Three and a half hours south of the National Park System’s poster child Yosemite National Park, and around four hours from coastal San Francisco, the twin parks of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks comprise a vast swath of the Sierra Nevada range. With a combined ten campgrounds immediately within the parks, and less than half the annual visitors as Yosemite, these parks are easier to explore, larger than their more popular neighbor to the north, and arguably every bit as spectacular.
The winding drive into Sequoia, from the charming town of Three Rivers, California, lingers cliffside from oak scrub forests into the gargantuan and enchanting groves of redwoods from which the park takes its name. Sequoias, with their oft-charred, bright orange bark, corn silo thick bases, knobby roots and puzzlingly sprawling branches (many of which are larger than other other trees can ever hope to grow in their entirety), they dominate the landscape, and whether surrounded by snow or bathing in sunlight, they’re the flora world’s most massive achievement, the largest trees–and non-clonal organisms–on the planet.
Kings Canyon–with nearly half as many visitors as its Sequoia sister to the south, but just as much acreage–also plays host to these massive redwoods, but the main feature here is a vertical climb, a Brawny man of a canyon over a mile deep, long ago carved by glaciers. While Sequoia National Park is home to General Sherman, the largest tree in the world, the second largest–which goes by the name of General Grant–currently holds the second place title and rests in Kings Canyon’s domain.
Add to that a national forest and wilderness area named for fabled naturalist John Muir surrounding the parks, and you have endless opportunity for arboreal recreation and education.
RV Camping in Sequoia National Park
The scenery changes dramatically depending on where in Sequoia you find (or reserve) a campsite.
Lodgepole Campground (GPS: 36.6049, -118.7284), named for one variety of pine tree in the area, but towering sugar pines and sequoias aren’t hard to find either. Home to over 200 sites, it’s also one of the most popular in the park. You can hoof it a brief quarter mile to the visitors center by the same name, where you’ll find a restaurant and market for stocking up on supplies (at a premium) as well. General Sherman is two and a half miles from the campground. The campground features spacious, but otherwise typical national park sites, including fire rings and picnic tables, flush toilets and pay showers to boot! There’s also a dumpster and a dump station should your tanks need attendance.
In the summertime, the park operates a free shuttle service between Lodgepole and the Giant Forest (home to the General Sherman tree), so you don’t even need to pack up your RV to explore all the parks have to offer (not that it’s hard to do so when you rent one of our Class B RVs, where you can transform from camper to cruiser faster than Optimus Prime can make a sequel.)
In the fall, RV camping is limited to the parking lot.
Potwisha Campground (GPS: 36.5173, -118.8004) lives at the other end of the park, and is the closest to the southern entrance and the town of Three Rivers. With significantly fewer sites scattered throughout an oak forest, it’s a completely different, much sunnier experience than Lodgepole, but all of the same amenities, plus recycling facilities. It takes 15 – 20 minutes, minimum, to reach the big trees from Potwisha (and longer to get back down), given the extremely steep and winding road between the two locations.
The most centrally located campground to both Sequoia and Kings Canyon goes by the name of Dorst Creek (GPS: 36.6362, -118.8077), in that it’s at the northern end of Sequoia, not far from where that park blends into its brother. Trails extend immediately from the campground and you have your pick of shaded or sunny campsites. If your goal is to explore both parks but not switch campsites, this is the right choice. To give you some perspective, Dorst Creek places you just over half an hour away from the Grant Grove (home to that massive tree) in Kings Canyon and twenty minutes from General Sherman. Driving the Generals Highway, in either direction, is absolute proof that it is indeed as much the journey as it is the destination.
Finally, Buckeye Flats (GPS: 36.5223, -118.7637) is a completely different experience entirely. The least popular, and therefor roomiest, of the campgrounds, it’s situated along the drive between Three Rivers and General Sherman, before the difficult climb leading to the sequoias really kicks in. The campground is named for the smallish, but still taller than you, trees which partially shade every one of the well spaced sites.
