Guide To Visiting Sequoia National Park In The Winter

Sequoia National Park In Winter

Sequoia National Park is an incredible place to visit, all year long. But there’s something magical about visiting it in the winter. The crowds start to thin out, the park starts to quiet down and you might find yourself hiking through magical winter wonderland landscapes without another person in sight.

But there are a few things to keep in mind before heading out to Sequoia National Park in the winter. The temperatures drop to freezing at night and snow often covers the roads requiring visitors to drive with caution and bring chains for their tires.

Here is the complete guide to visiting Sequoia National Park in the winter covering things to do, what to bring, where to stay, and other tips to make the best of your time there!


Guide to visiting Sequoia National Park in the Winter:


Weather

Sequoia National Park is only a few hours’ drive from Los Angeles making it a great outdoor escape especially in the winter.  

While it may feel intimidating visiting the Sierra Nevada mountains in the colder seasons, with some planning and a little bit of prep, traveling to the mountains in the wintertime can be equally enjoyable and safe as it would be in the summer.

Here a few important things to keep in mind about traveling to Sequoia National Park in the winter:

  • Evening temperatures get extremely cold as soon as the sun goes down.
  • Proper clothing and winter gear is a must to keep you warm and cozy.
  • Mountain roads can be very icy and often require the use of winter tires or snow chains.
  • After heavy snowstorms, the roads going into the park can close due to dangerous conditions. Call the park rangers and make sure your planned route is open before you head out there.

While Sequoia National Park usually stays open all year round, it does snow in the park as early as November and as late as May.

I’ve been to Sequoia National Park in late May after a snowstorm when the entire park was covered under a thick layer of snow. And I’ve been there also in November after an early snowfall in California.

In November the temperatures are still pretty mild hovering at around 40-50 degrees during the day. But from December to February those temperatures drop significantly to chilling 30 degrees during the day. Talk about cold brrr!

Fallen giant Sequoia tree

How To Get There

Sequoia National Park is located about a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles, and about 2 hours from Bakersfield. In the winter give yourself extra time to drive there since roads can be very slick and dangerous often covered in snow or ice.

There is one road that goes through Sequoia National Park – Generals Highway 198. The best way to get to Sequoia National Park is by taking Highway 198 through Three Rivers City. This road is long, slow, and winding but it usually stays open all year long.

Chains are often required to drive to Sequoia National Park in the winter. If you forget them, you may be able to purchase chains in one of the nearby cities.

Things To Do

I’ve been to Sequoia National Park during the winter season a couple of times now and it’s always such a magical experience seeing this park covered in snow.

While some facilities and roads at Sequoia close in the winter, there is still plenty to and do at this park in the slower seasons. Here are some of my favorite hikes and things to do at Sequoia National Park in the winter!

General Sherman Tree Trail

The General Sherman Tree is by far the most popular attraction at Sequoia National Park. This location is the highlight of the park and is easily accessible all year round.

To get to the General Sherman Tree you can follow a 0.5 mile-long trail that leads visitors up close to this tree, the largest tree in the world by weight and trunk volume.

The General Sherman Tree measures at 52,500 cubic feet and it’s also 2,200 years old – quite the marvel!

General Sherman Tree

The General Sherman trail is short and flat. This is a family-friendly hike but it does get very busy. The trail loops around the entire tree and has a designated area in the front where visitors can take a photo (after waiting in a quick line).

The biggest challenge for this trail is the limited parking. There is a small lot at the General Sherman trailhead but it fills up quickly leaving visitors waiting for a spot to open up for a long time, sometimes even an hour.

Sequoia Tunnel along the General Sherman Trail

If you plan to hike the General Sherman trail, do it first thing in the morning before it gets crowded, or late in the afternoon.

In the summer visitors can also park at the General Sherman Car Park but in the winter the road that goes to this parking lot is closed.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: General Sherman Tree
  • Length: 0.5 miles
  • Time Needed: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Crowd Factor: Very busy

Big Trees Trail

Another great hike to do at Sequoia National Park in the winter is the Big Trees Trail. This is an easy 1.2 mile-long loop that passes next to Round Meadow, one of the best Sequoia habitats in the world.

Here you can hike amongst some of the most impressive trees of the park and learn why they grow in certain areas of California and nowhere else in the world.

Sequoias need a lot of water to exist but they also can’t survive in soggy soil. Here the Sequoia trees grow right on the outskirts of the Round Meadow where they can soak up lots of water from winter snowmelt and rain while also having plenty of space to spread their roots.

