Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon, formed by the South Fork of the Kings River is one of the deepest gorges in the US and the centerpiece of the Kings Canyon National Park. The deep glaciated valley of Kings Canyon is mostly unspoiled. With over 20 peaks towering over 13,000 feet Kings Canyon National Park has countless lakes, meadows, and waterfalls to enthrall those who prefer to explore nature by hiking.
Kings Canyon National Park shares the boundary with Sequoia National Park and both the parks are managed as one unit. Given the distinct features of both the parks, it will be fair to describe them separately. Although on the southwest entrance, Kings Canyon also has a few groves of the giant sequoia trees.
Kings Canyon National Park has two main areas – Grant Grove Village and Cedar Grove Village. Grant Grove Village is at the entrance of the park and is open year-round. Cedar Grove Village is in the heart of Kings Canyon. There is only one road to Cedar Grove Village, which ends at aptly named Roads End terminus. This winding, steep scenic road is Highway 180 which is generally open from mid-April through mid-November.
I will highly recommend downloading the park’s official app that is free and full of information. It has details of nearly 200 locations in the parks and has an “Off the Beaten Path” section with tips and hikes. Search for NPS Sequoia & Kings Canyon and download the app from the Apple App or the Google Play store before you get to the parks. Be sure to enable location services, and to download offline content in the app settings. This will allow the app to continue working when you’re out of cell range.
Best time to visit
Summer is the best time to visit Kings Canyon National Park. In summer wildflowers bloom everywhere, temperatures get comfortable, waterfalls are at their best and wildlife is very active.
With fresh snow on mountain peaks and red-yellow foliage, fall is a great time if you are seeking breathtaking vistas and solitude.
In winters only Grant Grove Village is accessible via road.
Where to Stay and Eat
Grant Grove Village
Grant Grove Village has a restaurant, grocery store, two lodging options, and three campgrounds to make your visit comfortable. Grant Grove Cabins are within walking distance of the Grant Grove, these rustic cabins are a good option to explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
John Muir Lodge is another year-around lodging option in Grant Grove Village.
Azalea Campground is open year-round for tents and RVs. Sunset and Crystal Springs Campgrounds are open from early spring through late fall.
Cedar Grove Village
Cedar Grove Village is located an hour’s drive from Grant Grove Village and services are limited. A small store provides basic grocery items and snacks. It has one lodging option and four campgrounds with a bicycle trail connecting to the village. Cedar Grove Lodge is located at the Roads End. It is a perfect choice to explore pristine high Sierra wilderness.
Reservations are highly recommended for all the campgrounds. Canyon View is a group-only campground. The other three campgrounds are Sentinel, Sheep Creek, and Moraine Campgrounds, which are open for tents and RVs.
In case you don’t have an “America the Beautiful” annual pass, you have options to get a one-week pass or annual pass for Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. You need one pass for both the parks as they are managed as a unit.
A one-week pass for a private vehicle is for $35 and an annual pass is for $70.
Check the National Park Service website for more details, roads, and trails conditions.
Park Visitor Centers
Kings Canyon National Park has two visitor centers – Grant Grove Visitor Center and Cedar Grove Visitor.
Backcountry permits can only be obtained from the Roads End Permit Station at Cedar Grove Village.
Things to do
Grant Grove to Cedar Grove (Highway 180)
It is the only road to reach the canyon floor. Starting from the sequoia groves it will take you to the deepest canyon. Give yourself enough time to stop at the overlooks for spectacular views. Yucca Point, Boyden Cave, Grizzly Falls, Canyon View are some of the highly recommended stops along the way.
Guided horseback rides are available during summer. Grant Grove Stables offer 1-2 hour guided trips through the sequoia groves. Cedar Grove Pack Station offers one hour to all-day rides.
Hiking and Backpacking
If you are planning to hike with your kids, you may want to read these useful tips to start hiking with kids.