All of these campgrounds will run you $22 per night, and they’re all roughly open from May through October, though it’s always best to call ahead (or check the reservations site) beforehand in case snowfall or particularly cold temperatures have changed the opening and closing dates.
Cell service is practically non-existent in all of the campgrounds.
RV Camping in Kings Canyon National Park
The campgrounds in Kings Canyon are divided into two areas: those near the Grant Grove, home to yet more sequoias, and those near Kings Canyon, for which the park is named.
The three near the Grant Grove include the popular Azalea Campground (GPS: 36.742, -118.966), Sunset (GPS: 36.7375, -118.9649) and Crystal Springs. While the Grant Grove typically offers showers, they’re due to be closed for the 2020 season, so prepare for that in advance. All of them are within a half mile walk to the Grant Grove Visitor Center, which also features a market, restaurant and the interesting John Muir Lodge, named for the naturalist hero who essentially saved the Sierra Nevadas from total commercial development.
Camping can be had year-round at Azalea Campground, though fewer sites are open in the winter than during warmer times of the year. Sunset and Crystal Springs are open late-May through early-September. Use that telephone, or make a reservation if you’re looking to visit on the fringe season.
Without putting the van into gear, one can easily experience the absolute wonder of this forest either on foot, meandering between the trees and learning about them simply by exchanging the oxygen in your lungs with the free air they so generously provide, or via ranger-led programs and visitor center exhibits nearby.
The campgrounds on the edge of Kings Canyon include Sheep Creek (GPS: 36.7923, -118.6806), Moraine (PS: 36.785, -118.6612) and Sentinel (GPS: 36.7903, -118.6719). They all come with essentially the same amenities: fire ring, picnic table, flushing toilets, access to water, trash and recycling, and trails meandering through, from and around the entire area. Unlike the spots in the Grant Grove, the showers at Cedar Grove Visitor Center have no plans of closing for 2020. The visitor center is an easy walk from Sentinel, but closer to a mile from the other two.
All of these campgrounds cost $18 per night, except Sunset and Sentinel, which are in line with Sequoia’s pricing at $22 a night.
As with the campgrounds in Sequoia National Park, there are no water, electric or sewer hookups anywhere in Kings Canyon. Water is available to fill up your tanks, though.
It’s also worth noting that both parks are bear country, and the bear boxes provided should absolutely be used if you don’t want the rowdier type of attention available in the park. Even if a bear doesn’t show up, the rangers are liable to give you the stern type of lecture you thought you left behind in high school.
More Camping Options Near Sequoia and Kings Canyon
Should you prefer to camp with hookups, outside of the park, of course, you do have options.
- Sequoia RV Park (GPS: 36.7555, -119.1662), in Dunlap, CA, 30 minutes from Kings Canyon’s Grant Grove, offers full hookups, WiFi, laundry and hot showers for around $45 / night.
- Sequoia Resort & RV Park (GPS: 36.6484, -119.0132) is 40 minutes from the park, in Badger, CA, with the same amenities as its similarly named neighbor above.
- Three Rivers Hideaway (GPS: 36.4579, -118.8784). This is a crowd favorite, though it’s not much as far as luxury camping goes. Tight spots, full hookups, laundry, WiFi, the usual RV park concessions for around $30 / night, and the closest private RV park to Sequoia National Park’s southern entrance. This means you’re only a few minutes from the park’s entrance, but still an hour to the General Sherman Tree.
- Sequoia RV Ranch (GPS: 36.4686, -118.9177), also in the town of Three Rivers, but $50 – $65 per night depending on whether or not you get a coveted river spot.
In these parks, you can walk into a downed sequoia a mountain man once used as his home. You can drive beneath and even through the redwoods’ trunks, and it’s difficult to read about the history of the forest, one of tragedy and redemption, without being moved by these behemoth wonders of nature. That it’s an easy extension to a trip into–or escape from–Yosemite’s bustling valley, and with the Sequoia National Forest waiting just beyond the borders, it makes for just as perfect a stop along the way as it does a final destination.