Sequoia roots are very shallow so if the soil gets too soggy, the trees will start leaning and falling. As you hike around Sequoia National Park you will come across a few fallen giants with exposed roots.

Giant Sequoias also need warm weather, which is why California is the perfect place for Sequoias. Giant Sequoias didn’t start growing until 4000 years ago when the climate started to get warmer post-Ice Age. This would explain why the oldest Sequoia Tree is 3200 years old – before that these trees couldn’t exist due to the cold conditions.

The Big Trees Loop is flat and easy making it a great location to visit with families and kids.  

To get to the Big Trees Trailhead you can park at the Giant Forest Museum parking lot and walk on a path next to Highway 198. This is a short walk that takes around 10 minutes.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Big Trees Trail
  • Length: 1.2 miles round trip from Giant Forest Museum parking lot
  • Time Needed: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Crowd Factor: Busy

Moro Rock Trail

Moro Rock is one of my favorite trails in Central California.

This hike goes up to the top of Moro Rock, a giant granite dome at the heart of Sequoia National Park.

Moro Rock is part of the massive granite batholith that stretches across the Sierra Nevada mountain range. While most of the granite remains underground, at Moro Rock visitors can hike up a tall granite peak that overlooks Sequoia National Park and beyond.

Hiking up Moro Rock

It’s best to hike Moro Rock on a sunny clear day or you won’t be able to see much from the top. If you go on a clear day you will be rewarded with panoramic views up to 150 miles ahead of you. But hiking Moro Rock is not for everyone, especially during the winter.

This trail passes 350 steps along a narrow path carved on the side of the mountain with 1000 feet drop-offs.

This can seem intimidating, especially for those who have fear of heights. Thankfully most of the sections have rails for safety and assistance as you climb to the summit.

At the top of Moro Rock

When hiking Moro Rock in the winter do note that the stairs can be very slick so be extra cautious. Hike slow and take your time!

The hike ends at the top of Moro Rock which sits at 6725 feet in elevation. Here you can see dramatic mountain landscapes stretch all around. If you look closely you can spot the lush canopies of Giant Sequoia trees that stand out above the rest of the forest.   

Note: In the winter the road that leads to Moro Rock is closed so you will need to hike extra 2 miles in each direction. But this path is wide and paved so the walk goes by very quickly.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Moro Rock
  • Length: 4 miles round trip from Giant Forest Museum parking lot
  • Time Needed: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Crowd Factor: Busy

Other Attractions Near Moro Rock

After you visit Moro Rock, make sure to stick around this area and see a few other great landmarks nearby such as:

  • The Roosevelt Tree. The Roosevelt is a giant Sequoia tree that’s located on top of a hill across the Moro Rock Trailhead.
  • Hanging Rock. Hanging Rock Trail is located just 0.2 miles from Moro Rock. Here you can walk up close to a giant sloped rock at the edge of a granite cliff.
  • Parker Group. This is a large cluster of Sequoia trees about 0.5 miles from Moro Rock. It’s named after the Parker Family and James Parker, a Sequoia National Park Superintendent in 1893 who protected the park from poachers and illegal farmers.
  • Colonel Young Tree. This is a giant tree that was named in honor of Colonel Young, an army officer who became the first black superintendent at Sequoia National Park. His troops completed many important park projects to provide access to the public while also keeping the Sequoias protected.
  • Auto Log. You can see this giant fallen Sequoia and its enormous tree roots as you hike to and from the Moro Rock Trailhead. It’s called Auto Log because after it fell in 1917 a driveway was built on top of the tree allowing cars to drive on it. The tree has significantly decayed since then so cars are no longer allowed to drive on top of it, but the tree still keeps its name as the Auto Log.
Hanging Rock

Alta Trail

If you have extra time, I highly recommend hiking a portion of the Alta Trail. This trail is much longer than other hikes nearby, so it’s not as crowded, but it leads to some of the largest Sequoia clusters at the park.

This is an especially great place to hike if you love solitude and outdoors photography – there are plenty of incredible photography spots that you will pass along the trail.  The deeper you go into this trail, the fewer people you will see and the more epic locations you’ll come across.

You can hike the Alta Trail from multiple entry points. We were parked by the Giant Forest Museum so this was our starting point.  

Most of the main attractions of the Alta Trail are located about 2.5 miles into the hike.

