A Winter Visit in Sequoia / Kings Canyon National Park

Know Before You Go

  • Chains required and unpredictable weather
  • Potential for avalanches (see below)
  • Generals Highway closed past Wuksachi Lodge, visitors are not able to access to Kings Canyon National Park via Generals Highway
  • Several trails/campsites closed (including Moro Rock)

Getting There and Entrance Fees

Sequoia National Park is roughly 250 miles from LA and a relatively smooth drive through diverse terrain.  If you are entering Sequoia via Rt 198 you will pass Lake Kaweah, a beautiful scenic area with plenty of view points.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park FeesSimilar to the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree, both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park are $30 per vehicle.  Keep in mind if you plan on visiting ANY national park more than three times it pays to buy the Annual Pass for $80.

Where to Stay?

During the winter months there are a two lodges inside the park to stay.  Sequoia National Park is home to the Wuksachi Lodge and inside Kings Canyon National Park is John Muir Lodge.  My fiance and I stayed at John Muir Lodge since it was more reasonably priced, but still had updated rooms, great staff and decent food; they are currently in the process of redoing the restaurant at John Muir Lodge. There are also several campsites at both high and low elevations within and just outside of the park.  We were unaware of the lower elevation campsites and wish we stayed at Potwisha Campground, it was mid 60’s during the day in early March.

Sequoia National Park A Winter Visit

Taylor and I recently visited Sequoia National Park towards the end of winter (early March) and had a blast!  We were nervous about visiting the park during the winter months due to the threat of getting stuck in the snow, the freezing temperatures, and the fact that some of the trails are closed.  We were surprised and delighted to find the shear beauty within Sequoia during the winter season.

Things to Do in the Winter at Sequoia

Tunnel RockTunnel Rock

 Hospital Rock

Hospital Rock

Giant Forest

Giant Forest is one of the most visited attractions in the park and is open year round.  This is where you can find massive sequoia trees and it is Giant Forest that is home to the largest tree on earth, General Sherman.  One benefit when visiting Sequoia in the winter (in addition to the snow covered winter wonderland) is the fact that you can park in the parking lot that is right off 198 (closed in the summer) and for the most part you have the place to yourself!

General Sherman Parking Lot
During the winter season you can park in the General Sherman Tree Car Park. During the summer, due to the high volume of visitors you have to park near the trailhead and trek down to the tree.

General Sherman Trail

The 2016-2017 winter season has seen record snow levels compared to the past five to ten years.  This made the trek through the Giant Forest one to remember with snow covering the trail and the forest.

Trail to General Sherman
Trail to General Sherman

General Sherman is the largest tree on earth, and is one of the main attractions of the park.  Check out some pictures of us hanging out with the giant beauty.

General Sherman
In front of General Sherman in awe of its size

General Sherman Close Up

Close to General Sherman is Congress Trail.  The Congress Trail is close to Sherman Creek where you can explore and enjoy a nice little waterfall.

The Congress Trail
General Sherman’s Creek near The Congress Trail

Tokopah Falls near LodgePole Campground

To reach the tallest waterfall in Sequoia National Park, you must drive through Giant Forest past General Sherman towards Wuksachi Lodge.  Before the lodge look to your right for a road to LodgePole Visitor Center, Market, and Campground. The visitor center is closed during the winter but the market may be open depending when you visit.  Tokopah falls trail head (roughly 4.2 miles round trip) is at the end of the campground which is also closed during the winter.  You have to park in the market parking lot and hike through the campground to find the trail.

Hiking over Lodgepole Campground
Hiking over Lodgepole Campground (Snow Base 4 to 5 Feet)

The hike itself is relatively easy, at least in the summer, winter can be a bit tricky with icy/snow covered conditions.  It has a slow but steady incline as you trek towards the falls.

Bridge towards trail head
The start of the trail is passed the bridge which takes you to remaining campsites of Lodgepole and the trail head.
River view
Halfway to the falls, you can start to see Tokopah Canyon

As you get closer towards the falls, the forest opens into Tokopah Canyon for magnificent views.  Since the trail is covered with snow it defers some visitors making the falls less crowded.  We got lucky and had the place all to ourselves!  Some of the falls were completely frozen and we were told there were folks ice climbing earlier as we were on our way up the trail.

Playing in the Snow

WARNING!!! Potential Avalanches!  While hanging out alone, we heard a big rush of energy and looked to our left and what do you know, we were witnessing an avalanche. This quickly brought us back to reality and made us realize that during these warmer temperatures as snow begins to melt BE AWARE!  Below is a before and after shot of the avalanche, notice the different color of snow.

Kings Canyon National Park – Winter

Generals Highway is closed past Wuksachi Lodge and does not connect Sequoia to Kings Canyon in the winter due to this closure.  In order to enter Kings Canyon you have to exit Sequoia and head north to Rt. 180.  This is not so bad since you have a diverse terrain to drive through, it is actually quite pleasant.   In addition to the road closure of Generals Highway connecting Kings Canyon and Sequoia, Generals Highway is also closed past Lake Hume in Kings Canyon.  This shouldn’t stop you from visiting Kings Canyon during the winter because there is still plenty to do and see.

General Grant Tree

The second largest sequoia tree is found in Kings Canyon National Park near the visitor center.  General Grant has a wider base then General Sherman and I think this picture depicts that pretty clearly.

General Grant

The last day we were here kings Canyon got roughly 12 inches of snow.  Below are a few pictures of General Grant Trail and General Grant covered in snow.

Fallen Sequoia
Walking through a fallen Sequoia

Weather is unpredictable during the winter at such high elevation, make sure you bring chains!  If you don’t have 4WD, the park rangers will ask you when you enter the park for your chains and make you put them on.  Below is a picture of the road during the snow storm we encountered, it created beautiful views, but hazardous conditions!

Overall Recommendation – Go!

Overall, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park are beautiful during the winter and offer a less crowded time to see the main attractions.  The winter wonderland up in the mountains offers scenic views that will definitely look completely different in the summer.  We highly recommend and will be back in the summer!