Kings Canyon National Park - Sierra Nevada, Fresno County, California
Updated: Jan 6
After visiting Sequoia National Park the past two days, and planning to visit Yosemite the following two days, we didn't plan on any serious exploring when we visited Kings Canyon National Park. We just planned to take a day to see what the park has to offer in the event we come back another time when we have more time. Kings Canyon National Park is adjacent to Sequoia National Park and visiting these two parks requires only one entrance fee since they are both administered by the National Park Service as a single unit. John Muir considered this park as “a rival to Yosemite”. You will find less foot traffic here (except in the Kings Canyon backcountry, which is heavily used), but don’t think it lacks the attractions that other national parks have. The majority of the park is wilderness and not accessible by car, hence you have to camp or backpack to explore. Kings Canyon offers great granite canyon walls, beautiful valleys and waterfalls. The deepest canyon in the United States is also found here - more than a mile and a half deep. The park is also home to the largest remaining grove of sequoia trees in the world.
Kings Canyon National Park, located in the southern Sierra Nevada, was originally established in 1890 and was named General Grant National Park. Initially, it was meant to protect a small area of giant sequoias Sequoiadendron giganteum) from logging. The park was renamed to its present name on March 4, 1940, after it was significantly expanded.
There are two areas to explore in the park, one is in Grant Grove, home to the General Grant tree, the second largest sequoia in the world (267 feet high with 29-foot base). This tree is also known as “the Nation’s Christmas Tree”. Then there is the Cedar Grove area located near the South Fork of the Kings River, known for its towering cliffs, impressive meadows and massive trees. This area extends to Giant Sequoia National Monument. In 1976, King’s Canyon was designated by UNESCO as part of the Sequoia-Kings Canyon Biosphere Reserve.
TO GET HERE
There are two-ways to get to Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon. From Three Rivers where we stayed, one is via Sierra Drive and Dry Creek Drive to CA-245 N to CA-180/E Kings Canyon Road. It’s about one and a quarter hour drive. The other way is through Sequoia National Park via Generals Highway, which will take almost two-hour to get to Grant Grove Village.
A VERY SCENIC DRIVE IN THE PARK
Driving in Kings Canyon National Park is very scenic. The high cliffs and deep gorge are very impressive - we were glad to find that overlooks were provided so visitors can admire the amazing views. Bringing camera is a must; I mean, the real one, not just a cell phone.
Part of the road from Grant Grove Village (CA-180) follows the South Fork Kings River from Yucca Point Overlook, and it was a pleasant drive all the way to the end of the road. There are some hairy sections but keep your eyes on the road and don't get distracted by the view. I know, that would be hard, but there are overlooks where you can stop to admire the stunning scenery.
JUNCTION VIEW TO KINGS CANYON LODGE
About 2.4 miles from Junction View, you will find Kings Canyon Lodge where you can fill up with gas from an old, or should I say, antique gas pump. Even if you don't need a gas it's actually cool to get gas here just to find out how it works. But you'll pay for it!
There are miles of hiking trails in the park with 25 trailheads located in the Grant Grove and Cedar Grove areas. The most popular trails include Mist Falls, Big Baldy Ridge Trail, Rae Lakes Trail, General Grant Loop Trail, Zumwalt Meadow Trail, Roaring River Falls, and Buena Vista Trail. You can spend days in the park exploring hiking trails, but we only had a day to spend so we opted for the easy and popular sites in the park.
ROARING RIVER FALLS - 0.3 miles
From Cedar Grove Visitor Center to the Roaring River Falls Trailhead is about a three-mile drive. The falls is a tributary of the South Fork Kings River. It is a very short hike from the road (CA-180) to the falls - about 0.3 miles. You will see the sign as you approach the bridge crossing the Roaring River. The trailhead parking is just around the corner, past the bridge.
To see just one of the many waterfalls in the park was good enough for a day trip. We were lucky to find the place to ourselves and take photos leisurely.
ZUMWALT MEADOW (Cedar Grove) – 2 miles
So, from Roaring River Falls, drive another 1.7 miles and you will reach Zumwalt Meadows Trailhead. It's almost at the end of the road, right by the Zumwalt Meadow, which was named for D. K. Zumwalt, a railway attorney who was instrumental in saving the area. This trail is a short and easy hike for anyone. It's considered one of the best day hikes in the park. You will understand why from the pictures below. Words cannot express how beautiful this trail is, and to find these views without exerting too much effort is amazing.
Hiking this trail is indeed a pleasant experience. With gentle grades and stunning views of the high granite walls and meadows, you can easily find yourself coming back here, again and again. It was such a peaceful hike.
We were here in 2014, when this was a loop trail, but it has changed since then after natural flooding washed away part of the trail passing through the meadow in 2019.
If you intend to stay in the park for more than a day, you can either camp or stay in the lodge or cabins. Check the permit requirements if you plan to stay. Equestrians are allowed in the park but dogs are not allowed on the trails.