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If you are visiting California and want to explore three of the first established National Parks and be awed by giant sequoia trees, plan your adventure with this Majestic Mountain Loop itinerary. This glorious California road trip within the Sierra Nevada mountain range will take you through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. While this article provides highlights for all three parks, garner more specific details about hiking trails, insider tips and inspirational photography in each park’s in-depth itineraries.
To immerse in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park during your Majestic Mountain Loop road trip, I recommend basing yourself in Visalia, California to take advantage of its tasty eateries, murals and historic theater. Visalia is a short 35 mile (~50 minute) drive from Sequoia and ~55 miles (~75 minutes) from Kings Canyon National Park.
Things to Know Before Your Majestic Mountain Loop California National Parks Road Trip
Majestic Mountain Loop Map
Use this Majestic Mountain Loop map to orient yourself with where the national parks and towns are in relation to one another.
How Much Time Should You Spend Driving the Majestic Mountain Loop?
While your Majestic Mountain loop adventure can be completed in three days, it would be a rushed experience. I encourage you to spend five days sightseeing throughout Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park. This will also give you time to partake in axe throwing, kayaking or wine tasting in Oakhurst, one of my favorite gold rush towns near Yosemite’s southern entrance.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Majestic Mountain Loop?
May-October is ideal to ensure all the roads are open.
Majestic Mountain Loop National Park Fees
- Sequoia National Park – $35 covers one vehicle for 7 days
- Kings Canyon National Park – you will use the same ticket you purchase for Sequoia to enter Kings Canyon
- Yosemite National Park – $35 covers one vehicle for 7 days
Since the America the Beautiful Annual Park pass only costs $80, it’s worth getting it for this trip as you’ll be able to use it for any other national parks for 12 months. Buy from NPS.gov or REI.com.
Majestic Mountain Loop National Park Reservations
Although you don’t need a reservation for Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks, you will need to make a reservation for Yosemite National Park from May to September, unless you are staying inside the park.
TOP TIP: While it is more expensive to stay inside Yosemite National Park, I feel the expense is worth it so that you can get an early start for hikes and exploration and don’t have to worry about securing a park reservation or parking.
Distances for Your Majestic Mountain Loop Itinerary (Closest Airports to Fly Into)
Below are the closest airports to help you plan your Majestic Mountain loop California road trip where you will explore three national parks (Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Yosemite).
- Fresno airport (FAT) 98 miles (2.5 hours) from Yosemite and 83 miles (1.5 hours) from Sequoia
- Sacramento airport (SMF) 170 miles (3.5 hours) from Yosemite and 256 miles (4 hours) from Sequoia
- San Francisco (SFO) airport 192 miles (4 hours) from Yosemite and 265 miles (4.25 hours) from Sequoia
- Los Angeles (LAX) airport 318 miles (5.75 hours) and 210 miles (3.75 hours) from Sequoia
How Far is Sequoia National Park from Yosemite?
It is 172 miles (3.75 hours) from the Foothills Visitor Center in Sequoia National Park to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.
How Far is it from Yosemite to Kings Canyon National Park?
Plan to drive 150 miles (3.25 hours) from Kings Canyon Visitor Center to Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.
Since it’s only 100 miles (2 hours) to Oakhurst, California from Kings Canyon National Park, I suggest breaking up your scenic California road trip with a stop and overnight here. Oakhurst has lots of fun things to do and places to eat and is the southern gateway to Yosemite.
Majestic Mountain Loop Itinerary – Day 1 Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park Morning
Kick off your Majestic Mountain Loop explorations with the impressive giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park.
For more details about all the recommendations I make below, check out my Sequoia National Park one-day itinerary.
TOP TIP: Bring layers when exploring Sequoia National Park as the temperature is cooler at this altitude 7,000 ft (2,134m).
7 or 8AM If you stay overnight in Visalia, California, grab artisanal coffee, a salted toffee chip cookie or jalapeno cheddar bagel for the road at Component Coffee Lab in Visalia (opens 7AM). Or, drive to Wildflower Café in Exeter and opt for a bagel breakfast sandwich (opens 8AM).
TOP TIP: I recommend picking up extra snacks for today and tomorrow so that you can maximize your time by picnicking in the parks.
9AM Once you enter Sequoia National Park, stop at the Foothills Visitor Center to inquire about hikes and any road closures and get your Passport book stamped.
