How to Plan a Kings Canyon Sequoia National Parks Stargazing Trip (2023)
If you yearn to explore the boundless cosmos, there are few places as awe-inspiring and serene as the enchanting forests of California‘s Sierra Nevadas, where the towering sequoias stand sentinel to the mysteries of the universe. Among these imposing mountains, you’ll find two equally impressive areas of protected land: Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks.
As an amateur astronomer and enthusiastic astrotourist who delights in inspiring others to embark on celestial adventures, I can attest to the magic of stargazing in the pristine wilderness of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. During my visit in 2020, I marveled at the beauty of the night sky as it revealed itself among the ancient giants of these majestic parks; following that, I had no doubt that Kings Canyon and Sequoia were worthy of being on my list of the best national parks for stargazing.
Planning a stargazing trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks is a journey that begins with a sense of wonder and culminates in an unforgettable communion with the stars. In this post, I’ll share what you need to know to plan your own Kings Canyon Sequoia National Parks stargazing trip, from general tips to visit the parks to stargazing spots to answering commonly asked questions.
Ready to gaze up in awe at the worlds largest trees and the seemingly timeless stars beyond?
In this post, I promote traveling to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Nyyhmy (Western Mono/Monache) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
How to Get to Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
Photo credit (R): Jimmy Harris via Flickr
When planning your Kings Canyon & Sequoia stargazing adventure, the first thing you need to know is how to get to the park. There are four ways to reach Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks, but know that driving is by far the best alternative.
- By plane – The Fresno Yosemite International Airport is the closest major airport to Kings Canyon National Park, located 53 miles from the Big Stump Entrance. Visalia Municipal Airport, is 36 miles from the Ash Mountain Entrance and is served by Great Lakes Airlines, with daily flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Once you get to the airport, rent a car to drive to the parks.
- By car – If traveling by car, there are two entrances to the parks. The Ash Mountain Entrance in Sequoia National Park, which can be accessed via CA 198 east through Visalia and Three Rivers, and the Big Stump Entrance near Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, which can be accessed via CA 180 east through Fresno. Both entrances are approximately a 4-hour drive from Los Angeles and a 5-hour drive from San Francisco.
- By bus – Greyhound serves Visalia and Fresno, while the Sequoia Shuttle connects Visalia with the Giant Forest area of the park during the summer for $15 round-trip per person.
- By train – Amtrak serves Fresno and Merced on its San Joaquin route and connects Visalia with the Hanford station via bus service.
Where to Go Stargazing in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
This section is why you came to read this post in the first place. It compiles the best places where you can stargazing in Kings Canyon National Park.
Moro Rock is a granite dome in the southern part of the park, and it ’s one of the most popular hikes. Besides being a great hike, the dome offers one of the most breathtaking views of the night sky. Now, it’s a challenging way to the top, I won’t lie. You’ll need to climb 400 steps, but the view is worth the effort. From the top, you can see the Milky Way and hundreds of stars dotting the black sky.
Lodgepole Parking Lot
The Lodgepole campground is a great location for getting around the park. And its parking lot is one of the most popular spots for stargazing in Sequoia National Park. It’s located in the center of the park and offers unobstructed views of the night sky. According to regulars, you can see the constellations and the Milky Way from the parking lot.
Photo credits: Colin Putnam (R & C) and Vitaliy Musiyenko (L) via NPS
Nestled in the heart of Sequoia National Park, Wolverton is another popular spot for stargazing. You’ll find it right at the end of Wolverton Road in the Giant Forest area of the park. This location is great for the stargazers that enjoy some solitude. It’s also a fantastic spot for astrophotography – the surrounding trees and granite formations will add some dramatism to the composition of your shots.
Wuksachi Lodge, also located in the heart of the park, enjoys a prime position in the Ash Mountain Entrance Sequoia area. Besides being a great place to stay if you want to spend a few days, the lodge is one of the best Sequoia stargazing spots. In fact, the lodge offers guided stargazing tours, and they have telescopes available for guests. If you’re not staying at the lodge, you can still visit and participate in the stargazing tours.
Where to Stay Near Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
How to get to the park? Checked. Where to go stargazing? Checked. Now, let’s move on to another crucial item when planning Kings Canyon stargazing trip.
Hotels near Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
Some stargazers like to enjoy a comfortable sleep in a bed after a night watching the stars. Luckily, the parks have tons of lodges where you can stay. Below you’ll find the best options:
- Wuksachi Lodge – Located within Sequoia National Park, this lodge offers a rustic retreat with modern amenities. It features a restaurant, gift shop, and outdoor patio with a fire pit. As we said before, it has great astronomy programs, so it’s a perfect option for your Sequoia national park stargazing trip.
- John Muir Lodge – You can’t ask for a better location and accommodations in a national park. The John Muir lodge is 5 minute drive from General Grant tree, Panoramic point, and other main attractions in Grant Grove Village.
