17 Fun & Best Things to do in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks

Reviewed by Elina Ansary
Last updated:

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In this article, you’ll find the best things to do in Kings Canyon and Sequoia from someone who’s been there.

Vacation time is precious, is it not? I love vacations, but I’m always sad if I realize I missed “the thing to do” at my vacation spot. 

In the High Sierras, about halfway between San Francisco and LA, lies Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. 

These two parks are enormous, and the options are endless when it comes to things to do. Plus, no matter which way you slice it, exploring these two national parks comes with significant drive time. 

My boyfriend and I visited last summer, and we had a blast! Checking the world’s largest tree off our bucket list was exciting. Plus, we found tons of other fun things to do. 

I’ve rounded up the best things we did on our trip to Sequoia Kings so that you can make sure you hit the highlights on your next trip. 

Don’t waste time driving all over the place and missing out on the best things to do and see. Plan the best and most efficient trip with my guide to the best things to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon!

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.

A red jeep seen from behind driving down a road lined with redwood trees, with a snow-capped mountain and a clear blue sky in the distance.

Map of Things to do in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park

#1 General Grant Tree

The large base of the General Grant Tree at Sequoia National Park.

Location: Kings Canyon

Visiting the General Grant tree is one of the top things to do in Kings Canyon National Park. 

President Coolidge dubbed the Grant tree the “Nation’s Christmas Tree,” back in 1926. General Grant is the second largest tree on Earth, behind the General Sherman tree in Sequoia. 

The General Grant Grove is very accessible. You can park at the small parking lot at the grove entrance, or you can walk there from Grant Grove Village. 

You can make a beeline straight for the General or meander among other stately giants like the Fallen Monarch along the well-maintained General Grant Tree Trail.

From the General Grant Tree Trail, you can tack on an additional, quieter trail section; the North Grove Loop.

#2 Go Hiking or Backpacking

Picture of a woman in brown pants with a blue backpack, hiking in Sequoia National Park.

Of course, hiking is one of the top things to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. 

These two parks offer hundreds of miles of trails and wilderness to explore. Below I’ve listed great day hiking options.

Or, for more options, you can read our full article on the best hikes in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon.

Buena Vista Peak

Location: Kings Canyon

Buena Vista Peak is a moderate 2-mile round-trip hike. From the top, you’ll get unobstructed views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains and Redwood Canyon (closed due to the KNP Fire). 

Roaring River Falls Trail

Location: Kings Canyon

Roaring River Falls is a super easy 0.3-mile paved trail in the Cedar Grove area. These super-accessible falls are one of the most popular things to do here. 

We visited in August, and the falls were still roaring! The Roaring River Falls feed into the Kings River, which runs through Kings, the deepest canyon in the U.S.

Mist Falls Trail

Location: Kings Canyon

Not to be confused with the famous Mist Falls Trail in Yosemite National Park, the Mist Falls Trail is a moderately challenging 8.7-mile round-trip hike.

This hike starts at Road’s End (the end of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway) and ends with one of the biggest waterfalls in both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Crescent Meadow Loop

Location: Sequoia National Park

Crescent Meadow is a short, popular hiking loop in Sequoia National Park. 

From the end of Crescent Meadow Road near Moro Rock, you can take an easy 1.5-mile loop around lush Crescent Meadow. 

To make this a longer hike, you can easily add Tharp’s Log and the Dead Giant Loop (trail link here).

Backpacking Routes in Kings Canyon and Sequoia

There are millions of variations on backpacking routes in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. The Lakes Trail, Rae Lakes Loop, and the High Sierra Trail are all very popular. 

Overnight trips in a national park require a wilderness permit.

#3 Boyden Cave

Boyden cavern surrounded by rocks and trees.

Location: Sequoia

When people think of things to see in Kings Canyon National Park, they don’t often think of caves. 

When we visited Sequoia National Park last summer, a ranger told us that Sequoia Kings Canyon has over 3,000 caves!

You can pay a small fee to explore Boyden Cave right off the Generals Highway between the Grant and Cedar Grove areas.

Boyden Cave has many spectacular cave formations like stalactites and stalagmites. Your ticket will get a knowledgeable tour guide to walk you through the small cave. 

There is a short, steep, paved hike to the cave entrance, which may not be ADA accessible. 

Like everything else along this highway, this attraction only opens in summer.

#4 Drive the Scenic Byway

Scenic Highway 180 overlooking Kings Canyon.

Location: Kings Canyon National Park

The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway starts just outside the Grant Grove area and ends inside Kings Canyon National Park, at Road’s End. 

It takes most people 2-3 hours to drive the Highway without stops. 

