Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: A winter update

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National
Moro Rock with frosting. The road to the monolith is closed to vehicles but determined hikers can access the rock although it is not advised to climb to the summit if the trail is snow-covered or icy.

In the wee hours of Monday, December 21, the winter solstice will arrive, marking the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. This will also be the day with the fewest hours of daylight of the year. After the winter solstice, days start becoming longer and nights shorter as spring approaches.

In the nearby mountains, a minor preview of winter occurred this past week with a couple of minor storms passing through. But it was enough to put Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks into full-on winter mode. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National

Roads

The Generals Highway between the parks is currently closed due to snow on the roadway and icy conditions. Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks are both open for day use but visitors will have to enter each park at the respective entrance stations. There is no traveling from park to park on the Generals Highway, which is gated just past the Wuksachi junction on the Sequoia side and at the Woodward gate near Montecito-Sequoia Lodge on the Kings Canyon side.

The Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road in Sequoia is closed due to snow as is the Panoramic Point Road in Kings Canyon. Both are open to foot traffic. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National

The upper parking lot at the General Sherman Tree is not accessible. All visitors will use the lower parking lot along the Generals Highway (usually reserved for disabled person parking in the summer), which is small and can get congested during peak hours.

For round-the-clock road information in the parks, call 559-565-3341, press 1, the press 1 again.

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Sequoia and Kings Canyon National
The small, lower parking lot at the General Sherman Tree is the only one open to vehicles during the winter and can get crowded during peak hours. Arrive early in the day or later in the afternoon to avoid the congestion. If driving through the area, use caution as there will be pedestrians along the highway and cars parked on the shoulder of the highway.

COVID-19 closures

Wuksachi Lodge, which includes dining and lodging, will remain closed through Saturday, December 26. Lodgepole Market remains closed so there is no place to buy food or drink in Sequoia. Although there is not yet enough snow for skis or snowshoes, with Lodgepole closed it is unknown if there will be cross country ski or snowshoe rentals in Sequoia this year. Stay tuned for updates.

In Kings Canyon, all lodging and restaurants are also closed. The Grant Grove Market is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, so there are some snack and beverage options, as well as some snow gear and snow cables for purchased and snowshoes for rent. The rest of the Kings Canyon concessions plan to reopen April 2, 2021. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National

Trails

Trails in both parks are open to the public. There is not yet enough snow to ski or snowshoe but the trails do have a few inches of snow on top of ice. Plan footwear accordingly. Waterproof boots and traction devices would be optimal for the conditions.

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Sequoia and Kings Canyon National
Trails are open to the public but might be snow-covered. Ice could also be lurking, creating a slipping hazard.

Visitor Centers

Three visitor centers have a regular schedule of indoor or outdoor information services: Foothills Visitor Center (Ash Mountain), Giant Forest Museum (Sequoia), and Kings Canyon Visitor Center in Grant Grove. Note that these services may be limited or closed due to staffing, weather, or other conditions. Park stores at each visitor center offer sales of books, trail maps, and other educational items. Exhibit halls and theaters are closed.

Tire Chains / Cables

Chain control is in effect in Sequoia and Kings Canyon when roads are snowy and slippery, which may be any time from now through March. State law requires all vehicles (including 4-wheel drive and all-wheel drive) to carry tire chains or cables when entering chain-control areas.

When entering a “chains required” area, which will be when traveling to the sequoia groves and snowplow areas, 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 you do not have chains, plan on renting or buying them before entering the park. Weather conditions in the mountains can change rapidly, and accordingly, so will road conditions and chain requirements. It might be sunny and blue sky when entering the park with chains not needed but  by afternoon, there could be a snowstorm and chains required to get out of the forest safely.

Signs along the highway will indicate where you need to install chains and when they are required. Pull all the way off the road; roads can be slippery and you want to be out of the way of other 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.

Put chains on the front tires of front-wheel-drive vehicles, and on the back tires of rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

There are more than a half dozen business in Three Rivers that rent or sell snow chains (cables). Watch for the signs.

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.

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