Around Grant Grove Village
General Grant Tree Trail
Hike the ⅓-mile paved trail to pay homage to General Grant Tree, one of the world’s largest living organisms. Soaring about 274 feet, the General Grant Tree is celebrated as the nation’s Christmas tree. Historic Gamlin Cabin, the Fallen Monarch, and the Centennial Stump are some other stops along the trail.
North Grove Loop Trail
This 1.5-mile trail offers an intimate walk through the big trees. I will highly recommend this if you are looking for some reflective and peaceful time with the giants.
Redwood Canyon Trail
Sixteen miles of the trail gives a great opportunity to explore Redwood Canyon, one of the largest of all sequoia groves. Take a short walk, long day hike, or backpacking trip depending upon your time to truly appreciate the ecosystem of Redwood Canyon.
Buena Vista Peak
This is a fun, family-friendly 2-mile trail that goes up the granite peak offering 360-degree sweeping views of Redwood Canyon with a backdrop of high Sierra.
Big Baldy Ridge
Another kids-friendly trail with beautiful views from the big flat summit. It is about 4.4 miles with only 600 feet elevation gain.
Around Cedar Grove Village
This scenic, self-guided, gentle 1.5-mile trail circles the meadow named after D.K. Zumwalt, a railway attorney who was instrumental in saving the area. It offers magnificent views of high granite walls, verdant meadow, impressive talus, and meandering Kings River. We hiked with our kids when they were little and full of curiosity, it took us about 4 hours to explore it – one of the memorable hikes with kids.
Roaring River Falls
A very short walk on a paved path to a mighty waterfall that rushes through a narrow granite chute with a loud roar, hence the name.
This gorgeous trail features close proximity to the thunderous Kings River, cool thickets of cedars and ponderosa pines, and stunning views down the canyon. For the first two miles, it is quite level and passes through woodland and a meadow. At about 2.6 miles the canyon bends by 90° and gets closer to the river. The river flows across various other small cascades and rapids. The last mile gets steeper and rocky with 600 feet elevation gain. After 4 miles you will reach one of the largest waterfalls in Kings Canyon National Park. We continued about a mile up towards the Paradise Valley, before backtracking our steps. Paradise Valley is about 1.5 miles beyond the Mist Falls.
Rae Lakes Loop
This 41-miles loop featuring the breathtaking iconic high Sierra scenery is high on our list. It is hard to get backcountry permits for this highly sought after backpacking loop. This trail is high on my bucket list. Read this backpacking gear guide to select the right gear for your backpacking trips.
Snowshoeing and skiing are great options to explore the Grant Grove area in the winter when the landscape transforms into an enchanted land. Ranger-led snowshoe walks are also available, please check with rangers at the visitor center for schedule.
Things to remember while visiting Kings Canyon National Park
Drowning is the primary cause of deaths in Kings Canyon National Park. All rivers are dangerous, especially during spring and early summer when melting snow from the mountains makes river waters swift, icy cold, and extremely hazardous.
Maintain distance from all wildlife. Kings Canyon is home to bobcats, mountain lions, black bears, and rattlesnakes. Don’t approach to take a closeup photo or selfie with them.
Many hiking trails are above 5000 feet, give yourself some time to acclimatize and drink plenty of water. In case you feel a headache or shortness of breath hike down to lower elevations.
Lightning is common during summer months. Seek shelter or lower ground. When caught in a lightning situation avoid wet areas, heavily treed places, and rock ledges or overhangs. Crouch low and use some pad, your bag for additional insulation.
Ticks and Bugs
Ticks are common at the grassy low elevation. Check yourself and your kids thoroughly after each hike. Protect yourself from mosquito bites to prevent any chance of West Nile disease.
Rivers may look tempting in summer, but the icy cold water can quickly weaken your strength. If you survive the strong currents, hypothermia can set in quickly even if it is warm outside. Hypothermia can also develop when exposed to cool air for prolonged periods.
Enjoy your Kings Canyon Mountain National Park visit. Here is a fun National Parks Quiz for you.
Happy and safe travels!