I recommend driving the highway in spring or early summer when the hills are still green. We went in August, and it was pretty hot and dry. 

Along the highway, you’ll pass the Big Stump Picnic Area (named for the giant stumps of old sequoia trees), the Grant Grove Restaurant, the Grant Tree, Hume Lake, Boyden Cave, and finally, Zumwalt Meadow just before Road’s End. 

CalTrans maintain the highway, which is not accessible in winter. 

*Hume Lake, BTW, is a major destination in the national forest.

#5 Zumwalt Meadow

A woman in a white shirt sitting crossed-legged on the ground, looking out at Zumwalt Meadow in Kings Canyon National Park.

Location: Kings Canyon National Park

Only three percent of the Sierras’ land area is meadows, which is why mountain meadows are so special. Zumwalt Meadow is one of the famous lush meadows in this park. 

Not far from Cedar Grove Village, you can take a short walk around the meadow, which is reminiscent of the fields you’ll see in Yosemite Valley.

Zumwalt Meadow can be an excellent place to spot wildlife so remember to read up on what to do if you see a bear.

#6 Go Horseback Riding

Horses and mules climbing the steep trails of the High Sierra in Kings Canyon National Park.

Location: Kings Canyon National Park

For some, a guided horseback ride is the quintessential summer vacation activity. Kings has two stables with guided trail rides. 

The Grant Grove stables near the General Grant Tree offer one to two-hour guided trips. You can take rides past the Grant Tree through North Grove, Lion Meadow, and Dead Giant Loop.

Right now, rides are for groups of six or fewer, and there are weight and age limits. 

Cedar Grove Pack Station is next to the Cedar Village and offers day rides and wilderness trips. 

Both horse operations are open from June through October, as long as the weather cooperates.

You can also bring your own horse into the park for overnight trips, provided you have a wilderness permit.

#7 Take a Guided Tour

A group of tourists walking through a tunnel cut through a fallen tree at Sequoia National Park.

Location: Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park

Free ranger programs are fantastic, but if you want or need an all-day tour guide, you’ll likely need to look outside the park for services. 

Check out this full-day private tour and hike in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. The tour includes lunch, plus stops at the Grant tree, the Sherman Tree, the Giant Forest, the Generals Highway, and the Moro Rock Trail. 

Expert naturalists curate the tour. 

The other fun option I found for you is the Sequoia National Park Adventure from Tulare. This trip focuses on Sequoia National Park and is customizable according to your interests. 

Both options would be terrific for those who aren’t comfortable driving in the mountains or the United States.

#8 Attend a Ranger Program

A ranger holders up two pine cones--one very large and one very small-- during a ranger program.

Location: Kings Canyon and Sequoia

Ranger programs are a fun way to spend time in a national park–and they’re free. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bad one. 

Most ranger programs at Sequoia Kings occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There are two places to find information about upcoming ranger programs. 

Check the online calendar here or inquire at the visitor centers when you arrive. The Lodgepole Visitor Center is the biggest, most popular visitor center in Sequoia, followed by the Foothills Visitor Center near the Ash Mountain Entrance. 

There’s also the Kings Canyon Visitor Center (be sure to check out the Kings Canyon Panoramic Point, right next to the VC) and the Cedar Grove Visitor Center.

The excellent naturalists at the Sequoia Parks Conservancy also offer paid programs that support park operations.

#9 Have a Picnic at Grizzly Falls

A woman sits on some rocks, looking out at Grizzly Falls.

Location: Sequoia National Forest (between Cedar and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon NP) 

Plan a picnic at Grizzly Falls if you visit California in early spring. This picnic spot is 4.6 miles from Cedar Grove’s Visitor Center and features an 80-foot waterfall in spring. 

This shady spot doesn’t have grills (to prevent food residue from attracting bears, most likely), but it is still a nice place to stretch your legs. 

The waterfall is just a short walk from the picnic area.

#10 General Sherman Tree

Photo of a tourist looking up at the enormous General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park.

Location: Sequoia National Park

You can’t explore Sequoia and *not* see General Sherman. The General Sherman tree is the largest tree by volume in the world. There are taller trees out there, but they’re skinnier. 

The trail to the General Sherman tree is wide and paved, with interpretive signs all along. The parking area in Wolverton was recently re-done, and there’s a nice, new bathroom at the trailhead. 

Of course, General Sherman is incredible, but I enjoyed exploring the nearby Congress Trail even more.

The Congress Trail ties right in with the Sherman trail and takes you through less famous (but no less beautiful) sequoia groves.

#11 Giant Forest

A meadow and a fallen tree at Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park.

