Winter Driving & Tire Chains

A snowplow drives along a snowy road
Snow on the Generals Highway

Kirke Wrench


Always Check The Local Weather Forecast Before Visiting In Winter

Because of the extreme elevation range in the parks, weather conditions vary widely between areas. In summer, the sequoia groves have comfortable temperatures and the foothills are hot and dry. Snow lingers on high-mountain passes well into summer. In fall, conditions can range from summer-like to winter-like. Winter brings snow to sequoia groves and rain to the foothills. Be prepared for tire chain requirements. Spring is a great time to hike in the foothills and snow begins to melt at higher elevations.


General Information

The parks are beautiful in winter, but be prepared for snowy or icy mountain roads. Tire chains or cables are often required on park roads from fall through spring, but they might be needed at any time of the year if snow falls. During fall through spring, we recommend that you carry chains or cables in your car, regardless of conditions.

Weather and road conditions can change rapidly, often multiple times per day. Get up-to-date information before heading to the parks, but remember that conditions and chain requirements may change by the time you arrive.


Tire Chains and Cables

When road conditions deteriorate, the parks will activate chain control zones on park roads. This can occur at any time, but is most common in November through March. State law requires ALL vehicles (including 4-wheel and all-wheel drive) to carry tire chains or cables when entering chain-control zones (CA Vehicle Code, Section 605, Sections 27450-27503). All vehicles must have chains or cables that fit properly and are in good repair.

If you do not have chains or cables, plan on renting or buying them before entering the parks. Road conditions and chain requirements can change rapidly; for example, you may not need chains when you enter the park but they may be required by the time you leave.

A black highway sign indicating chains are required, above a 25 mph speed limit sign, above a black hghway sign indicating snow tires are OK and chains must be carried
The highway signs that are displayed when R-1 tire chain requirements are in effect.

Tire Chain Requirement Levels

  • When ANY chain requirement is in effect, ALL vehicles, including those with four-wheel and all-wheel drive, must carry chains or cables in chain control zones.
  • Snow tires must have an imprint on the tire's sidewall that shows M + S, M / S, or an image of a snowflake. They also must have a tread depth of at least 6/32 of an inch.
  • The speed limit is 25 miles per hour whenever chain requirements are in effect, regardless of posted speed limits.

Requirement 1 (R-1)

Tire chains or traction devices must be installed on your vehicle, except...
if your vehicle has at least two snow-tread tires on the drive wheels. Tire chains must still be carried in every vehicle.

Requirement 2 (R-2)

Tire chains or traction devices must be installed on your vehicle, except...
if your vehicle is all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (AWD/4WD) with snow-tread tires on all four wheels. Tire chains must still be carried in every vehicle.

Requirement 3 (R-3)

Tire chains or traction devices must be installed on all vehicles. No exceptions.
Also, all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive must be engaged AND chains MUST ALSO be used. There are no exceptions.

Putting on Chains

Signs along the road will indicate where you need to put them on when they are required; pull all the way off the road. Put them on the front tires of front-wheel-drive vehicles, and on the back tires of rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

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5 minutes, 35 seconds

This video demonstrates how and when to install tire chains and/or cables on vehicles when visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, CA.


Renting or Purchasing Tire Chains or Cables

Tire, auto parts, and other large stores often carry tire chains or cables. Consider purchasing chains before you arrive so you can practice installing them and ensure they are in working order. You may also choose to rent or purchase chains or cables from businesses near the parks. Rental prices for chains or cables typically range from $40-$65 per day, and purchases from $50-$200.

Sequoia National Park entrance / Highway 198 / Three Rivers, California

  • Tire chains and cables are advertised as available for purchase and/or for rent at several vendors and shops throughout the town of Three Rivers.

Kings Canyon National Park entrance / Highway 180 / Yokuts Valley, California (formerly Squaw Valley, CA)

  • If you are traveling into Kings Canyon National Park via Highway 180, options to rent tire chains are limited, with the nearest rental location in Dunlap (14 miles outside the park). The nearest location to purchase tire chains is located in Yokuts Valley (21 miles outside the park).
  • If tire chain requirments change while you are in the park, consider purchasing tire chains at Grant Grove Market, located in the park at Grant Grove Village, (559) 335-5500. Note that the market is inside the chain control area and chain size availability is limited. When chain restrictions are in effect, it is not possible to enter the parks and purchase chains at the market.

Winter Driving Tips

  • Even if you have chains or four-wheel drive, driving in snow is not easy.
  • Beware of poor visibility and reduced traction.
  • Ensure that your chains fit your tires. Practice installing them before you need them.
  • Reduce your speed.
  • Keep your headlights on for visibility.
  • Allow extra distance between vehicles.
  • Stay well back when following plows.
  • Use low gears, especially when driving downhill.
  • Never stop or park in a traffic lane. Your life may depend on it!
  • If your rear-wheel-drive vehicle skids: Reduce gas and steer where you want to go.
  • If your front-wheel-drive vehicle skids: Accelerate slightly and steer where you want to go.
  • Brake sparingly. Locking your brakes may cause skidding.
  • Drive in the appropriate lane for your direction of travel. Avoid the center line.
  • Pull completely into a chain-up area, pullout, or parking lot to install, adjust, or remove tire chains.
  • Shady areas and bridge surfaces can be treacherously icy even when other sections of roadway are not.
  • Stay alert, use caution, anticipate hazards, and slow down!

Driving safely and lawfully is the first step in enjoying your winter activities in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks!


Last updated: January 30, 2024

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47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271


559 565-3341

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