell coverage in most of the park. There are apps you can download that have maps that work offline but I’m not one to take chances on that actually happening.

Bring Your Water Bottle

It’s always a good idea to have plenty of water when you visit a place like Sequoia National Park but don’t just keep it in the car. Even short hikes within the park can wreak havoc on your breathing if you’re not used to the altitude changes. When I climbed to the top of Moro Rock and the 350 steps to get there, I’m glad I thought to bring along my water bottle. In fact, I passed several people on the way back down that took note and commented that they wished they had thought to bring one along as well. Of course, don’t be an idiot and leave it behind somewhere. Those people are the worst.

Fill Up On Gas

I’m one of those weirdos that loses my mind when the gas tank drops below the half tank mark. So I went into a total panic when I realized I hadn’t topped off my gas tank as I entered the park. There are gas stations near the entrance of the park but once you’re in – you’re tempting fate if you don’t fill up.

You can find one gas station in the park which is located near Hume Lake. (Which I did wind up using, just for peace of mind.) Keep in mind that the park is over 400,000 acres so it’s not like you can easily drive over there in a pinch. Just fill up your tank ahead of time and be done with it.

But wait… there’s more!

You actually get two National Parks for the price of one! Kings Canyon National Park is literally right next to Sequoia National Park. You can easily see both parks in one day if you time it right. Keep in mind, you’ll have to think about which route to take back to your home base at the end of the day.

If you enter Sequoia and then drive all the way up to the welcome center at Kings Canyon, you can assume it will take at least three hours to return to your starting point by driving back through the park. However, there’s an alternate route that can cut that time in half and it’s also a really nice drive. You can exit Kings Canyon heading west onto highway 180 and then take 63 south. Of course, you’ll want to check the map ahead of time for specifics based on where you’re staying for the night.

The National Park Service updates road conditions and posts other alerts for hikers and campers on their website.

Can’t make it in person to visit Sequoia National Park? Check out one of the scenic drives in the video below:

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