With mild temperatures, calm rivers, and few bugs, fall is a delightful time for activities in the parks. But note that snow can occur down to mid-elevations as early as Halloween. Depending on how much time you have, here are a few suggestions.
Be sure to check with the current edition of the park newspaper for additional ways to safely experience these gigantic landscape. View accessibility information. Check schedules for free ranger-led nature programs and activities.
If you have only a few hours:
Entering via Hwy 198: Stop in Ash Mountain at the Foothills Visitor Center to learn about California's fascinating and diverse oak chaparral ecology. (In all of North America, only the Central American rainforest has a richer array of plants and animals than California oak chaparral.) Stop at Giant Forest Museum. From the main parking lot, walk down to the General Sherman Tree, the largest, single-trunked living tree on earth. Allow 20 minutes each way for the walk to the tree plus your time there.
Entering via Hwy 180: Stop in Grant Grove Village at the newly-redesigned Kings Canyon Visitor Center and see the orientation film. See the General Grant Tree in Grant Grove (allow 20 minutes to walk the loop) or the General Sherman Tree in Giant Forest. Stop at the Giant Forest Museum.
Either direction: Allow at least two hours for the drive time between entrance stations on the Generals Highway loop (red road on map at left) plus at least another two hours for your activities.
If you have a day:
Entering via Hwy 198: Stop in Ash Mountain at the Foothills Visitor Center and buy your ticket for a Crystal Cave Tour. Allow at least two hours drive time on the Generals Highway loop from one entrance station to the other—plus 3 1/2 hours for the cave tour.
Entering via Hwy 180: Stop in Lodgepole Village at the Visitor Center and buy your ticket for a Crystal Cave Tour. Allow at least two hours drive time on the Generals Highway loop from one entrance station to the other—plus 3 1/2 hours for the cave tour.
Either way: If you prefer to stay outside: Go on a ranger walk. In Giant Forest, stand among the giant sequoias on the Big Trees Trail. Or in Lodgepole Village, walk up to Tokopah Falls. In Giant Forest, look for wildlife big and small around Crescent Meadow, climb Moro Rock or hike out to Eagle View. With water levels low, fall is the safest time to explore the park's rivers.
If you have a couple of days:
Entering via Hwy 198: On your way up to see the General Sherman Tree and the Museum in Giant Forest, stop at Hospital Rock to see the Native American grinding stones and pictographs.
Entering via Hwy 180: In Grant Grove Village, catch spectacular views of the High Sierra from the Panoramic Point Road. Hike into Redwood Canyon (just south of Grant Grove Village), home to the world's largest grove of sequoias. Visit Converse Basin (just north of Grant Grove Village) where a ghostly forest of sequoia stumps surround the massive Boole Tree. Stand in awe of The Kings Canyon.
Either direction: Ask at a visitor center for a Junior Ranger Program booklet. Camp in one of park's numerous campgrounds. Attend campfire programs. Hike to the Watchtower near Wolverton, the Congress Trail in Giant Forest or Little Baldy Trail west of Wuksachi Village.
If you have a week or more:
Spend a few days exploring one of the more remote parts of these spectacular parks.
Take Hwy 180 into the Kings Canyon—a stunning mountain drive—and visit Cedar Grove Village. From Grant Grove Village to the Kings Canyon, allow 1 1/2 hours each way plus however long you stay.
Or take The Mineral King Road to Atwell Mill or Mineral King—a good place to see some fall colors. From Ash Mountain, each way allow 1 1/4 hours to Atwell Mill and 1 1/2 hours to Mineral King—plus however long you stay.
Better yet, stop at one of the visitor centers for a wilderness permit to see the splendid High Sierra at a time when trails are open, bugs are gone, and hikers are few.
For additional activity ideas, check the park newspaper or ask at one of the visitor centers.