After a record-setting precipitation season, it’s always a challenge getting park areas operational by the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to the busy summer season. Add into the mix hazardous dead trees from five years of drought-stricken winters and that translates to only about two-thirds of Sequoia-Kings Canyon campsites that will be available for the holiday period.
SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK
Camping— The late opening at Cold Springs Campground is having a big impact on the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. The water to the campground will not be turned on until June 7. Many of the sites remain snow covered and are a muddy mess, according to a parks spokesperson.
The 21 first-come/first-served campsites at Atwell Campground will be at a premium in Mineral King this weekend. Don’t make the arduous drive up the 25-mile, narrow, curvy road if not planning to arrive on Thursday; it is estimated that by Friday at noon the campground will be full.
To visit Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park, the closest campground is Lodgepole. To guaranteed one of those 214 sites, reservations are “strongly recommended.”
Dorst Creek Campground also remains closed.
Free shuttle— Visitors to Sequoia can leave the driving to the free park shuttle with stops at all area attractions between Giant Forest Museum and Wuksachi. The shuttles are the only vehicles permitted on the Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road during the summer weekends.
Snow and waterways— The Watchtower section of the Lakes Trail still has patchy snow. It is not advised for travel as it has narrow, rocky sections that are hazardous when covered with snow or ice. There is an alternative route — the Hump trail — that offers safe passage around the Watchtower area.
The snowpack in the Sierra is still significant, with more than 10 feet of snow on the ground at the higher elevations. Snow coverage is patchy at 9,000 feet and continuous above 10,000 feet.
This means the high mountain passes, including those along the John Muir/Pacific Crest trail, may be difficult, treacherous, or impassable. PCTers are schooling in great numbers at Kennedy Meadows to the south, waiting for the snow to melt.
Warmer temperatures will continue to cause snow to melt, and creeks are running under what appears to be stable snow, creating snow bridges. Snow bridges are dangerous because they melt from underneath, and there is a danger of falling through a snow bridge into rushing, frigid water.
KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Camping— Nearly 300 campsites in Kings Canyon are currently unavailable. In the Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park, Sunset Campground’s 157 sites will remain closed until hazard trees are removed. In Cedar Grove, the 121 sites in Moraine Campground remain closed, also due to dead and diseased trees.
Snow and waterways— The bridge across the South Fork of the Kings River along the Woods Creek Trail in upper Paradise Valley (about 10 miles from the Roads End trailhead) was damaged during the winter and has fallen into the water. The bridge is not safe to cross and the remaining bridge structure is unstable. There are no other developed crossings in the area, and the Park Service is warning that visitors who intended to use the bridge should adjust their plans.
In Giant Sequoia National Monument between Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks, the Big Meadows Road is closed. This means the campgrounds, trailheads, and Horse Corral Pack Station are also inaccessible.
The Tule River (above Springville area) and Kings River (below Pine Flat Dam) are closed to recreation.
And just a head’s up for now: In Sequoia, Generals Highway road construction and the accompanying intermittent delays has a tentative start date of sometime in June.
For Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks information, call (559) 565-3341.