11 Things You Didn’t Know about Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks


From rolling foothills to immense forests to sheer granite peaks rising above lush meadows and broad lake basins, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks astound visitors with their wild beauty.

Sequoia National Park was established on September 25, 1890, making it our country’s second national park. Fifty years later, on March 4, 1940, Congress established Kings Canyon National Park, which is adjacent to the north boundary of Sequoia. Since World War II, these neighboring parks have been administered jointly. Today, more than 1.5 million people enjoy the beautiful sights at these parks each year.

As we celebrate more than 125 years of protecting this unique California landscape, learn more about these two incredible parks.

1. Sequoia was the first park created to protect a living organism. Found only in the unique environment of the western Sierra, the massive sequoia trees grow at between 5,000 and 8,000 feet in elevation. The relatively mild winters at that elevation, along with a traditional history of fire, has made the mid-Sierra zone the perfect habitat for sequoias. To protect the giant sequoias from logging, Sequoia National Park was established in 1890.

A woman looks up at a tall sequoia tree
A visitor takes in the beauty and wonder of the towering sequoia trees on the Congress Trail. Photo by Richard Thompson (www.sharetheexperience.com).

2. Before Kings Canyon, there was General Grant National Park. A week after Sequoia was created in 1890, General Grant National Park was established to protect the sequoias in the General Grant Grove. In 1940, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a new national park called Kings Canyon that incorporated the area of General Grant National Park with the spectacular canyons and high Sierra country to the east. Since Kings Canyon’s roots go back to General Grant National Park, it shares the title of our country’s third national park with Yosemite National Park.

A view of a flowing river with tall trees along the banks
Kings Canyon National Park's Zumwalt Meadow offers splendid views of high granite walls, a lush meadow, impressive talus and the meandering Kings River. Photo by Ryan McGinley (www.sharetheexperience.org).

3. Fire and proactive forest management play a unique role in the parks. Science has taught us the importance of fire’s role in the ecosystem in places like Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Heat from low-intensity fires allows sequoia cones to open and drop their seeds in the fresh ash bed -- seeds the size of an oatmeal flake! Sequoia and Kings Canyon were the first national parks west of the Mississippi to use prescribed burning as way to not only protect, but to ensure the long-term survival and rejuvenation of giant sequoias. Active fire and fuels management started here in the 1960's and is a practice that is used today to reduce hazardous fuel loads and to maintain a healthy forest.

A view of the base of sequoias with smoke around them
Firefighters continue to use prescribed burning in the same place where the practice started over 50-years ago. Pictured here is the 2016 Goliath prescribed burn at Redwood Canyon in Kings Canyon National Park. Photo by Michael Theune, National Park Service.

4. Sequoia is home to the tallest mountain in the lower 48. Towering 14,494 feet, Mount Whitney lies on the eastern border of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest. While Mount Whitney is a sight to see, a mountain ridge called the Great Western Divide blocks its view from Sequoia’s roads on the west side. The best place to view Mount Whitney without hiking a long way is the Interagency Visitor Center on Highway 395.

A sun star over a rugged mountain with snow on it
The sunsets over Mount Whitney, casting the area in a golden glow. Photo by Rory Fagan (www.sharetheexperience.com).

5. Sequoias are some of the largest and oldest trees in the world. These massive trees can live for over 3,000 years thanks to a chemical in their bark called tannin, which helps to protect against rot, boring insects and even fire. These magnificent trees can grow as tall as a 26-story building, averaging between 180 and 250 feet tall. The most famous resident of Sequoia National Park -- the General Sherman Tree -- stretches almost 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter, making it the largest tree in the world by volume. Learn more about some of the other remarkable trees you can see on public lands.

A snow-covered sequoia with a person standing at the base for scale
The parks’ famous resident, General Sherman Tree, stands tall while covered in a blanket of snow. Photo by Aaron Chen (www.sharetheexperience.com).

6. Most of these parks are wilderness. Over the past 125 years, Congress has expanded Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to 1,353 square miles -- of which over 95 percent is designated and managed as wilderness. The parks’ wilderness protects areas from the foothills to the high country that teem with granite peaks and glacial canyons for visitors to explore.

