Winter Driving & Tire Chains

A snowplow drives along a snowy road
Snow on the Generals Highway

Kirke Wrench

 
These parks are beautiful in winter, but you must be prepared for snowy or icy mountain roads and cold temperatures. Tire chains can be required on any park road at any time from fall through spring, so we strongly recommend that you carry them just in case.

Weather and road conditions can change rapidly, often multiple times per day. Get up-to-date information before heading to the parks, but remember that conditions and chain requirements may change by the time you arrive:

 

Tire Chains & Cables

Chain control is in effect here when roads are snowy and slippery, which may be any time, usually November through March. State law requires ALL vehicles (including 4-wheel/all-wheel drive) to carry tire chains or cables when entering chain-control areas (CA Vehicle Code, Section 605, Sections 27450-27503).

When entering a "chains required" area, all vehicles must have chains or cables that fit properly and are in good repair. Practice installing them before you come to make sure they fit. When you drive with chains, the maximum speed limit is 25 MPH, even if posted otherwise.

If chain control is in effect, all vehicles need to carry chains (and possibly install them) in order to drive to sequoia groves and designated snowplay areas. If you do not have chains, plan on renting or buying them before entering the park. Road conditions and chain requirements can change rapidly; for example, you may not need chains when you enter the park but they may be required by the time you leave.

Chain Control Designations

  • R1: Snow tires or chains are required.
    Snow tires must have an imprint on the tire's sidewall that shows M + S, M / S, or an image of a snowflake. They also must have a tread depth of at least 6/32 of an inch. Four-wheel and all-wheel-drive vehicles must carry chains or cables in chain-control areas.
  • R2: Four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or chains are required.
    Four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicles must have snow tires on all four wheels (see R1 above), and must engage all wheels. Four-wheel and all-wheel-drive vehicles must carry chains or cables in chain-control areas.
  • R3: Chains are required on all vehicles.
    There are no exceptions.

Putting on Chains

Watch our short Snow Chains and Cables video for a demonstration of how to install tire chains and information about when to use them. Signs along the road will indicate where you need to put them on when they are required; pull all the way off the road. Put them on the front tires of front-wheel-drive vehicles, and on the back tires of rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

Many car-rental contracts do not allow installation of tire chains or cables. Be sure you understand the limitations of your contract. Renting a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicle may save you from having to install chains, even when you must carry them.

Tire Chain Rental & Purchase near Park Entrances

Sequoia park entrance / Highway 198 / Three Rivers

  • A-1 Totem Market & Gifts - 1 mile west of Sequoia park entrance, 559-561-4463
  • Chevron Gas Station - 6 miles west of park entrance, 559-561-3835
  • Gateway Restaurant & Lodge - 0.5 miles west of park entrance, 559-561-4133
  • Kaweah General Store - 9 miles west of park entrance, 559-561-3475
  • Princemart Gas Station - 12 miles west of park entrance, 559-597-2411

Kings Canyon park entrance / Highway 180

  • Bear Mountain Auto Parts - (for purchase only) 21 miles west of Kings Canyon park entrance, 559-332-2800
  • L & L Feed - (for purchase only) 17 miles from park boundary, 559-338-2729
  • Grant Grove Gift Shop - (for purchase only) In the park at Grant Grove Village, 559-335-5500. Note that the gift shop is inside the chain control area. When chain control is in effect, it's not possible to enter the parks and purchase chains at the gift shop. If you're driving on Highway 180 toward the park, rent or purchase chains before you reach the park entrance.
 

Winter Driving Tips

  • Even if you have chains or four-wheel drive, driving is snow is not easy.
  • Beware of poor visibility and reduced traction.
  • Ensure that your chains fit your tires. Practice installing them before you need them.
  • Reduce your speed.
  • Keep your headlights on for visibility.
  • Allow extra distance between vehicles.
  • Stay well back when following plows.
  • Use low gears, especially when driving downhill.
  • Never stop or park in a traffic lane. Your life may depend on it!
  • If your rear-wheel-drive vehicle skids: Reduce gas and steer where you want to go.
  • If your front-wheel-drive vehicle skids: Accelerate slightly and steer where you want to go.
  • Brake sparingly. Locking your brakes may cause skidding.
  • Drive in the appropriate lane for your direction of travel. Avoid the center line.
  • Pull completely into a chain-up area, pullout, or parking lot to install, adjust, or remove tire chains.
  • Shady areas and bridge surfaces can be treacherously icy even when other sections of roadway are not.
  • Stay alert, use caution, anticipate hazards, and slow down!

Driving safely and lawfully is the first step in enjoying your winter activities in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks!

Visit the California Department of Transportation's website for road conditions in other areas and more about winter driving.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271

Phone:

(559) 565-3341

Contact Us