The summer season has officially arrived in the iconic Sierra Nevada, and rangers are reminding the public to prepare for an “exceptionally busy” time in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks this holiday weekend.
It’s the first tourist season since the KNP Complex Fire tore through much of the park and neighboring Sequoia National Forest last year. Firefighters battled the blaze for months to contain the 88,000-acre wildfire.
Park officials stayed busy during the winter to repair damaged roads and clear hazardous trees from trails and other recreation areas.
Now, families and tourists will return to the parks en masse to hike and play under the big trees. While the KNP and the 2020 Castle Fire destroyed up to a fifth of the world’s giant sequoia trees, many of the trees in the parks’ most popular groves were defended, including the world-famous General Sherman.
With Memorial Day around the corner, here’s how to make the most of your trip, according to rangers.
Thousands of tourists and local families are expected to flood the parks’ entrances in Fresno and Tulare counties beginning Friday, a parks spokesperson said. Arrive before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m. to avoid long lines, and have your payment ready at the gate.
You can also purchase an online pass in advance of your trip to make use of either parks’ “pass-only line.”
For those wanting to ditch their cars, the Sequoia Shuttle began service on Thursday. When parking lots fill up near the General Sherman tree, rangers advise visitors to begin using the shuttle that travels a loop between the parks’ marquee destinations.
The shuttle also departs from downtown Visalia each day. Bookings are available online now for $20 round-trip. If you choose to drive, arrive with a full tank of gas, water and snacks.
All campsites within the parks have been reserved through Memorial Day, rangers said. Do not plan to camp if you do not already have a reservation.
Reservations can be made up to a month in advance online at Recreation.gov.
If you are camping this weekend, rangers urge the public to help prevent forest fires. Restrictions will be in place at lower elevations in the parks. A ban on wood and charcoal fires will be in place in Potwisha, Buckeye, and South Fork Campgrounds, and the Foothills and Hospital Rock Picnic Areas.
All other campground fires are required to be in contained, pre-existing rings, rangers said. Campers should only use dead and down wood, and must thoroughly extinguish their campfires by dousing them with water and stirring them before leaving.
“If it is too hot to touch, it is too hot to leave,” park officials said in a statement.
Visitors are also urged to exercise extreme caution around rivers and streams. Snowmelt from the mountains at higher elevations causes waterways in the park to run “swift, cold, and extremely dangerous.”
Lastly, campers and visitors should be bear-aware. Do not leave food unattended unless it is inside a bear-resistant container or box, which are located free of charge at every campsite.
If you see a bear during your visit, do not approach it. If the bear comes near you, haze it. Growl and wave your arms to scare it away.
Otherwise, food is available for purchase within the parks at Wuksachi Lodge, the Grant Grove Market, and the Cedar Grove Grill and Snack Bar.
Other Sierra destinations
Families looking for a nature getaway that is perhaps less chaotic may check out Sequoia National Forest or Balch Park to the south of Sequoia National Park.
The Trail of 100 Giants in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, located about an hour above Springville, reopened earlier this month after it was damaged by the KNP.
Fire restrictions are in place at lower elevations. No campfires are permitted below 5,000 feet. While most campsites are near capacity for the holiday weekend, visitors can call 877-444-6777 to check availability. Limited first come, first served sites will also be available.
Forest rangers also urge the public to keep campsites clean and to recreate responsibly.
“Forest Service staff have been working hard to prepare sites for the busy weekend. Our ask is for visitors to recreate responsibly by packing out their trash and parking only in designated areas,” spokesperson Alicia Embrey said.
Nearby Balch Park also reopened this week. Campsites there are only available on a first come, first served basis. Call the park at 539-3896 to check availability.
Joshua Yeager is a reporter with the Visalia Times-Delta and a Report for America corps member. He covers Tulare County news deserts with a focus on the environment and local governments.