- Cedar Grove Lodge – Also located in Kings Canyon National Park, this lodge offers rooms and cabins with river or mountain views. It features a restaurant, gift shop, and outdoor patio.
- Grant Grove Cabins – Located in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon, it offers six types of cabins, some of which are available year-round. The cabins have a great location near General Grant Tree, Panoramic Point, Big Stump, and the Sunset Loop.
Camping in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
Adventurous stargazers or outdoor lovers can spend the night in one of the park’s campgrounds. Below I’ve detailed the best ones. Make sure you check the park’s website for more information.
- Sentinel Campground – Located in Kings Canyon National Park, offering beautiful views and easy access to hiking trails. It has a total of 82 sites.
- Lodgepole Campground – This is the largest campground in the park with over 200 campsites. It is located near the park’s visitor center and offers easy access to several popular hiking trails.
- Dorst Creek Campground – This campground is located on the western side of the park and offers a more secluded camping experience. It has over 200 campsites and is located near several scenic trails.
- Atwell Mill Campground – This campground is located in the Mineral King area of the park and offers a more rustic camping experience. It has 21 campsites and is only accessible via a narrow and winding road.
- Buckeye Flat Campground – This campground is located in the foothills of the park and offers a more primitive camping experience. It has 28 campsites and is only accessible via a rough dirt road.
- Cold Springs Campground – This campground is located near Mineral King and offers a more secluded camping experience. It has 40 campsites and is only accessible via a narrow and winding road.
- Potwisha Campground – This campground is located near the Ash Mountain entrance of the park and offers a more developed camping experience. It has 42 campsites and is located near several popular hiking trails.
- South Fork Campground – This campground is located in the foothills of the park and offers a more primitive camping experience. It has 10 campsites and is only accessible via a rough dirt road.
What to See & Do During the Day in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
Part of organizing your Kings Canyon stargazing adventure also includes figuring out how you can spend the days! Below you’ll find a list with the best activities you can include in your itinerary.
- Visit General Sherman Tree: This is the largest tree on earth! It is located in Sequoia National Park. It’s a must-see attraction for visitors and a wonderful chance to get a nice picture to frame back home.
- Hike to Moro Rock: This granite dome is a popular spot in Sequoia National Park, with an easy hike to the top that offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
- Drive through Kings Canyon Scenic Byway: This scenic route is a beautiful drive through Kings Canyon National Park, with stops along the way to see waterfalls and viewpoints.
- Take a dip in Hume Lake: Located in Sequoia National Forest, this lake offers swimming, fishing, and boating activities. There are also picnic areas and hiking trails nearby.
- Visit Grant Grove: Located in Kings Canyon National Park, this grove of giant sequoias is another must-see attraction. The General Grant Tree, one of the largest in the world, is located here.
- Take a ranger-led tour: Both parks offer ranger-led tours of various areas, such as the Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park or the Zumwalt Meadow in Kings Canyon National Park.
- Go on a backpacking trip: Both parks offer backcountry camping and hiking options for those looking for a more rugged experience.
- Attend a ranger program: The parks offer various educational programs throughout the day, including talks, walks, and demonstrations.
- Visit the Giant Forest Museum: Located in Sequoia National Park, this museum offers exhibits and information about the giant sequoias and the history of the park.
- Go horseback riding: Both parks offer guided horseback rides through the wilderness, allowing visitors to see the parks from a unique perspective.
Other FAQ About Kings Canyon Sequoia National Parks Stargazing
Have any other questions about your Sequoia stargazing adventure? Look no further. Below you’ll find the answers to the most frequent questions.
When is the best time to go stargazing in Kings Canyon & Sequoia?
The best time to plan your Kings Canyon & Sequoia Stargazing trip is during the summer months, from June through September. This is when the weather is clear and dry, and the nights are longer, allowing for more time to view the stars.
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Kings Canyon & Sequoia? When?
Yes, you can see the Milky Way during your Kings Canyon national park stargazing trip. Both parks are known for their dark skies, which make for excellent stargazing conditions. The best time to see the Milky Way is during the summer months, when the core of the galaxy is visible in the night sky.
Can you see the northern lights in Kings Canyon & Sequoia?
Unfortunately, it is unlikely to see the northern lights in Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks. The main reason is that these parks are located too far south for the northern lights to be visible.
Is Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park open at night?
Yes, Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks are open 24 hours a day, but some areas may be closed at night for safety reasons or to protect wildlife.
Are there guided night tours in Kings Canyon & Sequoia?
Yes, the park offers numerous stargazing and astronomy programs throughout the year. Most astronomy programs are hosted at Wuksachi Lodge.
Is there a dark sky festival in Kings Canyon & Sequoia?
Yes! There’s a dark sky festival in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks! In fact, it is the largest night sky festival in Central California and takes place in various locations, including the Foothills, Mineral King, Giant Forest, Lodgepole, Grant Grove, Cedar Grove, as well as Lake Kaweah in Three Rivers.
Have any (other) questions about how to plan your Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks stargazing trip? Let me know in the comments below!