930AM Make a quick stop to admire the ochre pictographs (rock drawings) at Hospital Rock.
10AM Learn about the differences between coastal redwoods and giant sequoias at the Giant Forest Museum. And, get your first introduction to a giant sequoia with The Sentinel Tree that resides outside the museum. Although this 2,200 year-old tree stands 257 feet (78 meters) tall, other giant sequoias in the park dwarf it.
1030AM Stroll across the street for a leisurely 15-minute walk to Beetle Rock along the paved .5-mile (.8km) trail and gaze at the Coast Range 100 miles in the distance. Hopefully, smog doesn’t obscure the view.
11AM Spend an hour gaping at the giant sequoias along the 1.25-mile (2km) Big Trees trail.
Sequoia National Park Afternoon
12PM The General Sherman Tree is the deserved star of Sequoia National Park. Follow the 1-mile (1.6 km) trail to marvel at the largest tree on Earth. It stands 275 ft (84m) and has a base circumference of 103 ft (31m)! Be prepared to wait for a parking spot as this is Sequoia National Park’s TOP highlight.
TOP TIP: In my detailed Sequoia National Park one day itinerary, I recommend visiting after 3PM when people are leaving the park.
1230PM Explore the 2.7-mile (4.3km) Congress Trail and gape at the McKinley Tree, the House and Senate (groupings of six massive giant sequoias).
2PM Ascend 350 steps to reach the top of Moro Rock, which is at an elevation of 6,725 ft (2,050m). You’ll be rewarded with stupendous 360-degree Coast Range and alpine peak views.
TOP TIP: The road to Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow is often only open from mid to late May until late October/early November due to snow.
300PM If you have time, stop at Crescent Meadow after Moro Rock. You might be rewarded with spotting black bears on this 1.8-mile (2.9km) hike. Take a quick detour to Tharp’s log if you like to admire historic buildings as it’s a tiny home built in a fallen giant sequoia.
430PM Stop at Tunnel Rock as you are departing the park and you’ll likely have it all to yourself.
Majestic Mountain Loop: Where to Stay in Sequoia National Park
If you prefer to stay inside Sequoia National Park, the Wuksachi Lodge is an ideal base. This beautiful stone and wooden lodge has 102 rooms. If you have your fur baby with you, Wuksachi Lodge is dog friendly and charges $25 a day for them to stay in your room.
INSIDER TIP: From Wuksachi Lodge, it will be 26 miles (45 minutes) to Grant Grove the next morning. Alternatively, from Visalia it will be 55 miles (80 minutes) to Grant Grove.
Visalia, California Evening Explorations
5PM Drive 50 minutes back to Visalia so that you can appreciate some of the local sites after you shower and settle in.
630PM Opt for the Visalia architecture self-directed walking tour where you can appreciate the Fox Theater, murals and painted fire hydrants dotting Visalia’s downtown.
8PM Indulge in dinner at Elderwood’s rooftop restaurant atop a historic Art deco building. Their pistachio crusted tofu with chipotle lentils and raspberry lemon drop cocktails are on point.
Majestic Mountain Loop: Where to Stay in Visalia, California
To be walking distance to everything downtown, I recommend staying at the Visalia Marriott at the Convention Center and or the boutique Darling Hotel. If you stay at the Darling Hotel, you’ll just take the elevator upstairs to dinner at Elderwood.
Majestic Mountain Loop Itinerary – Day 2 Kings Canyon National Park
Spend your second day along the Majestic Mountain Loop exploring Kings Canyon, the deepest canyon in the United States. Descending 7,993 ft (2436m), it is deeper than the Grand Canyon!
My Kings Canyon National Park one-day itinerary provides additional details about the recommendations below.
7AM Start your day with a hand pie from Baked (open Tuesday to Friday 8AM to 4PM) in Visalia. I devoured my cherry hand pie and still dream about their vegan, olive oil, sea salt brownie. Their scones, coffee cakes and bagels are also delish.
TOP TIP: Grab some extra food for lunch and to satiate any cravings as you’ll spend the whole day in the park.
715AM Embark on the 80 minute (55 mile) drive to Kings Canyon National Park.
