Kings Canyon National Park

Location: California

Park Tally: 49/59

Orientation: Kings Canyon National Park is comprised of towering 14,000-foot mountain peaks, lush meadows, swift-flowing rivers, and some of the world’s largest giant sequoia trees. As John Muir said, Kings Canyon is “a rival to Yosemite” and we found ourselves seeing the similarities on numerous occasions. Kings Canyon is located side-by-side to Sequoia National Park and the two parks are administered by the National Park Service as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

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The majority of Kings Canyon National Park has been designated as wilderness space, with only two areas of concentrated tourist facilities – Grand Grove Village and Cedar Grove Village. Grant Grove is home to General Grant (the second largest tree in the world, measured by trunk volume) and the area boasts lodging, campgrounds, a small store, visitor center, bathrooms, restaurant and post office. Cedar Grove Village is located in the heart of Kings Canyon, hosting another visitor center, numerous campgrounds, small store, cafe and the Cedar Grove Lodge (open seasonally).

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Most iconic view:  The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is the most unique section of the park, and also one of America’s most remarkable drives. The 50-mile mountain pass winds down 2,700 feet, past some incredible mountain views, and into a vibrant valley where the Kings River flows. At 1.5-miles deep, Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the United States. The beginning of the drive passes by Grant Grove and the famous General Grant Tree (mentioned in more detail below).

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Accessible activity:  Kings Canyon National Park is home to the world’s second largest tree (by trunk volume) – the General Grant Tree. Visitors can easily view the towering giant via a short 1/3-mile paved trail. The General Grant Tree is estimated to be 2,000 years old and was even proclaimed to be the Nation’s Christmas Tree in 1926. Furthermore, in 1956, the General Grant Tree was declared a National Shrine to memorialize those who have died in war. It is the only living object to be so declared.

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Zumwalt Meadows is another accessible must-see location in Kings Canyon National Park. The 1.5-mile trail allows visitors to experience the lush meadow floor and views of towering canyon walls. The short walk was incredibly peaceful and picturesque.

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For the adventurous: There are numerous backcountry hiking trails in Kings Canyon National Park, with the Rae Lakes Loop topping the list for beauty and diversity. The Rae Lakes Loop is a 41.4-mile long trail which climbs from 5,035-feet at the trailhead to 11,978-feet at its highest point (Glen Pass). Most hikers take four days/three nights to cover the challenging terrain, though many take more. The route is extremely photogenic and consists of a chain of sapphire blue lakes, granite crags, rushing waterfalls, lush meadows, alpine passes and glacially-carved canyons. A permit is required to make the trek and can be picked up from the Roads End Ranger Station.

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Best photo opportunities: We found the most photogenic location in the park to be Zumwolt Meadow in the late afternoon and at sunset, though it would probably be beautiful in the morning during summer months. The Rae Lakes Loop is also a renowned photography trip, though hikers must be prepared to carry their camera gear into the backcountry for multiple days (we bet it’s worth it!)

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Quick facts

  • Kings Canyon was originally established in 1890 as General Grant National Park, then later expanded and renamed to Kings Canyon National Park on March 4, 1940.
  • In 1976, UNESCO designated Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park a Biosphere Reserve.
  • The Monache Native Americans were the first known inhabitants in the area that is now designated as Kings Canyon National Park.
  • Explorers did not visit the Kings Canyon region until the 1820s, and it was labeled as some of the roughest land in the country by the military in the 1850s.
  • Kings Canyon runs deeper than the Grand Canyon, reaching 8,200 feet in some places.
  • Wildlife found within Kings Canyon National Park include black bears, squirrels, mountain lions, mule deer, marmots, pikas, jackrabbits, and more.
  • In 2016, Kings Canyon National Park had 607,479 visitors according to the National Park Service, thus making it the least visited of the major Sierra parks.

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