Location: Sequoia National Park

The Giant Forest is the “centerpiece of Sequoia National Park.” You’ll notice the sudden appearance of huge trees as you drive through. 

Giant sequoias are the largest tree species on earth and only grow in a narrow elevation range on the western Sierra Nevada. These giant trees are endangered, so it’s even more of a privilege to walk among them!

The unique thing about this forest is that settlers never logged it. It’s one of the last few sequoia groves left untouched by a saw.

Many trails weave around this area. Check out Muir Grove for an alternative to the Congress Trail.

#12 Giant Forest Museum

Visitors looking at a display in the Giant Forest Museum

Location: Sequoia National Park

The Giant Forest Museum is another must-see location in Sequoia National Park. Within the boundaries of the Giant Forest, this historic building tells the stories of the sequoias.

I was most impressed with the giant sequoia in front of the museum. There are signs comparing that tree to other tall structures, and it’s mindblowing when you see the comparison. 

The museum also offers a little gift shop.  

It’s a quick trip in and out of the building. You can take the trail to Round Meadow and Hazelwood from the museum afterward.

#13 Tunnel Log

A road running through the Tunnel Log at Sequoia National Park.

Location: Sequoia National Park

The Tunnel Log in Sequoia is sometimes confused with another tunnel tree in Yosemite National Park, which fell in 1969. 

Near Moro Rock in Sequoia, you’ll find the Tunnel Log. Park rangers carved it to be a tourist attraction from an already fallen sequoia tree. 

The Tunnel Log tree was likely over 2,000 years old when it fell from natural causes in 1937. 

Today we know cutting tunnels in live trees weakens them, so you’re not likely to see a standing tree with a tunnel unless someone cut it decades ago.

#14 Moro Rock

A hiker at Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park, looking out over an expanse of trees.

Location: Sequoia National Park

Moro Rock isn’t the tallest mountain in Sequoia, but it’s one of the most famous. The granite dome looms thousands of feet above the treetops. 

Park rangers constructed a  350-step stone staircase on Moro Rock as one of the first projects undertaken in the new national parks. 

From the top of Moro Rock, you can see the Great Western Divide to the east and the central valley to the west. 

There are handrails along the staircase, but rangers warn to keep a sharp eye on little kids. Moro Rock is just a short distance from the Tunnel Log and the Giant Forest Museum.

#15 Crystal Cave

The inner cavern at Crystal Cave illuminated by light.

Location: Sequoia National Park

Crystal Cave is a top attraction in Sequoia, but it closed in 2022 because of the KNP Fire Complex. But don’t worry– the cave should be open again in 2023!

Like Boyden Cave, Crystal Cave is a marble cavern. You can only enter the cave with a tour guide, but there is no age limit for tour participants. 

Sequoia Parks Conservancy runs the tours, available spring through fall, and tickets are available up to 36 hours ahead of time. 

You can’t buy tickets at the cave; there’s no cell service or wi-fi in the parks, so plan ahead for this trip!

The cave tour takes 50 minutes, but you should plan on using half a day to drive there and back.

#16 Explore Mineral King

A scenic meadow and tree-studded hillside with mountains in the background in Mineral King Valley.

Location: Sequoia National Park

Mineral King is an outlying district of Sequoia National Park. This stunning, sub-alpine glacial valley doesn’t connect by road to the other parts of Sequoia, and it’s the least visited park area. 

European settlers named Mineral King when they discovered silver in the valley in 1872. Private family cabins still dot the landscape from this period. The South Fork of the Kaweah river meanders through the valley on its way to Three Rivers, California. 

There are lots of great reasons to visit Mineral King. At an elevation of 7,500 feet, this is a cool spot to visit in summer.

There are lots of day hikes in Mineral King and endless backpacking routes. To get to Mineral King, turn south before the park entrance near Three Rivers.

#17 Stargazing

A picture of the starry night sky and the Milky Way seen through the trees at Kings Canyon.

Location: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

California’s national parks are excellent places for stargazing. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park offer a chance to reconnect with the night sky as our ancestors saw it. 

The lack of light pollution and the high elevation make these perfect places for stargazing.

You can enjoy stargazing from almost anywhere in the park, but I recommend perching yourself on a spot with few trees, like Big Baldy Ridge, if you can. 

Wuksachi Lodge offers summer astronomy programs; if you visit in mid-August, you may catch the Perseid Meteor Shower. 

The Sequoia Field Institute also hosts a Dark Sky Festival in September (dates TBD for 2023), and you can book private stargazing tours from Potwisha Campground here.


author bio - Meredith Dennis

Meredith Dennis

Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in 6 states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!

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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.


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