Kings Canyon National Park Morning
830AM Stop at Grant Grove courtyard dining and grab breakfast here if Baked is closed. It is open from 7-10AM for breakfast and 1130AM-8PM for lunch and dinner. You can also pick up snacks, drinks and souvenirs at Grant Grove Market.
TOP TIP: Pick up extra snacks here for the drive to Yosemite/Oakhurst this evening.
9AM Pop into the Kings Canyon Visitors Center to learn about hikes and road closures and other fun things to do in Kings Canyon National Park. I always get my National Parks Passport book stamped at the Visitor Center.
10AM Drive to Roads End, the furthest point in Kings Canyon first. By starting at the end of Highway 180 (Kings Canyon Scenic Byway), you can avoid the traffic that ensues later in the day.
1030AM Meander along the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) Zumwalt Meadow Trail for an hour. This is one of my favorite things to do in Kings Canyon National Park as it allows you to walk amongst trees while listening to a brisk flowing creek. It reminds me of the Mirror Lake hike in Yosemite.
1130AM Opt for a short drive to Roaring River Falls Trail after you complete the Zumwalt Meadow Trail. This flat .4-mile (.64km) will take you only 20 minutes.
TOP TIP: The picnic tables near the parking lot are great to enjoy your picnic lunch while listening to the waterfall and river. Water flow is strongest in spring and early summer.
Kings Canyon National Park Afternoon
12PM Make a quick stop at the side of the road to see Knapp’s Cabin, which was built in 1925 by the Union Carbide founder to use while hunting and fishing in the area with clients.
1215PM Learn how glaciers carved Kings Canyon at the Canyon View Overlook.
Sadly, the southernmost glaciers in the United States that reside in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are melting very quickly as a result of global warming.
1230PM Continue getting your waterfall fix with a quick stop at Grizzly Falls. This short .1-mile (.16km) walk takes only five minutes.
1PM Boyden Cavern’s stalactites and stalagmites are perfect to explore, especially on a hot day, as the cavern remains a cool 55 degrees.
TOP TIP: Bring a fleece with you for the cooler temperatures inside the cavern, but leave backpacks and tripods in your car as they are not permitted.
The 50-minute tours depart every 30 minutes and cost $16 for adults on weekdays and $19 on the weekends. Boyden Cavern tours are offered from May to October each year.
2PM Head across the street from the parking lot to get a closer perspective of the Kings River that you saw from above while hiking up to Boyden Cavern.
215 PM Grab gas and ice cream at the Kings Canyon Lodge, if they are open. A cool double gravity gas pump from 1928 makes for a nice picture.
245PM The Junction View Vista Point is the ideal stop on your way out of the park as you can appreciate the Kings Rivers from an elevated perspective and admire how the engineers carved the winding Scenic Highway 180 through the park.
General Grant Grove
3PM End day two of your Majestic Mountain loop itinerary at The General Grant Grove where you can see the General Grant Tree, the second-largest giant sequoia. This paved .3 mile (.5km) trail will take you only 30 minutes to complete. The General Grant Tree stands 268 ft (82m) tall and is 1,700 years old. It’s fun to see this massive tree after seeing the General Sherman tree the day before in Sequoia National Park.
The Fallen Monarch, which once had a saloon inside, and the Gamlin Cabin, built in 1872, are two other highlights along this trail.
Oakhurst, California Evening
330-530PM Drive 100 miles (2 hours) to Oakhurst.
Oakhurst is one of my favorite California Gold Rush Towns; Murphys is my other favorite. If you have extra time, I highly recommend you spend an extra day exploring each of these charming mountain towns and use my detailed itineraries to discover the best places for kayaking, axe throwing and wine tasting.
630PM Enjoy dinner at one of the many tasty Oakhurst restaurants.
Some of my favorite restaurants include:
- South Gate Brewing Company – I highly recommend the fried pickles, fried artichokes and Brussels sprouts
- Elderberry House – Perfect if you are seeking a fancier option at the Chateau du Sureau. They have a great wine list with many offerings from the surrounding Madera wineries.
- Seasons Bistro at the Narrow Gauge Inn – Start with a passion fruit mai tai or prickly pear margarita. The ponzu sauce on the Yin and Yang bowl is highly addictive. And the homemade cobbler is delectable.
