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Yosemite or Sequoia National Park? Some advice for those who don’t know how to choose between the two

May 11, 2021 /
yosemite vs sequoia

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

Yosemite or Sequoia National Park? As you plan your West Coast Road Trip, you never want to get to the point where you ask yourself this question! If you google photos of the two parks, you would likely say to yourself, “Do I have to choose? I want to visit them both!

Unfortunately, over the years I have come to realize that this question is far from obvious. At the same time, it is not easy to give conclusive advice, because we are talking about two exceptional parks, each with its own particular features. The beauty of a landscape is not an absolute value, “to each his own”, but we can still try to make some objective points. As well as getting to the nature of the problem, I will also try to give some criteria to make the choice between Yosemite and Sequoia, in case you can’t include them both in the itinerary.

Yosemite or Sequoia: Which One Do I Choose?

Which one is the most beautiful, Yosemite or Sequoia? What are the main differences between the two parks? Here are some important points to understand the advantages and disadvantages of choosing one or the other.

Extension of the Parks and Visiting Time

The extension of Yosemite is over 1158 sq mi, while the Sequoia is “just” 631 sq mi. These numbers make you understand that there is a big “quantitative” difference. Obviously, the difference is not only quantitative but also qualitative. While Yosemite includes an entire valley full of trails that wind through woods, waterfalls and steep granite peaks, Sequoia is less varied and maze-like and also does not have as many trails.

It goes without saying that Sequoia is easier to visit, since almost all the main trails are located near the only road that cuts through the park, Generals Highway. To visit Yosemite in one day, you definitely need to arrive prepared, otherwise you risk wasting your time. You can start your preparation by reading our guide.

Panoramas and Waterfalls

yosemite or sequoia

When it comes to landscapes, Yosemite is perhaps superior. Just think of the overlooks, like Glacier Point, which offers a unique perspective on the whole valley. There are also viewpoints in Sequoia (e.g. Moro Rock) but, though undoubtedly fascinating, they are not as awe-inspiring.

The waterfalls in Yosemite are more numerous and much more beautiful than those in Sequoia. If your heart is set on seeing a waterfall, go to Yosemite (although it is better not in summer, as you read in the article in the link).

Where are the Tallest Giant Sequoias?

yosemite vs sequoia

If your primary goal is to see giant sequoias, then the name of the park gives you the answer. Go straight to Sequoia National Park. Yosemite also has some giant sequoias in the area of Mariposa Grove (it recently reopened and restored while it was closed for years), but they are not as tall or even as numerous. Also, Mariposa Grove is quite far from the Yosemite Valley (over an hour’s drive), so you probably won’t be able to go there to see the sequoias if you’re just there for the day.

Attractions in the Surrounding Area

If you decide to visit Yosemite, you’ll have the chance to drive along the beautiful Tioga Road, and, more importantly – once you’ve crossed the Sierra via the Tioga Pass – to see three gems of California: Mono Lake, Bodie and Mammoth Lakes (and surroundings).

If you decide to visit Sequoia and you’re coming from the south, these places of interest are definitely off course, but don’t forget that Kings Canyon is very close to the Sequoia.

How to Choose According to the Itinerary?

Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park are two of the main national parks in Sierra Nevada, the mountain range that separates the “green” part of the Golden State from the deserts of California, and the other parks of Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Whether your trip starts in Los Angeles or San Francisco, you’ll have to cross the Sierra Nevada to reach Death Valley and Las Vegas, and then continue on to the other states.

There are two ways to reach the Eastern Sierra (the area east of the two parks in question) and Death Valley:

  • Case 1: Take Tioga Road
  • Case 2: Circumvent the Sierra Nevada from the south:
    • If you’re headed to Death Valley: Take I-5 S to Bakersfield, then drive through Ridgecrest (Searles Valley);
    • If you’re headed to Las Vegas: Take I-5 S and I-15 N (Bakersfield – Barstow).

Coming from San Francisco

yosemite or sequoia which is betterCase 1 applies to pretty much everyone who embarks on a road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite. Normally, after visiting this park – which is much closer than the Sequoia – one continues along the Tioga Road and goes past the Sierra Nevada to Death Valley and Las Vegas. This solution is undoubtedly the best from a strategic point of view, but what does it involve? In most cases, the default is Yosemite, and the Sequoia is excluded.

Tips on where to stay in and near Yosemite

However, there is one exception. Maybe you didn’t know this, but Tioga Road is closed due to snow every year from November to late spring. In 2017, Tioga made travelers want to pull their hair out, because it reopened on June 29th. All those who had expected to find it open had to change their plans and reinvent their itinerary. So what do you do in this scenario?

If you’re leaving from San Francisco on a trip between autumn and spring, to save time and not take long detours from the north, you’ll have to stick to Case 2 and you’ll probably find it more convenient to visit Sequoia instead of Yosemite. From San Francisco, you’ll take SR-99 S and continue past Yosemite and start the long journey around the Sierra Nevada. On the way, when you get to Visalia, you can take a detour to Sequoia National Park and visit it.

If you need help organizing overnight stays and intermediate stops during the long journey from Sequoia to Death Valley, read the article below:

Where to stay between Sequoia and Death Valley

Coming from Los Angeles

Sequoia National Park is much closer to Los Angeles than Yosemite, but if you’re heading to Las Vegas or Death Valley, Sequoia won’t be on the way and you’ll be forced to take a detour. If the trip you have in mind does not include San Francisco and is similar to our 2 Weeks West Coast Road Trip, but you’d still like to see one of the two mountain parks, then you won’t have much of a choice, because Yosemite will be too off course, so you’ll want to go to Sequoia and spend the night in the area.

Tips on where to stay in and near Sequoia

Map of Possible Itineraries

To better understand the various options mentioned, open the map and select the level with the park and time of year you are interested in to see the itinerary.

In Conclusion: Yosemite vs Sequoia, Which is Better?

Half Dome
As far as I’m concerned, the best choice is Yosemite National Park, from almost every aspect. Its views are absolutely breathtaking, it has beautiful waterfalls and offers many opportunities to go hiking in the most diverse natural landscapes, and last but not least, in its vicinity there are some hidden pearls of undisputed value, namely Tioga Road, Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes and Bodie.

If you are determined to see California’s giant sequoias, choose Sequoia National Park. You should also visit Sequoia if you prefer a more secluded park that’s quicker and easier to visit.

Without taking into account all the points explained above, if you have to decide on the route, here is what I suggest you to do:

  • If you’re leaving from San Francisco and you’re traveling in the summer, or when the Tioga Road is open, choose Yosemite. Instead, if your trip is during the low season, you’d better choose Sequoia, unless you have enough time to detour to Yosemite, stay overnight in the area and resume your trip south the next day;
  • If you’re leaving from Los Angeles and don’t plan to make it all the way to San Francisco, I suggest you choose Sequoia, perhaps complementing your visit to Kings Canyon.

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Bernardo Pacini

I am an editor and copywriter and have published some poetry. Besides traveling, my interests include literature, experimental music and good food

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