Exploring a National Park has got to be one of my favorite things to do. I love being outdoors in general, but there’s something special about national parks. I mean, there’s a reason why they’re national parks, right? So, when we had a whole day of nothing but exploring whatever we wanted at Kings Canyon NP (in California) at whatever pace we wanted, we could hardly contain our excitement. After bidding farewell to Sunset campground and thoroughly being impressed with Grant Grove, we left the area and headed east on Generals Highway (CA SR 180) down to the canyon area of Kings Canyon. We had a few stops in mind, but mostly we were going to leave it up to….,well, us.
Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
They weren’t kidding when they gave this road a scenic byway designation because, man oh man, the scenery on this road is incredible. Seriously, don’t blink. Unfortunately for the driver, though, it’s hard to take your eyes off the very windy road to take a long look. Thank goodness there are plenty of turnouts and pullouts to stop and take it all in. There were only about three times when we pulled off at a turnout to let other cars pass us, but for the most part we had the road to ourselves and traveled down at a leisurely pace. Then there were the countless other times we pulled off just to stare in awe. Take your time on this road and take it all in.
The road eventually reaches the canyon floor and travels parallel to the Kings River. By this time, my family is telling me to stop saying “wow” all the time. The water is flowing fast this year, so much so that you can hear it thundering down in some places.
It was another hot day and the temperatures kept creeping up as we descended into the canyon. Thankfully, there were a number of shady pull-outs right next to the river.
Grizzly Falls is a pretty little waterfall, but since this waterfall was right off the small parking area, this place felt very congested. You really couldn’t sit and watch the waterfall without hearing everyone else’s conversation. So, after a few snapshots, we moved on.
Moraine Campground (one of the campgrounds in the Cedar Grove area)
We already had a campsite reservation at Lodgepole that night, but we always like to check out campgrounds for future trips. All of the campsites in this area are first-come, first-serve so we could have technically stayed there that night if we wanted to (but I wasn’t about to lose the Lodgepole campground reservation that I got 6 months ago). We found a site that was next to the river to see if it was worthy of an overnight stay. Most of the river sites (but not all) were taken, but many other sites were open. This was during the week on a Monday, so I’m not quite sure what the weekends look like. We liked that you could hear the river from the site although you had to climb down an embankment to reach it.
Zumwalt Meadows Hike
The Zumwalt Meadows hike, a 1.5 mile loop hike that takes you around Zumwalt Meadows was what we were ready for next. It was getting pretty hot midday, but miraculously, the clouds came right over the canyon and covered up the sun for the rest of the afternoon. It even rained for about 20 minutes to make things feel fresh and newly “washed.” We snagged one of the last spots at the Zumwalt Meadows parking lot and just prepared ourselves mentally for crowds since this place is a big draw. The short rainfall seemed to deter some families with small kids, and those that did start hiking, went just to see the meadow and turned back. This left the rest of the trail pretty empty. Oh, this place with the granite cliffs, mountains everywhere you look, lush green meadow, crystal clear river has the “it” factor. You stare out at the scenery around you and nod your head in agreement that Kings Canyon is a national park. Yup.
Up until the bridge we were walking with many people around us. However, about a quarter of a mile later it thinned out considerably. We decided to walk the meadow loop in the counter clockwise direction because we were excited to walk through the granite rocks.
Roaring River Falls
Since there is only one road into and out of Kings Canyon, if you miss a stop on the way to the canyon, you have another chance to stop on the way back. We tried to stop at Roaring River Falls on the way to Zumwalt Meadow, but the parking lot was completely full. So we made another attempt on the way back and sure enough there was plenty of parking then. After a quick walk up to the falls, we sat down on some boulders and just watched and felt the power of the waterfall as it roared down. This waterfall was true to its name!
We had to shave a day off of our itinerary due to work obligations, preventing us from exploring more of Kings Canyon, but we had a good dose of what the park was like. I feel satisfied after having had a wonderful day of exploring and filling our heads with memories of the stunningly picturesque Kings Canyon National Park. So, even if you only have a day like we did, you can really experience the park and even get a hike in. If you have more time, the backcountry area is supposed to be phenomenal.
It was getting to be that time when you start thinking about setting up your next campsite and cooking dinner, so we headed back up the canyon to Lodgepole campground in Sequoia National Park where we had reservations. Since my husband drove down to the canyon, I drove back, and I’m not gonna lie, driving that road was very scary at times. BUT we made it back up to the Kings Canyon Visitor Center safe and sound, and after treating ourselves to an ice cream bar from the market we were good to travel the rest of the way to Lodgepole. Kings Canyon is so worth that drive though!
I’m going to continue with our Sequoia National Park explorations and our bear incident in the next post… 🙂 Thanks for sticking around this far!