Majestic Mountain Loop: Where to Stay in Oakhurst, California
There are a few options in and near Oakhurst, close to Yosemite’s Southern Gate, where you can spend the night. All have mini fridges where you can store picnic fixings for your Yosemite explorations.
- Narrow Gauge Inn – you can sleep up to 4 in the family rooms with trundle beds. This is the closest option to Yosemite’s Southern Gate. You can order breakfast or lunch sandwiches and gourmet cookies anytime after 7AM the next morning to take with you into the park.
- Queens Inn by the River – their adorable cabins sleep 2 and the motel rooms sleep up to 4
- Yosemite RV resort – these tiny cabins sleep 4. This is the furthest option from Yosemite’s Southern Gate.
Majestic Mountain Loop Itinerary – Day 3 Yosemite National Park
Spend the next three days of your Majestic Mountain Loop adventures exploring Yosemite National Park. For more details and recommendations, check out my Yosemite National Park Three Day Itinerary.
7AM Grab a ham and cheese croissant, maple old-fashioned donut or cherry crepe burrito at Judy’s donuts in Oakhurst, California, before heading into Yosemite.
Yosemite National Park Day 1 Morning
8AM-12PM If you are game for 2,200 feet of elevation gain, start your day with the 7.7-mile Chilnualna Falls trail hike near Fish Camp, California. With a leisurely pace and lots of stops to enjoy the views, I completed the hike in 4 hours. This lesser known hike is far less busy than other Yosemite hikes and treats you to waterfall views throughout. Bring plenty of water, snacks and lunch to enjoy at the top of the falls
TOP TIP: April or May is the best time for this hike as water flow is strongest.
Yosemite National Park Day 1 Afternoon
12PM-2PM If you’d like to see more giant sequoia trees, stop at Mariposa Grove in Wawona, California to hike the 2-mile Grizzly Giant loop and see the California Tree Tunnel. The Mariposa Grove has 500 giant sequoias. As of October 2022, some trails within the Mariposa Grove are closed as a result of the July 2022 Washburn fire, so be sure to check here to confirm what trails are open before visiting.
TOP TIP: The Shuttle to the trailhead doesn’t start running until after Memorial Day in late May. Prior to that, you’ll need to hike two miles each way to the trailhead.
2PM Make a 30-minute stop at the Yosemite History Center in Wawona, California to see original buildings (a jail, Wells Fargo building and old homesteads) from the 1800s as well as an old covered bridge.
230PM Drive through the Wawona Tunnel and admire the view from Tunnel View.
TOP TIP: If you have the energy, hike 2.5 miles round-trip to Artist Point or Inspiration Point. It’s a similar viewpoint to Tunnel View, but with far fewer people. I recommend downloading the All Trails map for this hike as it can be a bit confusing.
330PM Admire Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point.
INSIDER TIP: The road to Glacier Point is closed for all of 2022 for restoration. It is typically only open from May-October for cars and is scheduled to re-open in Spring 2023.
430PM Stop quickly at Bridalveil Fall, which falls 620 ft (189m) into Yosemite Valley. As of October 2022, restoration is ongoing. Once complete, you’ll be able to view it up close.
445PM Pull into the Cathedral Beach pullout to see El Capitan from below.
515PM Admire Yosemite Falls reflected in the Merced River from Swinging Bridge. The water flow gushes in April and May and is often a trickle by August and September.
Majestic Mountain Loop: Where to Stay in Yosemite
530PM Check into the Yosemite Valley Lodge and grab dinner at Base Camp Eatery or the Ahwahnee Hotel. The Ahwahnee is fancier and requires a reservation while Base Camp Eatery is casual and has chicken fingers, veggie burgers and wraps.
6PM If you have energy, walk 10 minutes over to Lower Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Valley Lodge. The waterfall mist is refreshing and even more pleasant later in the day when most have departed.
Majestic Mountain Loop Itinerary – Day 4 Yosemite National Park
Since you’ll be well rested, you can tackle the iconic Mist Trail hike today during day 4 of your Majestic Mountain Loop journey.
More information and tips for this hike can be found in my Yosemite Three Day Itinerary.
Yosemite National Park Day 2 Morning
8AM Drive over to Curry Village and grab a breakfast sandwich at Degnan’s Kitchen to fuel up for your big hike.
Parking at the Backpacker’s lot near Curry Village is ideal for hiking the Mist Trail. This hiking trail is typically open from April/May to November/December.
