The week between Christmas and New Year is a popular time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
However, seasonal closures and the possibility of winter weather can complicate a visit. That’s why a carefully planned trip is crucial to ensuring a safe and fun trip to the national parks.
Here are a few travel tips and warnings for those visiting the parks this holiday season.
Tire chains and cables
Highway access to the giant sequoias and snow play areas could be restricted much this week as crews work to clear roadways, facilities, and parking lots.
All visitors to the sequoias in the coming weeks should anticipate that there will be some level of tire chain restrictions in place. Visitors who arrive without them could be asked to turn around and sent back down the hill.
All vehicles are required to carry tire chains or cables in all chain control areas. Park rangers determine tire chain restrictions at an R1, R2, or R3 level. At R1, tire chains or cables must be installed if the vehicle doesn’t have snow or all-season tires. At R2, tire chains or cables must be installed unless the vehicle has snow tires and AWD/4WD. At R3, all vehicles are required to install their tire chains or cables.
The speed limit in chain control zones is 25 mph, even if marked otherwise. Several rollovers have been recently reported in the parks because visitors were driving too fast.
For tire chain information, including a helpful video on installing them, and tips on winter driving in the parks, visit www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/winter_driving.htm.
Traffic and shuttles
National Park Service officials “strongly discourages” visitors from attempting to travel in the parks during an active snowstorm.
Avoid lengthy waits at the entrance stations by arriving before 9 a.m. or after 2 p.m. Bring water, snacks, a full tank of gas, warm layers, and waterproof shoes. Seasonal closure of some parking areas means that available parking will be in high demand.
The free Sequoia Shuttle will be operating in the Giant Forest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through New Year’s day. Visitors are encouraged to spend their day in the Giant Forest using this service. Shuttle routes and times can be found in the park newspaper at the entrance station or go.nps.gov/sequoiashuttle.
The section of the Generals Highway that connects the parks, between Quail Flat and Wuksachi Lodge, is closed.
Other seasonal closures:
- Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road
- Highway 180 past the Hume Lake Junction
- Mineral King
The parks have designated snow play areas, but visitors shoule be on the lookout for rocks, trees, and other objects hidden in the snow.
The trails to General Grant and General Sherman Trees are the only trails where snow is cleared, but they are often very icy. Park rangers recommend traction devices for shoes. Other trails may be more enjoyable with snowshoes or cross-country skis.
- Sequoia National Park: Wolverton Snowplay Area in the Giant Forest
- Kings Canyon National Park: Big Stump and Columbine picnic areas in Grant Grove
- Sequoia National Forest: Quail Flat and Cherry Gap trailheads near Grant Grove
Campgrounds and lodging
Campsites are extremely limited during the winter season, according to park officials.
Sites in Potwisha Campground (Sequoia National Park) must be reserved through Recreation.gov. Sites in Azalea Campground (Kings Canyon National Park) are first-come, first-served during the winter months. Campers at Azalea should plan for snow and winter conditions.
All food, scented items, and coolers must be stored correctly in food storage lockers. Bears are active in the foothills.
For availability at Wuksachi Lodge, visit www.visitsequoia.com. John Muir Lodge is currently closed.