Standing among the giants, it’s impossible not to gaze up in wonder. The Giant Sequoia is one of the world’s biggest trees, and calls a very small area home. There are just 75 groves of these trees in the world – and all of them are located between 5,000 and 8,000 feet on the western slopes of the California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s these trees that Sequoia National Park was established to protect.
I had the opportunity to visit Sequoia National Park briefly in the summer of 2020 as part of my road trip honeymoon. Like you – who may be short on time when planning a trip, hence finding this post – I only had one day to visit the Giant Redwoods in this park. But, my (new-at-the-time) husband, Mr. V, and I made the most of it, packing big trees and big vistas into a small timeframe. We stood in the shadow of General Sherman Tree and admired the sweeping Sierra views – and you can too even with just one day to visit.
If you’d like to stand in awe of these towering giants, this is a great place to go. But you don’t need a ton of time to make it happen! After reading this post, you’ll know how to spend one day in Sequoia National Park, plus have tips on visiting neighboring Kings Canyon National Park.
Planning Your Visit to Sequoia National Park
Before jumping into my suggested itinerary for one day in Sequoia National Park, I want to cover the logistics. I find answering these questions in advance allows you to have a hiccup-free trip.
Sequoia, Kings Canyon, or Both?
As you research Sequoia National Park, you’ll probably notice: there’s another National Park literally right next door! Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park share a border, so it’s really easy to visit both parks on a single trip.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks have very similar attractions at their foundation: both parks protect an area of the southern Sierra Nevada and the Giant Sequoia groves on the mountain slopes. There are some differences though: while the main attractions of Kings Canyon are located in a small section of the park along Generals Highway, there’s a whole other section of Kings Canyon with more groves, towering domes, and hiking trails. Both parks have something unique to offer.
While I’m focused on just how to spend a day in Sequoia National Park in this post, I’m planning to write a companion post about one day in King’s Canyon, plus a guide for visiting both Sequoia and King’s Canyon in one day. I’ll add the links to those posts here once they’re published.
Sequoia National Park Entrance Fees
As part of the National Park system, Sequoia operates under the same rules as other parks. You’ll either need to pay an entrance fee or use a National Parks Pass to enter.
Here are you options:
- The private vehicle entrance fee, good for 7 days, is $35.
- You can walk or bike into the park for $20 per person, good for 7 days.
- An annual America the Beautiful Pass is $80. This gets you into every national park and all fee-collecting federal lands. I got my first one in 2019 and it’s such a money-saver that the America the Beautiful Pass is totally worth it! You can get the America the Beautiful Pass from REI.
It’s worth noting that because the NPS uses one site for both Kings Canyon and Sequoia, paying the admission fee for one park gets you access to both! You can read more about the fees – and check that the above is accurate – on the Sequoia NPS website.
Driving & Parking in Sequoia National Park
The primary road in Sequoia National Park is called Generals Highway; it’s the extension of California Highway 198 as it enters the park (and connects to Kings Canyon National Park). Generals Highway is a paved, two-lane road that winds – and I do mean winds – its way up into the mountains and gains a ton of elevation along the way. Most vehicles will be able to handle this road, including its many hairpin turns.
There are also a few spur roads, including Crystal Cave Road and Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road. Both of these roads are also paved two-lane roads but are less maintained for snow, so may open later and close earlier each year.
In terms of parking, there are plenty of pull-outs along the way wherever scenic opportunities arise. However, like, well, pretty much every National Park anymore, parking can be hard to find. When I visited, we waited until about 10am to start our journey into the park. We were lucky to find parking in a few lots; others had no parking spaces at all. Start your day early if you want to visit top sights without wasting time trying to find parking.
Camping in Sequoia National Park & Nearby Hotels
There are 14 campgrounds between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park; the primary ones along Generals Highway in Sequoia are Potwisha, Buckeye Flat, Lodgepole, and Dorst Creek. There are also campgrounds off Mineral King Road in the south part of the park. In 2021, reservations are required for all campgrounds in Sequoia National Park.
If you’d rather arrange accommodation of the non-tent variety (more my style!), there are two places to stay in/near Sequoia National Park. Wuksachi Lodge is located just off Generals Highway in the park, and Stony Creek Village has lodging options just outside the northern border of Sequoia National Park.
There are also lots of options in the town of Three Rivers, along CA-198 (before it enters the park/becomes Generals Highway). We stayed here, in a property with river access – we started the morning with a refreshing dip in the river! Here are a few options:
- We stayed at The Gateway Lodge which I was – for the most part – pretty unimpressed with. However, they have private river access and that alone was a highlight of our visit. From $199/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- Rio Sierra Roadhouse is a little further down from the park entrance, but is cute, well-stocked, and also has private beach/river access. Book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- For a standard option, the Comfort Inn & Suites Sequoia/Kings Canyon is a solid option. It’s even further stil from the park entrance but will do if you want a national chain you know and trust. From $199/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
What to Do in Sequoia National Park (When You Only Have One Day!)
