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ADV Rides8 Great Reasons to Ride California’s Giant Sequoia Forests

8 Great Reasons to Ride California’s Giant Sequoia Forests

 Explore ancient forests, granite domes and roaring falls in the land of giants.

Published on 10.06.2017

5. Getting Away From It All

Dome Rock Sequoia National Forest
The extensive alpine woodland of the Sequoia National Park and National Forest are an excellent place to get away from it all.

Sequoia National Park receives only about a fifth of the visitors nearby Yosemite gets in a year but the roads can still get crowded on the weekends during peak season. Yet if you are riding a dual sport motorcycle, you have the freedom to get away from the minivans and journey deep into the backcountry riding on an expansive dirt road network. Here you’ll find plenty of remoteness and tranquility to go around, and at times you may even feel you have the whole park to yourself.

Riding in the forest Sequoia National Park
Out on the remote backroads and trails you rarely come across another soul.

For those seeking solitude, it’s best to steer clear of the main attractions like the General Sherman Tree, Crystal Cave and Moro Rock (save those for another trip). But there are still plenty of amazing places to experience on a dual sport motorcycle away from the crowds. If peace and tranquility are what you are after, you can easily find it on the remote backroads and forest trails.

6. Miles of Twisty Asphalt

Riding on the Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park
Switchbacks on the Generals Highway feel a bit like riding the Alps in Europe.

If you enjoy your twisty roads, you’ll get your fix and then some on a ride through the Sequoias. The 33-mile Generals Highway (Highway 198) offers stunning switchbacks that are reminiscent of the high mountain passes of Europe’s Alps. It’s steep, narrow and curvy with stunning views of snow-capped peaks above and rolling hills in the valleys below. The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Highway 180) takes you on a 36-mile long windy road through Kings Canyon National Park. After descending into the canyon, the road parallels the undulating curves of the Kings River and offers spectacular views of the steep canyon walls and hundred-foot tall waterfalls above.


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Twisty roads on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

Riding Horseshoe Bend in Kings Canyon
Horseshoe Bend offers a dramatic view of Kings Canyon. It took a major feat of engineering to carve this road out of the hard granite cliff face.

Riding Highway 190 and M-90 through the Sequoia National Park takes you an a scenic ride through California’s rolling foothills on your way up to the alpine forests. This area is more remote and less traveled than the National Parks to the north. You’ll find 50+ miles of blissful curves with very little traffic to speak of. Truly an amazing place to ride a motorcycle.

7. Experience an Ancient Culture

Sequoia National Park Morteros at Hospital Rock
Dozens of bedrock mortars used to process acorns into meal can be found at Hospital Rock.

While the first Sequoia tree was discovered here by European settlers in 1852, human activity goes back much further. For centuries, the area around the Sequoia National Park was home to the Monache people. The archaeological record indicates natives settled in the area as early as 1350 AD. Unfortunately, small pox brought by Europeans decimated the Monache even before white settlers set foot on their lands. Only a small village of 500 was left when Europeans began entering the region and the Monache all but vanished within a decade of their arrival.

Pictographs at Hospital Rock Sequoia National Park
These vivid red pictographs at Hospital Rock are just steps from the Generals Highway. It’s an archaeological gem that is easily explored in 20 to 30 minutes.

Native American pictographs can be viewed at several sites within the park but some of the most spectacular are located at Hospital Rock. Just across the street you can also find bedrock mortars that were used to make ‘meal’ (a staple food of the Monache) from acorns. Since women were solely involved in the task of making meal, anthropologists believe females where the artists who created the adjacent pictographs. Their meaning remains a mystery to this day.

8. Great Dispersed Camping

Camp spot in Sequoia National Forest
Many of the remote campsites come with a picnic bench, fire ring and soothing sounds of an adjacent creek to put you to sleep at night.

The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have many developed campsites with flush toilets, showers, bear boxes and more, but these tend to fill up quickly and often require a reservation. The dispersed campsites, off the beaten path, are where you can find the best spots to pitch a tent. Many of these sites include a picnic table, fire ring and are often found next to a stream with a stunning view. Even on busy weekends, there are still plenty of great dispersed camping sites available to be discovered in the park. We have identified several prime camping spots in our GPS tracks that accompany this story.

Remote camping in the Sequoia National Park

Campfire in the Sequoia National Park
Don’t forget your fire permit. You can get one for free at the forest service office or take a quick test online to receive one digitally.

Fires are allowed in a fire ring but remember to pick up a campfire permit. You can get a free campfire permit at any forest service office or online. Although, even with a permit, additional restrictions may be in force during peak fire season. Check with the forest service before you embark on your trip.

Planning Your Trip

Riding Terrain: The route is 25% dirt and 75% street in mileage with significant asphalt stretches required to connect up trails. Many of the dirt sections are mild but the technical difficulty level can rise quickly at times. You’ll encounter steep rocky descents near Huckleberry Meadow and the Park Ridge Trail. Buck Rock Jeep trail has several difficult descents and hill climbs and the technical single track around Dome Rock can get tight for larger bikes. Asphalt sections offer beautiful scenic roads with endless curves. The National Parks can get a bit crowded but the roads in the Southern Sequoia National Forest are virtually car free.

Dirt routes are accessible to large 1000cc+ adventure bikes for those with advanced off-road skills. But even those on smaller bikes should have at least intermediate level off-road skills for the hard sections. Some of the more technical spots can be bypassed by planning ahead and using the alternate routes outlined in the GPX file. The furthest distance between gas stops is about 130 miles. The Southern Sequoia National Forest is very remote with few gas stations, so it’s a good idea to ride with friends and bring ample food, fuel, water, a first aid kit and an emergency GPS messaging device.