Purple skies over rugged mountains reflected in a lake
There are many ways to experience the parks' wilderness. Some visitors enjoy the social aspects of a more populated trail, while others seek a more solitary experience -- one where they don't see or hear another person for days at a time. Photo of Kearsarge Pinnacles by Vivek Vijaykumar (www.sharetheexperience.org).

7. Susan Thew’s photographs expanded Sequoia National Park. In August 1923, Susan Thew left the Giant Forest for the High Sierra to join the campaign to promote the expansion of Sequoia National Park. Thew spent her summers photographing some of the most rugged terrain in the U.S. Her photographs became the most complete visual record of the area to date, and were integral to the passage of the 1926 bill to enlarge Sequoia National Park. Years later, Thew’s gazetteer approach inspired the photographic campaign of Ansel Adams to create Kings Canyon National Park.

An old black and white photo of a cone shaped mountain rising above a forest.
Photo taken by Susan Thew included in the proposal to create Sequoia National Park. Photo from National Park Service archives.

8. The parks’ wide elevation range hosts diverse ecosystems and wildlife habitat. The parks stretch from 1,300 feet in the foothills to 14,494 feet in the high Sierra -- an amazing elevational range that creates a topographic diversity supporting over 1,200 species of vascular plants and over 315 different species of animals across elevation zones. Some of these stunning animals include peregrine falcons, black bears, and even the western and mountain bluebirds. The parks also contain some of the widest array of pines, from the massive sugar pine to the ponderosa pine and the high-elevation foxtail and whitebark pines.

A baby bear rests on top of tree branches
A bear cub curls itself around a branch in a pine tree. Photo by Gary Kunkel (www.sharetheexperience.com).

9. The parks have over 800 miles of trails. With trails winding by the famed sequoias, sheer cliffs, river canyons and rocky mountain passes, a hike is the best way to see the varied ecosystems of the Sierra. The famous John Muir Trail, a 221-mile trail stretching from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, travels through Kings Canyon and into Sequoia. Prime hiking season is from July to September, when the weather is sunny and dry. Check out the parks’ guide to some of the other fantastic trails and decide what is best for you.

A view of a meadow with a river through it, surrounded by tall trees and rugged, gray mountains
 Photo of Sequoia National Park along the iconic John Muir Trail by Jeff Sambur (www.sharetheexperience.org).

10. The trees aren’t the only natural wonders in the parks. The incredible geology of Sequoia and Kings Canyon created marvels like Sequoia’s Crystal Cave, a marble cavern that contains a half-mile loop trail. The cave’s formations are fragile, so the only way to see it in person is on a guided tour. If you’d like to do some above-ground exploration, climb one of the iconic granite domes of the Sierra at Sequoia’s Moro Rock. Here visitors can take in a stunning view of the Great Western Divide, if they’re willing to brave the 350 steps.

A large granite formation above the tree tops
The granite dome of Moro Rock looms tall about the park, giving viewers who brave the steps incredible views. Photo by Daniel Suh (www.sharetheexperience.com).

11. Mountaineering is a popular activity at the parks. Norman Clyde is a legend among the mountaineering community for being the first to reach over 130 peaks -- many of which are in the Sierra Nevada. Modern climbers can follow in Clyde’s path by scaling incredible routes throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Climbs range from easy to extraordinarily difficult, including the popular Angel Wings, Obelisk, Grand Sentinel and Charlotte Dome. Check for rock-climbing closures before heading out -- part of Sequoia’s Moro Rock closes annually to climbing during peregrine falcon nesting season.

Mountains loom over a clear, blue lake
Mountaineering through the Sierra can give you stunning views like the pictured here overlooking Bullfrog Lake. Photo by David Palefsky (www.sharetheexperience.com).

For those who’ve seen “nature’s cathedral” in person, they can attest that pictures really can’t do justice to the wonders of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. You have to experience this wild beauty for yourself -- start planning your trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon today.