When you only have one day in any National Park, it’s important to make the most of it. Below you’ll find a list of the activities I recommend – in order – to maximize your one day in Sequoia. There are certainly lots of other things to do in Sequoia National Park, but with just one day, you’ll need to make some choices. Here’s what I recommend.
Catch the Sunrise at Moro Rock
Though the big trees are what draw people to visit Sequoia National Park, Moro Rock is one of the park’s most popular attractions. This dome-shaped granite rock formation offers incredible views out over the Sierra Nevadas, but be prepared that it does require both a drive and a hike.
If you’re not staying in the park, give yourself at least an hour to reach Moro Rock trail. From there, it’s a 0.5-mile hike to reach the top and get those views. That means you should probably aim to leave at least 90 minutes before sunrise if you want the real experience! (Times will be shorter if you’re staying/camping in the park.)
Visit the Tunnel Log
On your way back down from Moro Rock, be sure to stop at the famous Tunnel Log. This fallen sequoia has been carved to turn it into a tunnel over the road, and it’s a great spot for pictures. There is also a gorgeous grove called the Parker Group Sequoias along the way which are a nice spot to start you day among the big trees.
Stop at General Sherman Tree
Next, it’s off to the other most-popular sight in Sequoia National Park: the General Sherman Tree. While not the tallest tree in the world, it is the most massive tree – and when you see how big its base is, you’ll understand.
To reach General Sherman Tree requires a hike from the parking area, but the trail is wide and well-paved. (It does have a decent little bit of incline so be prepared for the hike back up to your car!)
Head to the Lodgepole Visitor Center
Next, and admittedly, it’s a bit late to “start” your day at the Visitor Center, but I always recommend making a stop at a visitor center when you’re in a National Park. They always have good exhibits to teach you more about the park, and have a gift shop where you can stock up on National Park souvenirs (and get your passport/postcard stamped!).
There are a couple of visitor centers in Sequoia; it makes the most to visit Lodgepole Visitor Center if you only have one day. (The other one is Foothills, which is located right at the park entrance and may not be open if you enter the park early to watch sunrise at Moro Rock.)
Drive to Stony Creek Village for Lunch
Whether you brought a picnic lunch or want to buy lunch, Stony Creek Village is the place to go. While it’s technically outside Sequoia National Park on U.S. Forest Service Land, it has the most amenities for day-trippers (and multi-day travelers too). You can eat at the on-site restaurant or grab a picnic table to enjoy whatever you brought.
(I don’t cover it in this post in detail, but there are some amazing spots to eat in Three Rivers. You could easily get-take-away food from Ol Buckaroo or Gorilla Quesadilla and bring it into the park.)
Stop by the Giant Forest Museum
Now that you’ve reached the “far” end of the park – assuming you entered from the Three Rivers side – it’s time to turn around and begin making your way back out of the park over the course of the afternoon.
Start the afternoon at the Giant Forest Museum. The museum has exhibits all about the sequoias and what makes these trees special. This is a great starting point to learn about the Giant Sequoia grove outside the museum but also teaches about the history of the park as the building itself used to be a market during a different era of park visitation. There’s a gift shop here too.
Hike in the Giant Forest
Next, head back to the area called Giant Forest and go hiking among the trees; while this area is popular, it’s a relatively easy hike and allows you to see many more Giant Sequoias in the forest. These ones are not all named – but they’re all ancient living beings that offer humility and calmness to our crazy world.
Visit Crystal Cave
Photo credits: ray_explores via Flickr
If it’s open, I highly recommend spending the late afternoon – when the heat peaks in the High Sierras no matter when you visit – in Crystal Cave. After all, caves stay naturally cool year-round, and Crystal Cave averages 50°F (you may even need a sweater or jacket!).
Tours are offered Thursday through Sunday each week and last 50 minutes. On the tour, a ranger will guide you through the cave showing the famous formations and teaching about how the cave was formed. Reserve tickets in advance to make sure this will work in your schedule – and as tours sell out otherwise.
Admire Sunset from Sunset Rock
As the day winds down, it’s time to find a spot to enjoy the sunset. You could head back up Moro Rock – which has a westerly view – but it’s a popular spot and you’ve been there already. (Note: if you didn’t watch sunrise at Moro Rock, you should head there for sunset!)
Another option is Sunset Rock, which is a short hike from the Giant Forest Museum. This area also has a great view looking westward across the Sierras and is a perfect sunset spot.
I always enjoy stargazing when I visit National Parks; if you’re camping in the park it will be easy to find a dark spot to enjoy the night sky. There are also a few other ways to enjoy the night sky at the end of your long day in Sequoia National Park:
- Sequoia is open 24/7/365 – so you can park and hike to General Sherman Tree or out into the Giant Forest grove to look up at the stars among the tops of the trees.
- Moro Rock is a great spot for stargazing, but be careful of hazards along the hike.
- The Park Service holds regular stargazing events at Potwisha Campground during the summer months.
- There’s also a Dark Sky Festival usually held each August; this was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 dates have not yet been announced.
There you have it: how to spend one day in Sequoia, from sunrise to sunset – and beyond! Do you have questions about visiting Sequoia for one day? Let me know in the comments!