Winter Driving & Tire Chains

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

Kirke Wrench

 

The parks are beautiful in winter, but be prepared for snowy or icy mountain roads. Tire chains or cables are often required on park roads from fall through spring, but they might be needed at any time of the year if snow falls. During fall through spring, we recommend that you carry chains or cables in your car, regardless of conditions.

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 and Cables

When road conditions deteriorate, the parks will activate chain control zones on park roads. This can occur at any time, but is most common in November through March. State law requires ALL vehicles (including 4-wheel and all-wheel drive) to carry tire chains or cables when entering chain-control zones (CA Vehicle Code, Section 605, Sections 27450-27503). All vehicles must have chains or cables that fit properly and are in good repair. When you drive with chains, the maximum speed limit is 25 MPH, even if posted otherwise.

If you do not have chains or cables, plan on renting or buying them before entering the parks. 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

All vehicles, including those with four-wheel and all-wheel drive, must carry chains or cables in chain control zones.

  • R1: Vehicle must have snow tires OR use tire chains. 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.
  • R2: Vehicle must have snow tires. Also, four-wheel drive OR all-wheel drive must be engaged, OR chains must be used. Four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicles must have snow tires on all four wheels and must engage all wheels.
  • R3: Vehicle must have snow tires. Also, four-wheel drive OR all-wheel drive must be engaged AND chains MUST ALSO be used. There are no exceptions.

Putting on Chains

Watch our short Snow Chains and Cables video for 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.

 
 

Renting or Purchasing Tire Chains or Cables

Tire, auto parts, and other large stores often carry tire chains or cables. Consider purchasing chains before you arrive so you can practice installing them and ensure they are in working order. You may also choose to rent or purchase chains or cables from businesses near the parks. Rental prices for chains or cables typically range from $40-$65 per day, and purchases from $50-$200.

Businesses below are not endorsed by the National Park Service. This list may not include all area businesses and their services (rentals and/or sales) and prices are subject to change at any time. Please contact the businesses directly for more information.

Sequoia National Park entrance / Highway 198 / Three Rivers, California

  • A-1 Totem Market & Gifts - 5 miles west of Sequoia park entrance, (559) 561-4463
  • Chevron Gas Station - 5.5 miles west of park entrance, (559) 561-3835
  • Gateway Restaurant & Lodge - 0.5 miles west of park entrance, (559) 561-4133
  • Kaweah General Store - 7.5 miles west of park entrance
  • Three Rivers Merchantile - 6.5 miles west of park entrance (559) 561-2378
  • Vasquez Snow Chains - 4 miles west of park entrance, (559) 471-5027

Kings Canyon National Park entrance / Highway 180 Squaw Valley, California

  • Bear Mountain Auto Parts - 21 miles west of Kings Canyon park entrance, (559) 332-2800
  • 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 in 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