There is an intersection that connects a couple of different trails together. In this area you will come across giant Sequoia clusters and trees like:

Needless to say, there’s a lot to see along this hike. But this is a longer trail, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get there and back especially if you plan to hike it around sunset.

Trail Summary:

  • Location: Alta Trail
  • Length: 5 miles round trip from Giant Forest Museum parking lot
  • Time Needed: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Crowd Factor: Not very busy
Giant clusters of Sequoia trees along the Alta Trail

What To Pack

If you plan to visit Sequoia National Park in the winter, it’s so important to come prepared and bring the right gear and clothing. This can make your visit so much more enjoyable and keep you from getting frostbite or hypothermia.

Chains

If you’re coming from one of the nearby cities like Los Angeles, the chances are that you probably don’t drive in the snow very often. Before you leave, be sure to check the road conditions to see if chains are required. If so, make sure to bring a pair of snow chains to drive on these slick and winding mountain roads.

Tire Chains

Hiking Boots

Keeping your toes dry and warm should be your priority when hiking in cold conditions. Waterproof ankle boots will keep your feet insulated and warm, even if you have to hike through the snow, slush, or mud.

Oboz Insulated Waterproof Boots

Socks

Bring a couple of pairs of socks for your trip to Sequoia, even if you plan to just do day hikes. If your socks start getting damp, make sure to change them out as soon as you get a chance. Damp socks can make your feet feel extra cold and potentially cause frostbite.

Merino wool socks are great for hiking outdoors because they are high-performance and will keep your feet warm and insulated when temperatures start dropping.

Darn Tough Boot Sock

Warm Jacket

For outdoor adventures, I have a triclimate jacket by The North Face. My North Face Jacket has faced crazy winds in Patagonia, glacier treks in Argentina, and rainstorms in Central America. It comes with a waterproof outside layer and a thermal under layer that keeps me warm during our winter trips.

The North Face Snow Triclimate Jacket

Thermal Shirts

Having a good set of base layers will keep you nice and cozy plus also stay dry and odor free once you start moving around.

Smartwool Merino Base Layer

Leggings

I’m one of those people who will put on 20 layers for my tops but only one pair of pants and then wonder why I’m feeling cold.

Last year I finally switched to wearing merino wool tights and it has made a huge difference. Merino wool regulates temperature and transports sweat away from your body to keep you dry and comfortable when hiking and moving around. You can also layer leggings with snow pants for an extra layer of protection from cold weather temperatures.  

Base Layer Bottoms

Beanie

For winter hikes having a beanie is essential to keep your ears and head covered to maintain blood flow.

Winter Beanie

Plus they look really cute in photos, especially if you didn’t get the chance to do your hair that day.

Gloves

Protecting your head, toes, and fingers is so important when hiking outdoors in colder conditions. Having cold hands can make your trip miserable, especially if you plan to take photos. Having a good pair of gloves can make a huge difference between wishing you were back in your car sitting in front of the heater or enjoying your winter adventures.

Tip: Get gloves that are tech-compatible, meaning you don’t have to take them off to use your phone.

Tech-Compatible Gloves

Headlamp

In the winter sun goes down extra early, especially during daylight savings. Getting caught outdoors in the pitch dark can be very dangerous. Always pack a headlamp so you don’t get caught off guard.

headlamp

Black Diamond Headlamp

Portable Battery

Phones are known to die much faster in altitude and cold conditions. Pack a portable battery to keep your phone charged for maps and emergencies.

portable charger

Anker Portable Charger

Tip: There is no reception at Sequoia National Park so I also recommend downloading an offline hiking app Maps.Me before you leave.

Emergency Kit

When heading outdoors, always go prepared. It’s so easy to slip and fall when trails are slick and covered with ice. Bring an emergency kit to help treat small bruises and aches on your trip.

emergency medical kit

Adventure Medical Kit

Backpack

I have small backpack from REI that I use for quick day adventures. This pack is very light, easy to carry, and fits all the basics that I need like my car keys, water, snacks, camera gear, and other necessities.

rei-flash-pack

REI Flash 22 Pack

Where To Stay

Most of the park facilities at Sequoia close in the winter or have limited capacity. Here are some options for where to stay around Sequoia National Park at night.

Camping

If you plan to camp at Sequoia National Park in the winter, you will need to make camping reservations ahead of time. During our visit, there was only one campground open – Potwisha. Potwisha Campground is located in the southern part of Sequoia National Park where temperatures are a bit warmer which is helpful for camping outdoors overnight.

