SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS – Attendance at California’s national parks has fallen dramatically this year after storms have cut off summer travelers from nearby attractions.
Even though the state’s national parks were able to reopen entrance roads and saw some of the biggest crowds of the year this week, many popular destinations remained closed. The closures have dampened visitation in Sequoia National Park through May 2023, down roughly 50% from May 2022. Similarly, visitation in Yosemite is down 43% through May compared to 2022. The decline in visitation is having its negative economic effect on gateway communities such as Three Rivers, Visalia, Mariposa and Fresno.
Heavy snow and rainfall in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks delayed the opening of the main road that connects the two parks but the General’s Highway has finally been cleared. This means the public can now access Giant Forest or Grant Grove areas of the wonderous giant sequoias trees.
There are still a number of other areas which remain off limits this year due to major damage to roads and bridges. The 25-mile iconic Mineral King Road was washed away along several stretches and people are not likely to be able to visit the Alpine Valley this season. That will mean no visitors for the Silver City Resort this year.
In Kings Canyon, landslides have closed visitor access beyond Grant Grove to Cedar Grove – the popular destination along the Kings River that will remain closed this year. Visitors to Hume Lake will have to take the back road.
The road to Crystal Cave and the cave itself will not open at all this year. In Lodgepole, the park’s biggest campground, is open but the only market in Sequoia is closed without a timeline to reopening. To reach Sequoia Park’s Wuksachi Lodge, a visitor would be required to access their room from the Big Stump entrance up Highway 180 from Fresno. Also closed this summer is the Bear Paw wilderness camp that will require an overhaul of its water system before it can open in the summer of 2024.
The Sequoia Shuttle from Visalia is not operating as of this writing and, in fact, the in-park shuttle service is not running this month due a labor dispute that started July 8.
Travelers coming to the park from Three Rivers will have trouble reaching the South Fork park site and up the North Fork of the Kaweah River due to partial road closures, the National Park Service (NPS) said in a recent update.
Visitors won’t be able to camp this year at Buckeye Campground near Hospital Rock due to damage there. In the high country of the park, Dorst Campground is closed this summer due to damage as well.
Other off-limit sites are the road and trails in Redwood Canyon and Redwood Mountain near Grant Grove due to heavy damage caused by a calamitous wildfire that hit the are in 2021 – the same two fires that caused the loss of some 20% of all Sequoia trees here and south of the park along Highway 190 east of Porterville.
In Yosemite, the opening of the Tioga Road, connecting Yosemite Valley to the park’s high country, has been delayed with no estimate of when the opening will happen. The Tioga Pass entrance station received over 18 feet of snow this past winter at elevations over 10,000 feet. It is clear that after months of plowing to connect the 46-mile road across the Sierra that this will be the latest opening of the road ever.
A recent report says the last time the Tioga Road remained closed this late in the season was in 1938, when the highway opened on July 9 of that year. The late opening is the direct result of this winter’s historic snowfall that besides piling up, caused serious damage to portions of the route and adjacent facilities.
“Everyone’s been talking about what a crazy epic winter we’ve had and just the monumental task of getting that road open,” Steve Lyon, a Yosemite National Park ranger, said.
That work has involved months of plowing with tracked vehicles, bulldozers, rotary plows and other heavy equipment. As it does every year, it has also involved trying to clear the more than two dozen segments of the road that are prone to avalanches.
The best known and perhaps most dangerous of those avalanche zones is adjacent to Olmsted Point, a site famed for its spectacular views.
Lyon said that crews have cleared that section of road but that avalanche damage to one lane there will require traffic control regulated by temporary stop lights when the road opens.
NPS says to be prepared for multi-hour delays at park entrances and traffic congestion, especially in Yosemite Valley. Glacier Point won’t open until July 15.
Campgrounds in Yosemite that remain closed for now include Bridalveil Creek, Crane Flat, Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, Porcupine Flat and Tuolumne Meadows. The Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias will be closed for about three months starting July 10, 2023. The Mariposa Grove is open, but only accessible by shuttle.