Top Things to See in Kings Canyon National Park
There are three National Parks in California’s Sierra Nevada.
And… Kings Canyon National Park
Chances are that if you are not familiar with the area, you have not heard about the last park in the list. Actually, I know Californians which have never heard of the park even though it is adjacent and operated jointly with Sequoia (the two parks are administered as one unit).
To put things in perspective, Sequoia gets about one million visitors per year and Kings Canyon gets only half of that. And, I have a suspicion that most of those visitors concentrate on the sequoia groves located close to the park’s entrance. Several years ago, Sunset Magazine included the Park in its list of the “Sierra’s Hidden Gems.”
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what I was set to discover. We are on a quest to visit all of California’s National Parks. Therefore, we allocated a day to Kings Canyon.
General Grant Grove
As the name implies, we stopped in this area to take a look at the General Grant, the second largest tree in the world. He used to be the third until the tree that used to be the second largest lost the upper half of its trunk. It is a bit confusing since the interpretative signs in the park still describe him as the third largest.
General Grant is famous for being proclaimed the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.”
The other interesting thing about General Grant is that he is considered a baby. Well, a sequoia baby of only 1,700 years. The oldest sequoias are about 3,500 years. Therefore, the moisture, nutrients and sunlight conditions on his location are ideal for growth. That is why he has beaten much oldest trees in terms of size.
It is fascinating to walk around the grove. The marked trails are full of stops were visitor’s can learn about the trees, area’s history and even, how trees in the vicinity were cut and taken to the East Coast. The fallen trunks were used to prove the veracity of pioneer’s tales related to humongous trees found in California.
The Main Attraction: Kings River Canyon
Once we were done admiring the mighty sequoias, we started a slow descent for a short period of time. After seeing the “Kings Canyon Scenic Byway” sign, a sharp cliff appeared on my right side. My husband stopped to take a better look and noticed I was starting to get anxious.
He asked me if I wanted to continue. I mumbled a hesitant “yes.” I thought we were going to pass the high areas fast.
I was wrong.
Shortly after the stop, we took a left curve and that is when I saw the deepest abysm I have seen in my life.
The sky was mostly gray and sunset was upon us. A straight line of sun rays were passing through the clouds and lighting the left wall of the canyon. It was a transfixing image. I wasn’t expecting that at all.
As you can imagine, I was holding to dear life in my seat. All I could think was a video I saw on YouTube about a bus transiting one of the world’s most dangerous roads (in China). Why do you need to go to China if we have equally scary stuff in the United States (no railing separating you from the bottom)?
But, I survived the steep descent to the canyon’s floor. Our initial idea was to drive the road and return to camp near the park’s entrance. I told my husband I couldn’t take the drive back to back. We ended up camping close to Cedar Grove Visitor’s Center (located in the lower part of the park). The subsequent photos were taken the following day when we were getting out.
This area of the park protects the headwaters of the South and Middle Forks of the Kings River and the South Fork of the San Joaquin River. Both the South and Middle Forks of the Kings Rivers have extensive glacial canyons. One portion of the South Fork canyon, known as the Kings Canyon, gives the entire park its name. Kings Canyon, with a maximum depth of 8,200 feet (2,500 m), is one of the deepest canyons in the United States.
A few miles outside the park, Kings Canyon deepens and steepens becoming arguably the deepest canyon in North America for a short distance. At the highest part of the road, the canyon appears so deep that it is almost impossible to see the river at the bottom. I had to use the camera’s maximum zoom to capture the following photos.
Check out how the road meanders on one side of the canyon. Super scary!
The neat thing is that the junction of the South and Middle Forks of the Kings River can be observed from the road.
The river gets more visible as soon as you get closer to the bottom of the canyon.
There is a point where the river can be observed at road level. The power of this river cannot be described with words. He moves at full force with an eternal impetuous sound.
It was time to take it easy and admire the scenery. A 0.1 mile trail located next to the road takes you to 75 feet waterfall. I got another taste of nature’s power in here. It was nearly impossible to get to the base of the fall due to the force of the water.
Roaring River Falls
This is another short but powerful waterfall that can be reached by a 0.3 paved trail. Granite peaks can be observed from the trail (remember to look back).
Zumwalt Meadow is the most scenic part of the Kings Canyon valley floor. The woods around the meadow are noticeably more lush and green than the woods in the rest of the valley, which is by and large rather sparse and without ground cover. In addition the meadow is at the steepest and most dramatic part of the canyon, situated between two tall, nearly vertical granite cliff faces. A one-and-a-half mile loop circles the meadow and is one of the more popular trails in the park.
After the trailhead to the meadow, a short drive will take you to the road end. To get out of the park, you have to drive to the high altitude area using the same road used to get to the bottom.
Before leaving the park’s grounds, we detoured to Hume Lake. This is actually a reservoir used to store logs for an adjacent mill and supply water for a flume used to transport the cut lumber.
The lake was purchased by the Forest Service and it is used for recreation nowadays. Activities such as boating, fishing, hiking and swimming are permitted.
It was the perfect ending for our little adventure.
- This post barely scratches the surface of what Kings Canyon National Park offers to visitors. Please, visit the park’s website for more information.
- In my opinion, this park is unique in terms of its views. I recommend visiting it in conjunction with Sequoia National Park (do not skip it!).
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