Efforts to protect and manage caves are nearly as old as the parks themselves. The parks' first superintendent, Walter Fry, gave detailed descriptions of five of the caves in his 1918 annual report. Crystal Cave has been one of the parks' primary visitor attractions since 1941. In the 1970s, the Cave Research Foundation documented more than 80 caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. However, it was the discovery of Hurricane Crawl Cave in 1986 that encouraged the parks to begin an active cave management program. This effort resulted in the employment of a "cave specialist" in 1992 and the completion of a Cave Management Plan. This plan defines management actions to protect caves, including what passages are open to visitation, what sections have visit restrictions, and what passages are completely closed to protect delicate cave features.
In general, caves in the two parks are managed by category. Some caves can be visited by anyone at any time. Other caves, with rare and sensitive animals or mineralogical features may be closed to entry. A few caves are set aside for research and study. Some others that are delicate or dangerous require the presence of an experienced trip leader known as a "Trustee" before access is allowed. Six park caves are gated, meaning that the entrances contain locked gates of metal bars that protect the cave from uninformed trespassers or which protect any trespassers from dangers in the cave. Most of the caves are small and found in isolated sections of the parks, far from any roads.