Sequoia national forest

Weather: Summer and Fall are the best times to visit the Sequoias. The higher elevations are a great place to beat the heat but if you get there too early in Spring or early Summer, some trails may still be closed due to snow. During Winter, the park remains open but most trails will be closed to traffic. Elevations range from 1,000 feet to 8,300 feet (300 m to 2,530 m), so be prepared for a wide range of temperatures and wear good breathable riding gear that can handle swings in the weather. Temperatures can soar above 100°F (38°C) during the peak of summer in the lower elevations but comfortable temperatures await you once you reach the higher elevations. Even so, it’s a good idea to bring a warm sleeping bag because nighttime temperatures can drop to freezing even in Summertime.

Camping/Lodging: There are many developed campsites in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, but these are often crowded and require advanced reservations. You can find a list of these on the National Parks website. But some of the best camping options are the dispersed campsites in the National Forest. Here undeveloped sites on dirt roads are plentiful and you can often find one that has its own picnic table and fire ring situated along a creek (see the GPS files for locations). Just make sure you hang your food in a tree at night out of reach of Black Bears and other critters. If you are looking to pack light and ride hotel-to-hotel, you can check into the Sequoia Lodge at the north end, and the Yurts at Quaking Aspen Campground in the south. A good midway starting point for your journey is the Kaweah Motel down the hill in the town of Kaweah.

Gear We Used

During our expedition to the Sequoias, we encountered a variety of different terrain and extreme variations in temperatures, from baking heat in the lower elevations to freezing cold when the sun dropped in the mountains. Since we were riding affordable small-displacement dual sport machines targeted toward the entry-level market, we wanted to try out some value-oriented gear to go along with the theme. We looked for high-quality riding gear and luggage systems that would get the job done without putting a hole in our budget. We also loaded a free GPS navigation app on our phones to help guide us through the wilderness, and used inexpensive Bluetooth intercom headsets to communicate..

Here’s a list of some of the products we used on the trip that impressed us:

You can read more about how these products performed during our expedition, on our Tumblr Page.

Maps and GPS Tracks

We’ve put together a route through the Sequoias that will allow you to visit all of the places shown in this Ride Guide during a 3- to 4-day trip. Full route details, GPS tracks and a larger interactive map are available on REVER.co for free. With the REVER app you can load our GPS tracks and maps onto your smartphone and use them to navigate the route. Although, the offline maps option requires the premium version of REVER. You may also download the GPX file here to use on a dedicated GPS device. A paper map is always good to have as a backup as well.


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Photos by Stephen Gregory

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

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Author: Rob Dabney
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11 thoughts on “8 Great Reasons to Ride California’s Giant Sequoia Forests

  1. Pingback: Small Bikes Big Adventures: Suzuki DR200S and Yamaha XT250 - ADV Pulse

    • The CRF250L performed great. It’s not a hardcore dirtbike but it was the most performance-oriented compared to the XT250 and DR200S. It had more power and suspension, although it’s on the soft side for a big guy like me. It could use better damping too. Gearing was challenged on some of the tougher hill climbs but it made it through. Fun bike for this type of riding and the windscreen was nice on the longer paved sections. It’s also a little less cramped in the ergos for a larger rider than the other two bikes. The CRF250L Rally would be much more awesome with an upgraded suspension and maybe a gearing change and pipe to open it up.

  2. Great article. I know both areas well so I was curious about dirts roads and routes. They are much more difficult to find in theses areas now, especially since Sequoia National Monument was created. I have not looked at your gps files yet, but I can see on the map, with pins, that your route appears to be 100% pavement. Dirt? BTW: looks like you spent a night at Brewers Ponderosa Lodge. That area, at the top of the pass on 190, is one of the best kept secrets in California- especially for m/c riders! That area has tons to offer and very few tourists. Thanks for a a very good article.

    • Thanks John. We didn’t stay at the Ponderosa Lodge but we stopped by there to pick up beer and burgers for camping one night. It is really remote up there. The route we put together is about 25% dirt but the dirt sections can get pretty technical. You need to do a lot of pavement to link up trails in this area unfortunately, but they are some fantastic roads. There are a lot more trails to the east of Hume Lake (13S05) that we didn’t include because they are closed for fire recovery for the time being. And as you probably know, there are also a ton of trails to the south and east of California Hot Springs that are part of the Sequoia National Forest… towards Lake Isabella and Kennedy Meadows. Not a lot of points of interest around there, just great trail riding, some of the best in California.

      • Hi Rob, thanks for taking time to reply. Next time you are up on 190, there is a dirt road that goes from Coy Flat (right by Camp Nelson) and comes out on 190 South of Ponderosa. It starts at the end of the paved road at Coy Flat, climbs up quickly, then on top turns South East and becomes Crawford and/or Windy Gap road. Grab a map, see if you can find it- well worth it! I’ve ridden it about 20 times. If you go again, I’ll guide if needed. We like to go that way from Camp Nelson, then when we intersect 190 take it up to Ponderosa, or down to The Trail of 100 Giants, then come back to Camp Nelson area on the pavement. It’s a good loop. The paved twisties up there are great as I’m sure you experienced. Cheers!

        • I’ve been eyeing that trail but haven’t had a chance to check it out. Will definitely have to explore it next time I’m in the area. Thanks for the tip John!