We spent three days in Kings Canyon in early October 2022 as part of Big Trip #4.
From Yosemite, we continued south to the next Northern California national park, Kings Canyon. Do you know anything about Kings Canyon? Because we didn’t until we started researching.
Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park are adjacent and often grouped together as if they were a single park, including in all the official National Park Service literature. Both parks were established in 1890, but until the 1940s Kings Canyon was a much smaller park created to protect an area of giant sequoias from logging. The parks are connected by Generals Highway, a beautiful and very trailer-unfriendly road: vehicles longer than 22′ total–including a trailer–are not advised, due to the narrow, sharply winding route.
From a visitor’s point of view, Kings Canyon is basically two sections: the area around Grant Grove in the west, where the giant sequoias are concentrated, and the much larger eastern section, accessible by Kings Canyon Scenic Highway, winding down to Cedar Grove at the bottom of the steep, granitic canyon. We did a little in both section, plus took Bugsy on some dog-friendly adventures outside the park.
If you’ve been following along with us on this trip, you won’t be surprised to see that we reserved a campsite at a commercial campground outside the national park rather than taking our chances on the weather and campsite availability. But after parking the Airstream and getting the lay of the land, we moved into the park for nights 2 and 3 and it was AWESOME. Note that there are also lots of dispersed camping options nearby in Sequoia National Forest.
Outside the park
We started out in Sequoia RV Park, the closest commercial RV park to the park entrance, but still a half-hour drive to Grant Grove. It’s a dusty, quiet park, with a mix of short- and long-term sites. There are no amenities, and no office staff when we stayed. A cute coffee shop is walking distance away (we didn’t make it there), there’s a gas station nearby, and across the street from the campground there’s a Forest Service office. J had also noted a highly-rated bbq restaurant in Dunlap, but we didn’t check it out. Fresno is a half-hour west, for more food and drink options.
While eating dinner and drinking a beer (from our favorite brewery near Yosemite) at our picnic table on evening #1, we made a plan: in the morning we’d hook up the Airstream and drive up to the park. If we struck out finding a campsite, we’d just drive the trailer back down to Sequoia RV Park, no biggie.
Inside the park
We lucked out and got a magical campsite in Azalea campground near Grant Grove Village. Our site was one of the few we saw that was long enough for both our truck and trailer to fit, and we loved the huge rocks at the back of our site. Cell service was strong, and wifi was available up the hill at the visitor center.
A trail connects the campground with Grant Grove Village in one direction, and the General Grant Tree in the other direction. Visiting General Grant, the second-largest living giant sequoia (second to General Sherman, farther south in Sequoia National Park), is a must-do, and if you walk down there from the campground you don’t have to deal with the crazy-busy parking lot!
Grant Grove Village has a convenience store and a restaurant, in addition to the visitor center. The restaurant was carryout-only when we visited, with plenty of outdoor seating; the best part (for us) was that you can order ahead and pick up your food (we got yummy breakfast burritos) at the window, making it easy to incorporate food-fetching into a dog walk.
National park hikes, aka dog-unfriendly hikes
With our 2.5 days in the park, we wanted to do a couple shorter hikes and one longer hike, and we wanted to explore Cedar Grove and the northern part of Generals Highway. We got some good advice at the visitor center and chose three hikes.
Ok so Little Baldy is actually across the border in Sequoia National Park, but it’s a much shorter drive to the trailhead from Grant Grove (30 minutes) than from the southern entrance of Sequoia (1 hour). The hike is a 3.5-mile out-and-back climbing mild switchbacks to a rocky bald. The views are incredible and there were no people there! Fantastic.
Be sure to explore Lost Grove on the way to Little Baldy! It’s an easily-accessed roadside sequoia grove along Generals Highway; you can either admire the trees from the car, or wander around a bit.
After Little Baldy, we stopped at Buena Vista on the way home for an easy 2-mile out-and-back to more insane views. The bang for the buck on this trail was huge, and again–where is everybody?? We were really surprised at how few people we saw on both of these beautiful little hikes.
For our longer hike, we drove down the scenic drive (which was fabulous) to Cedar Grove at the end of the road, an hour from Grant Grove. We clocked the Mist Falls out-and-back at nine miles total, but it was an easy trek through woods to a climb to views and the falls.
It was buggy in spots, and a bit crowded when we were nearing the trailhead on our return, but still nothing compared to our recent experiences in Yosemite. The hike is incredibly beautiful, and we really enjoyed the scenic drive through the canyon.
Why did we enjoy the scenic drive, you ask? Of course the overlooks above the canyon were gorgeous, but we also got a surprise delight along the way: there’s a campground halfway down the canyon, about twenty minutes from Grant Grove, and they serve ice cream.
Kings Canyon RV Resort and Campground is such a cool spot! It’s the only civilization between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, and in addition to ice cream, they offer grassy tent sites and RV sites–some with full hookups. The surroundings are beautiful, and the ice cream was the perfect post-hike treat.
National forest hikes, aka dog-friendly hikes
The visitor center also had suggestions for hikes in Sequoia National Forest, adjacent to Kings Canyon, where dogs are allowed on trails.
Boole Tree Trail Loop
The first hike we did after dropping the Airstream off in the national park was in Converse Basin Grove, only ten minutes from Grant Grove (high-clearance vehicle advised) and a totally different scene. While Grant Grove was loaded with people and all the sequoias are fenced off and impersonal, Converse Basin Grove was empty and the sequoias were all ours.
Converse Basin Grove is the world’s second largest contiguous grove of giant sequoias (second to Redwood Mountain Grove not far south in Kings Canyon NP/Sequoia National Monument). Boole Tree, the eighth-tallest known sequoia, but the widest by base circumference, still stands, spared from logging because of its massive size.
However, most of Converse Basin was logged in the late 1800s, while Grant Grove was protected. The 2.5-mile loop through Converse Basin Grove takes you past some of the ancient sequoia survivors, younger sequoias, and huge stumps, along with views down Kings River Canyon.
Driving to the trailhead, you’ll pass the Chicago Stump and Stump Grove, both worth a stop. The Chicago Stump is .3 miles from the road in a young sequoia forest, and yes, it is a huge stump. The tree was the second-largest tree in Converse Basin (after Boole) and was cut down in 1892 to create an exhibit for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The tree was over 3000 years old when it was cut down.
Stump Grove, alongside the forest road, is an eerie graveyard of sequoia trunks. The forest service did a good job with informational signage describing the massacre of the ancient, majestic trees, but the meadow isn’t a happy sight. Attitudes about nature were different in the 1800s, apparently.
The morning we left, we popped up the road to Hume Lake with Bugsy. Hume Lake is twenty minutes from Grant Grove, past the turnoff for Converse Basin. Hume Lake is contained by the world’s first concrete-reinforced multiple arch dam, constructed in 1908; it’s pretty neat to see it up close along the trail.
The hike is a flat and pleasant (and uncrowded when we visited) 2.6-mile stroll around the recreational lake and we enjoyed the signage along the way telling us about the history and ecology of the area.
These were on our list, but we didn’t do them this visit:
Big Baldy – an easy 4.4-mile out-and-back to the highest point in Kings Canyon. We skipped it in favor of doing two smaller hikes instead (Little Baldy and Buena Vista)
Zumwalt Meadow/Roaring River Falls – a 4-mile out-and-back near Cedar Grove; we only had time for one Cedar Grove hike and chose Mist Falls
Now that we were hooked on giant sequoias, it was time to go to Sequoia National Park!