TOP TIP: An early start is KEY to avoid the crowds and secure a parking spot, especially on the weekends. The lot is often full by 8 or 9AM as this is THE most popular hike in Yosemite.
Plan for 5-6 hours to hike the 5.4 miles (8.7km) round-trip Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls.
TOP TIP: Hydration and calories are critical for this hike. Bring at least 100 ounces of water in a Camelbak or Nalgene, lots of snacks and food, a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen to protect you from the sun at the higher altitude and trekking poles to help you keep your balance on the slippery granite steps.
Admiring the rainbows in Vernal Fall is one of my favorite aspects of the Mist Trail hike.
There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy lunch at the top of Vernal Falls or Nevada Falls.
Personally, I find the views of Nevada Fall from its base more impressive than the view from the top.
TOP TIP: If the John Muir Trail is open, descend along that trail rather than coming back down Vernal and Nevada. It’s less slippery and also provides alternative perspectives. Be aware that certain parts of John Muir and Mist Trails are often closed in winter due to dangerous conditions such as falling ice so check this before heading out.
Yosemite National Park Day 2 Afternoon
2PM Stop at the Ansel Adams gallery to check out the latest exhibit.
3PM Take a leisurely 1 mile/1.6km (30 minutes) walk around Cook’s Meadow, admiring Yosemite Falls and Half Dome from various perspectives.
4PM Wander over to Yosemite Valley Chapel. It’s a .9 mile (20 minute) walk from Yosemite Valley Lodge or 1.5 miles (30 minute) walk from The Ahwahnee.
6PM Enjoy sunset from Sentinel Bridge where you can see Half Dome reflected in the Merced River.
7PM Enjoy pizza or vegetarian chili at The Deck in Curry Village (open 12PM-10PM) or The Mountain Room at The Yosemite Valley Lodge (open Wednesday to Sunday 5-9PM).
Majestic Mountain Loop Itinerary – Day 5 Yosemite National Park
On your final day of your Majestic Mountain loop sojourn, choose from a challenging or easy hike in Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite National Park Day 3 Morning
7AM Capture the rainbows in Upper Yosemite Falls from Cooks Meadow.
730AM Choose from a challenging or easy hike
- Challenging = Upper Yosemite Falls 7.2 miles/11.6km round-trip (6-8 hours). 2700 feet/823m elevation gain. The views of the valley from the trail are stupendous. If you complete the hike, you will have hiked to the top of the tallest waterfall in North America. It falls 2425 ft/739 m to Yosemite Valley below. If you don’t want to do the entire hike, you can go a bit past Columbia Rock and get a fantastic view of Upper, Middle and Lower Yosemite Falls. This only takes 2 hours round-trip.
- Easy = Mirror Lake 5 miles/8km around the lake. Looking up at Half Dome from its base is the highlight of this trail. There are also beautiful reflections in April/May. Later in the summer, the water has dried up.
Yosemite National Park Day 3 Afternoon
2PM Stop at El Capitan and watch the climbers on your way out of the park.
Mariposa Highlights Include:
- The Museum and History Center has an old stamp mill and you can pan for gold
- Bullion Street where you can see an old jailhouse, courthouse, and Catholic Church
- Mae it Be Home is an adorable home goods store with divine smelling goats’ milk soaps and candles
You can grab food at:
- Sal’s Taco Truck or Castillo’s Mexican food
- Jantz Bakery has delightful lemon bars and chocolate almond toffee bars
- 1850 Restaurant and Brewery is known for its burgers and steaks
- High Country Health Foods has a number of delish veggie sandwich options and juices
Majestic Mountain Loop: Where to Stay in Mariposa
The Yosemite Rustic Bug Resort has eclectic rooms with varying themes. The onsite restaurant, June Bug Café offers a number of delicious options. I highly recommend the sweet potato, cauliflower and spinach samosa with daal as well as any of their desserts. You can’t go wrong with their lemon cheesecake, mixed berry pie or peanut butter chocolate cream pie.
I hope my Majestic Mountain Loop itinerary helped you design and plan your trip to Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite as well as inspired gold rush town visits, including Oakhurst and Mariposa. If you have more time, you should definitely venture into some of the other gold rush towns in the area, including Murphys.