You can check Sequoia National Park campsite availability on the Recreation.gov website here.

Hotels

Wuksachi Lodge is a hotel that’s located within Sequoia National Park and usually stays open all year long. This hotel is also dog friendly and allows pets with a small additional fee.

For the latest hotel availability, pricing and notifications see the Wuksachi Lodge website here.

Vacation Rentals

If you’re looking to rent a house for your trip, the closest town to Sequoia National Park is Three Rivers. We stayed in Three Rivers during a previous rafting trip and enjoyed its welcoming small-town charm.

Browse the most popular Three Rivers VRBO Vacation Rentals Here!

Where To Eat

Food and water options in Sequoia during the winter season are very limited.

For food, we recommend that you go prepared and bring everything you may need.  

We expected the park to have a store that sells food and drinks, but when we arrived, we found out that it was closed for the season. The Giant Forest Museum has a visitor store but it’s mostly limited to souvenirs and small food items like trail mix and nuts. We also ran out of the water and had to resort to drinking sink water (which is potable at Sequoia). Don’t be like us and come prepared!

Here are other food options at Sequoia National Park:

  • Wuksachi Lodge is a hotel in Sequoia National Park that also serves take-out lunch and dinner. They offer basic food items like pizza, sandwiches, salads, plus beer and wine. Wuksachi Lodge is located in the northern part of the park so it is a bit of a drive to get there. This is the only location at Sequoia National Park that sells food so the lodge does get busy for dinner. Their dining hours are:
  1. Lunch 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
  2. Dinner 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Wuksachi Lodge
  • Drive out to Three Rivers town. This is the closest city to Sequoia National Park where you will find restaurants and places to eat (although it’s still like a 50-minute drive). One of our favorite eateries in Three Rivers is Sierra Subs & Salad. This place serves amazing sandwiches packed full of creative ingredients and fresh bread that is toasted to perfection. We try to stop by Sierra Subs & Salad every time we drive through to Sequoia National Park.  

Other Tips

  • Dogs are not allowed at any of the Sequoia National Park trails and are limited to the parking lots and paved roads. If you get caught with your dog on a trail, you may face a hefty fine. If you’re looking for a dog-friendly place, we recommend checking out the Trail Of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest that is dog friendly and also features giant Sequoia trees.
  • If you bring any food, please store it in bear lockers. Bears at Sequoia National Park are very active and often seek out food that’s left open at parking lots and campsites. As a result, often these bears are deemed harmful to people and put down. Please do your part and always properly store your food in bear canisters or lockers when you’re done eating.
  • Drones are not allowed anywhere at National Parks to protect the wildlife and visitor experience. Drones can terrify animals and birds making them leave their habitats and nests.  
  • When visiting and hiking outdoors, please take out any trash that you carry in. During our visit to Sequoia, we found all kinds of garbage on the trails from water bottles to beer bottles, forgotten jackets, dropped gloves, and more. For the protection and preservation of these beautiful places always follow “Leave No Trace” principles by leaving a place better than you found it.
  • In the winter there is less staff at National Parks so be extra cautious when visiting parks and remote locations. We had no reception anywhere at Sequoia National Park so always tell someone where you’re heading before you set out on the trail.

We hope this post has helped you prepare and get ready for your trip to Sequoia National Park in the winter. Have any other questions? Don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below!

Looking for more California inspiration? Check out some of these popular California posts below:

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  3. How To Backpack The Eagle Peak Trail In Yosemite
  4. 7 Best Beaches To Visit In Southern California
  5. Backpacking The Trans Catalina Trail: All You Need To Know

Interested in how I capture amazing photos on my trips? Here is the camera gear that I use to create my photos:

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2 thoughts on “Guide To Visiting Sequoia National Park In The Winter”

  1. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SUCH A DETAIL POST. going next month to sequoia national park will be taking lots of tips from your blog. Just a quick question do we have to take alta trail to see the senators group and president tree ? i thought they can be see on congress trail ? just wandering..

    1. Hi Richie,

      To get to the Senate group and the President tree you can take either the Alta Trail or the Congress Trail. The Alta Trail starts at the Giant Forest Museum and travels north. Or you take the Congress Trail from the General Sherman Tree and travel south. Both of these trails will get you there.

      Cheers, Laura

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