There are plenty of things to do around Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park in the snow and icy months.
Not only are you beating all of the warm weather crowds that flock to the National Parks this time of year but you get to enjoy the snow-covered mountains amongst its famous towering trees.
The History of Sequoia National Park
Established in 1890, Sequoia National Park protects over 400,000 archers of forested mountains. Sequoia National Park is also home to Mount Whitney which is the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,505 Feet above sea level. The park is just south of Kings Canyon National Park. Kings Canyon National Park can be entered by driving north up Generals Highway from Sequoia National Park, however, this portion of the road is closed during the winter months leaving Kings Canyon National Park only accessible via State Route 180.
Sequoia National Park is most notable from the trees from which it gets its name, the giant sequoia trees. One particularly famous giant sequoia, General Sherman Tree is the largest tree, by volume, on Earth. Which is a specific claim to fame. On paper, it might seem like a bizarre claim to fame but you can only truly grasp the sheer size of this tree when you are standing in front of it.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park are still recovering from a massive September 2020 forest fire that led to its partial shutdown and still several of it’s popular trails lead through very obviously burned-out terrain. It does put visitors at greater risk of experiencing washed-out trails, rock slides, mudslides, and falling trees but I experienced no issues during my hikes. I was impressed by how much work the Rangers seemed to get done in maintaining the park trains. It’s important to note, though some of its mature giant sequoia trees have charred bark, many of its most famous and largest giant sequoia trees are still alive and thriving.
The land that encompasses Sequoia National Park was first home to the “Monachee” Native Americans who mainly resided in the Kawash River drainage in the foothills region of the park. Seasonal residents including the Tubatulabal Native Americans. They used the eastern part of the park as summer hunting grounds.
You can find pictographs at several sites within the park left behind from the tribes that first called this land home. They can be found at Hospital Rock and Potwisha
Getting to Sequoia National Park
The best way to enter Sequoia National Park is through Three Rivers, California. This quaint little town has the last gas station before you enter the National Park. I would suggest filling up since there aren’t any gas stations inside the park. There’s also Sequoia Coffee Company, an artisan coffee shop with fresh coffee drinks, a limited selection of sandwiches, and delicious griddle donuts. There are a few other lunch and dinner spots along the ride into the park including; a sub shop, a bbq joint, a food truck, a sweets and ice cream place, and a few markets to stop for groceries and souvenirs. There is also a hardware store that would be a great place to pick up some supplies if you are heading into a winter play area or looking to camp in the warmer months.
Where to Stay when Visiting Sequoia National Park
If you are looking for somewhere for a long weekend stay I would highly recommend Three Rivers. It is quiet and easily accessible to the park. There are a few small Inns and Riverfront cottages in town but the town is rather small so if you are looking for somewhere with more of nightlife you won’t find that in Three Rivers. But Three Rivers, CA is an incredible launching pad into Sequoia National Park since it is an easy 15-minute drive to the park entrance.
If you were willing to trade traveling a bit further to the park entrance for a bit more selection in the bar and restaurant scene, I would Visalia, CA. Visalia, CA is a much larger city with many more options for post park visits but you will have to sacrifice a longer drive to Sequoia National Park since Visalia is about 45 minutes away from the park entrance.
What to do in Sequoia National Park in the winter
An absolute must when visiting Sequoia National Park is the General Sherman tree. Though there was some snow and ice along the trail during my winter visit most visitors seemed okay in a pair of rugged hiking boots. Normally I’d recommend trekking poles and microspikes kept in the backpack of any winter hike and they would be useful during this trip. If you are looking to get into winter hiking I would recommend picking up a set from Kahtoola or Yaktrax.
Sequoia National Park gets snow from December to May but the snowiest seasons are generally February to March. I went to visit Sequoia National Park in mid-March and though it got hit with a few end of the week snowstorms Generals Highway, the winding road that leads up to the Sequoia groves, was only closed for a couple of days and opened up for some early Sunday hiking so the trip was still salvageable.
The best way to get updates on the road conditions in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is to follow the Alerts on their website and to call their line for road conditions – (559) 565-3341 (press 1, then 1). Don’t rely on the weather report in the foothills or in nearby Three Rivers. The foothills were usually 10-20 degrees warmer, so if Three Rivers got rain there was a good chance the mountains were getting snow.
If Sequoia National Park does get hit with some snowstorms during a winter visit there are still plenty of activities surrounding the park that make it still salvageable. There are plenty of activities in Sequoia National Park if it snows. See the list below
- Marble Falls Trails – Moderate – 7.4 Miles. The entrance to this trail is just off the Potwisha Campground in the foothills of the National Park. It can be a bit narrow at points and though it is rated as moderate I would put it on the easier end of moderate. This trail has incredible waterfall views along the way and ends at the foot of cascading waterfall down gorgeous white stones.
- Paradise Creek Trail – Easy – 5.5 Miles – Though rated as easy this trail gets a bit more challenging towards the end but you’ll get some beautiful river views as a payoff.
- Visit the Foothills Visitor Center
- Follow Highway 180 north and Visit Kings Canyon National Park including Grant Grove.
- Visit a dedicated Snowplay Area in Wolverton or Grant Grove – Remember to be careful and Pack in and Pack out your sled, even if it breaks.
- Ski & Snowshoe in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. A few places nearby offer rentals.
If there is some snow on the ground but Generals Hwy is still passable grab your trekking poles and hit the trails! it’s highly recommended you download offline versions of the maps since trails can be hard to find in the snow.
These are my favorite winter hikes in Sequoia National Park:
- General Sherman Tree Trail – Easy – 1.2 miles – This is paved the entire way, the only thing that could make this trail minorly challenging is the compacted ice that forms on the concrete. This is also a great launching point for other park trails that are listed below.
- Congress Trail – Easy – 3.0 Miles – A bit more rugged than General Sherman Tree Trail but this takes you along some of the other famous trees in the grove including The House, and The Senate (get the theme yet?).
- Giant Forest Loop Trail – Easy – 7.0 Miles – Another great trail that launches around the General Sherman Tree trail. Can get icy in the winter.
- Big Trees Trail – Easy – 1.3 Miles – Be prepared for snow conditions but this hike is a wonderful way to explore the groves if you’re short on time.
- Moro Rock Full Trail – Easy – 3.8 Miles – While this trail is considered easy it’s really hard to find in the snow and it also goes through some burned areas so I had a lot of trouble keeping track of where I needed to be without constantly looking at my map. Another option would be to hop on the park roads that close in the winter. You still get some hiking since the roads aren’t plowed but they’re a bit easier to follow. This trail leads up to the top of Moro Rock but it’s closed if it’s snowy or Icy, be warned that a great portion of the stairs sits in the shade and they get extremely icy and dangerous. If it is icy, the trail is closed and you aren’t climbing these stairs without crampons. I would plan to tackle this later in the day in the hopes that the ice has warmed up and melted in the afternoon sun. After wandering this trail make sure to stop by the Giant Forest Museum and Park Gift Shop.
- Crystal Cave Trail – This trail had been closed due to damage caused by the Wildfires but when it does open up this short trail is only available by booking Ranger guided tours but it lets you enjoy some time in a marble cavern. When it opens back up add this on your list.