The opportunity to sleep among the largest trees in the world is what draws people to camping in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks—but the twin parks soaring granite peaks, chilly rivers full of native trout, and hundreds of miles of view-studded hiking trails are what keep repeat visitors coming back for more.
Whether it’s your first time visiting Sequoia & Kings Canyon or your fifth, there’s nothing quite like pitching a tent under a canopy of butterscotch-scented ponderosa pines and staying up late to watch the Milky Way twinkle its way into being each night. The bustle of daytime visitors quiets, wildlife begins to stir, and campers get a unique opportunity to commune with the park the way it must have felt a century ago.
There are a whopping fourteen official in-park campgrounds between these two national parks, which can make the task of choosing the perfect patch of wilderness a bit of a chore.
Below, a list of our favorite Kings Canyon & Sequoia national park camping sites for this summer, plus some expert advice on the best season to visit and how to nab the perfect spot. Just keep in mind that, because the 2022/23 snowpack was well above average, many campgrounds and roads have delayed their opening dates. Always check conditions before heading out.
What to know before you go
Sequoia & Kings Canyon are remote wilderness parks, set along the rolling foothills and high alpine crags of the Sierra Nevada. The elevation profile is astonishing, rising from a mellow 1,300 feet near Three Rivers to a staggering 14,494 feet at Mt. Whitney’s Peak. As such, the weather can be drastically different within the parks on any given day, depending on whether you’re visiting the warmer low river basins or exploring the Giant Forest.
The nearest airports to Sequoia & Kings Canyon are Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Visalia Municipal Airport. If you’re keen on taking public transportation, a $20 public shuttle runs from Visalia Transit Center to the park daily, throughout the summer. Most visitors will want to drive from that point on to explore the sheer vastness of these spectacular locales, entering from the north via Big Stump on Highway 180 or from the south via the adorable gateway town of Three Rivers, off Highway 198.
And yes, both Sequoia & Kings Canyon are home to large populations of black bears, but bear spray is not needed. The animals typically leave visitors alone, so long as your food is properly stored when you’re not actively cooking or eating. Be sure to stash all smell-ables (this includes trash and toothpaste) in the provided bear-proof lockers at every car campground and, if you’re backpacking, bring or rent a bear canister from the ranger station. (It’s the law!)
When to go
Like most national parks, summer is definitely the high season at Sequoia & Kings Canyon. The trails are generally free of snow, warm weather blankets the alpine, and meadows of fiery wavy-leaf Indian paintbrush and fuchsia monkeyflowers burst into bloom. Fall is also an excellent time to visit, before the snow arrives, with excellent, uncrowded opportunities to explore the backcountry (just be prepared for chilly nights). In spring, colorful foothills flowers begin to open, which is a perfect excuse to check out lower-elevation trails and river areas. Winter is the quietest season at Sequoia & Kings, and though Generals Highway is plowed year-round, travelers must carry chains and be prepared for snow and winter storms.
How to book a campsite
They’re not as popular as nearby Yosemite’s campgrounds, but Sequoia & Kings Canyon receive millions of visitors each year, and in-park campgrounds fill up well in advance, especially during busy summer weekends. Azalea (in Kings Canyon) and Potwisha (in Sequoia’s foothills) are the only two areas open year-round for car campers, and both can be booked up to four months in advance. The rest of the parks’ 14 campgrounds have different rolling booking windows that vary from 2 days to 4 months, to give locals and last-minute travelers a chance to snag a spot.
The best campsites in Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks
If you’re hell-bent on staying as close as possible to the Giant Forest and its groves of mature sequoia trees, we highly recommend Lodgepole Campground, which is set on the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River, within easy walking distance to the amenities of Lodgepole Village (like a small market, hot showers, visitor center, and laundry facilities). Nearby Dorst Creek, conveniently located between the two parks, sits under a stand of shady conifers and offers 222 sites for campers to sprawl out in (33 of which are RV-friendly).
If you’re skipping Sequoia’s crowded forests in favor of Kings Canyon’s gentle giants, Azalea Campground is a 110-site wonder tucked away in the verdant conifers near famous Grant Grove and its village amenities, like a grocery store, a visitor center, and a restaurant. Planning a last minute getaway? Crystal Springs (in Kings Canyon) is currently offering its sites on a two-day rolling window. All the spots we’ve listed here come equipped with a picnic table, fire ring, and animal-proof food storage locker.
If you really want to get away from it all, set off on a backpacking excursion. Both Sequoia & Kings Canyon are known for their world-class treks across glacially-carved valleys, through striking alpine meadows, and along the banks of glittering indigo tarns. Just be sure to reserve the appropriate wilderness permit before starting your hike.
For simple weekend overnights, both Alta Meadow (6.5 miles each way) and Bearpaw Meadow (11 miles each way) are Sequoia classics, boasting transcendent views of cathedral-like rock spires and the Great Western Divide. These hikes also offer excellent access to additional day trips, like summiting Alta Peak or taking a dip in frigid Hamilton Lake.
Looking for a multi-day experience? The Rae Lakes Loop is one of the most scenic (and most popular) trips in the parks, leaving from Roads End in Kings Canyon and circumnavigating a series of jaw-droppingly gorgeous bodies of water, which are surrounded by imposing granite peaks. Wildland Trekking leads a seven-day trip around this spectacular trail for those who don’t want to go it alone.
Unfortunately, Sequoia’s iconic Bearpaw High Sierra Camp is closed for the 2023 season, but there are a few other excellent opportunities for tree seekers who’d rather not rough it inside a cocoon of nylon walls.
Sequoia High Sierra Camp is nestled in a forest that’s conveniently between the two national parks, and it offers guests a taste of the backpacking experience (it’s a one-mile hike to the property), sans heavy packs and dehydrated dinners. Tent cabins here are simple, yet stylish, with three freshly prepared daily meals included with your booking. Paradise Ranch is another dreamy stay, with both mirrored off-grid cabins and roomy canvas bell tents available to rent. Soak your post-hike muscles in the nearby river before hopping into their custom-designed Danish sauna.
For more hotels and vacation rentals, check out our full guide on where to stay near Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.