Located on the eastern side of California’s central valley, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are truly amazing places to visit, but there are several things that regularly catch people by surprise. Here are a few ”know before you go” travel tips to make your trip to Sequoia a little easier.
1 – Know your roads. There are two ways into Sequoia National Park, Highway 180 out of Fresno (which also leads to Kings Canyon) and Highway 198 from Visalia. Both roads converge into one when you get into the park, so depending on conditions you can enter through one and exit through the other, but there are some key differences between the 2 routes. Highway 198 is extremely curvy with a number of hairpin turns, and has a vehicle length restriction of 22 feet. If you’re traveling in a long vehicle or if any of your traveling companions are prone to car sickness, 198 would be a route to avoid. Highway 180 is still a mountain road and has the expected twists and turns but is nowhere near as curvy as 198. However, the trade off is 180 can close due to snow during the winter time while 198 closes only rarely.
2 – Check the weather. Everyone always asks “what will the weather be like in (whatever month)”, but unfortunately none of us are the proud owners of a crystal ball, and while we can guess, we can never say for sure. Weather.gov is a great resource for checking the forecast (just search for Sequoia National Park and it will pop right up), and before you make the drive up the mountain I always recommend checking current conditions by calling the National Park Service road/weather hotline (dial 559-565-3341). The main parts of Sequoia are at about a 7,000 foot elevation, and weather can change quickly and unexpectedly so it’s best to come prepared. Oh, and if you’re traveling during the winter, snow chains are required to be carried in your vehicle.
3 – If possible, make reservations. During the summer months, Sequoia lodging and Kings Canyon lodging will definitely fill up. Walk-in reservations are sometimes possible but should not be counted on. Same goes for restaurant reservations. If you’re camping, keep in mind there are only 2 campgrounds that take advance reservations (Lodgepole and Dorst – both can be reserved on Recreation.gov). All other sites are first-come-first-served. If you’re traveling on a weekend during the summer, your odds of landing one of the first-come-first-served spots are much better if you arrive on a Friday vs a Saturday, but regardless it is best to get there early. Many sites have lines forming at 7am so try to get an early start.
4 – No elevators. This is one of the most common complaints we hear. There are no elevators in ANY of the lodging in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. No matter where you stay, if your room is on an upper level, be prepared to carry your luggage up some stairs, so you may want to pack light. If you have mobility issues, call the hotel prior to your arrival and ask to be assigned to an entry level floor.
5 – Bring a flashlight. Outdoor lighting is sparse in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and while this makes for some great stargazing, some people have a hard time finding their way around outside at night. Bringing a flashlight or two is highly recommended.
6 – No cell service. There is virtually no cell service available anywhere in the parks. In a “stay connected” world, it can sometimes cause a lot of stress and anxiety for travelers when they arrive and find that their phones don’t have a single bar of reception. The best way for your loved ones to reach you when you’re traveling in the parks is by calling the Sequoia hotel you’re staying at, and there is also WiFi available at Wuksachi Lodge, Montecito-Sequoia Lodge, and John Muir Lodge.