Plunging waterfalls, stark granite, alpine lakes, pristine meadows, giant sequoia trees, and raging rivers—you’ll find them all in the national parks of Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon.
From Yosemite Valley’s famous waterfalls, which are among the tallest in the world, to the towering granite domes and glistening meadows of Tioga Pass, Yosemite is a place that can only be described in superlatives. At 1,169 square miles and 750,000 acres, the park is nearly the size of Rhode Island and is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, visited by about 4 million people each year.
Set aside as a national park in 1890, Yosemite is a place that is synonymous with scenery. The seven-mile-long Yosemite Valley, with its 3,000-foot granite walls and leaping waterfalls, is known the world over as an incomparable natural wonder. It is estimated that more than half of the park’s visitors see only Yosemite Valley when they travel to Yosemite, even though the Valley makes up less than 1 percent of the park.
Beyond the Valley lies the pristine high country of Tioga Pass Road and Tuolumne Meadows’ subalpine expanse, bordered by precipitous mountain summits and granite domes. To the northwest lies Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir in a valley considered a twin of Yosemite Valley. To the south is Glacier Point with its picture-postcard vistas, and the marvels of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias—the largest living trees on earth.
Just 75 miles south of Yosemite are two national parks that hold the greatest concentration of these botanical wonders—but with about half the visitors. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks harbor more than 50 of the 75 world’s remaining groves of giant sequoias. Adjacent to the national parks are the lands of Giant Sequoia National Monument, which are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. This distinction is inconsequential to most visitors: Park roads such as the winding Kings Canyon Scenic Byway and the epic Generals Highway cross park and forest boundaries, and the lovely Sierra scenery knows no boundaries.