One of my favorite national parks that is often overlooked is Kings Canyon National Park. Most visitors see only a tiny portion of the park from the top entrance, never taking the time to get down into the deepest canyon in the US. If we can inspire you to do anything, it is to get down into the canyon where you find so many amazing things to do in Kings Canyon National Park that you will fall in love just like we did!
If you are planning a joint trip to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon, make sure to check out our extensive post on visiting Sequoia which includes visiting the General Sherman Tree and other well known giant sequoias as well as tips on how to see both parks in a short amount of time.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Where is Kings Canyon National Park?
Kings Canyon National Park is geographically connected to Sequoia National Park and Sequoia National Forest in the Southern Sierra Nevada range. This is often quite confusing for people on their first visit. Kings Canyon National Park is broken into two sections essentially. The upper elevation part of the park is located around Grant Grove Village and sits at around 6000 feet. There are several campgrounds here as well as a few trails to explore.
The other section of the park is our favorite, located approximately 36 miles from Grant Grove. While this may not see like a ton of mileage, the windy road taking visitors deep into the canyon can take 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach Roads End, the actual end of the road.
When to Visit Kings Canyon National Park
The absolute best time to visit Kings Canyon National Park is when the road to the canyon is open, which tends to be mid-May through September and October. Otherwise, the rest of the park is open year round.
During the peak summer months, the park has the most tourists, but also has the most predictable weather. In the canyon, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees fahrenheit, while up at higher elevations it can continue to be in the 60-70s throughout the summer.
In the winter, the temperatures drop drastically and the road to Roads End closes with the first snow. This road will not open again until mid May.
Kings Canyon National Park has only one entrance which is about 1 hour from Visalia and Fresno. This entrance is located off Hwy 180. If you are visiting on a joint trip with Sequoia National Park, you can enter through Sequoia and drive up to Kings Canyon via the Generals Highway.
Note that getting to Kings Canyon does require effort as it is not located close to any major highway.
How far is Kings Canyon National Park from Visalia? 1 hour, 15 minutes
How far is Fresno to Kings Canyon National Park? 1 hour 5 minutes
San Diego to Kings Canyon National park takes approximately 5 hours and 45 minutes
San Francisco to Kings Canyon National park is around 4 hours 5 minutes
Driving from Yosemite to Kings Canyon National park takes 3 hours and 9 minutes
Where to Stay in Kings Canyon National Park
There are several lodge options within the park as well as campgrounds, however most of these are not open year round. As mentioned above the best time to visit for greatest access to the park is between May and September.
Lodges in Kings Canyon National Park
Depending where you wish to base yourself, you have three options on where to stay: John Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Cabins located in the Grant Grove Village or deep in the canyon at the Cedar Grove Lodge.
John Muir Lodge
The John Muir Lodge is located near Grant Grove Village, offering a great spot to explore the upper reaches of Kings Canyon as well as into Sequoia National Park. Make reservations online or you can call (866) 807-3598
Grant Grove Cabins
These cabins are located near the John Muir Lodge and are very convenient to both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Again, these are only open during the peak summer months. Make reservations online or you can call (866) 807-3598
Cedar Grove Lodge
The lodge at Cedar Grove is located at the base of the canyon in Kings Canyon, offering 212 rooms. The lodge makes a great base for exploring this area of the park. Note that it is only open during the peak summer months. You can reserve rooms online or you can call (866) 807-3598.
Backcountry Accommodation Options
One of the greatest experiences in Kings Canyon is getting into the backcountry. For those not into backpacking per se, there are two options – the Bearpaw High Sierra Camp which is located on the High Sierra Trail around 11 miles out and the Pear Lake Winter Hut that is open during the winter for those who ski or snowshoe out. These are closed for the 22-23 season.
Camping in Kings Canyon National Park
In my opinion one of the best ways to really experience Kings Canyon National Park is by camping. There are several campgrounds within the park at higher elevations near Grant Grove Village as well as within the canyon area. Below is a brief outline of camping in Kings Canyon, but head over to this post with all the Kings Canyon camping information you could possible ever need!
Grant Grove Campgrounds
There are 3 campgrounds near Grant Grove Village. These include:
- Azalea Campground with 110 sites for tents, RVs and trailers. This campground is open year round with limited sites. Reservations are required from May 25th, opening 1 month before.
- 20 sites are open from early October until mid-April
- 40-88 sites are open from mid-April through early May
- 110 sites are open from mid-May through early October.
- Sunset Campground offers 157 sites for RVs, tents and trailers. Reservations required, opening April 25th
- Crystal Springs Campground with 36 sites and 14 group sites. All sites are reservation only, opening April 25th for the year.
Cedar Grove Campgrounds
For those who make their way down into the canyon, there are 3 campgrounds here. These are:
- Sentinel Campground with 82 sites for RVs, tents and trailers. Reservations are required. Only open when the road is open. This is our preferred campground as it is shady and near to the Cedar Grove facilities.
- Sheep Creek Campground offers 111 sites and is open to tents, RVs and trailers.
- Moraine Campground has 121 campsites available for use.
READ MORE: Guide to Camping in Kings Canyon
Where to Stay Outside of Kings Canyon National Park
There are limited places to stay outside of the park. The only time we have not stayed inside the park was when we stayed in Visalia. It is an hour drive, but is doable for last minute trips when everything else is booked.
Best Things to Do in Kings Canyon National Park
There are so many great things to do in Kings Canyon National Park depending on how much time you have for your visit. Below we share our favorites!
Visit Grant Grove Area
Grant Grove is home to the second largest tree in the world, the General Grant Tree. This area is similar to General Sherman in Sequoia in that it has nicely paved walking paths through a gorgeous grove of giant trees and is considered a must see for the park.
You can also walk through the “Fallen Monarch”. This offers visitors the opportunity to walk through the length of a fallen tree that was once used for housing loggers, and even stables! It’s a cool experience and learning how this ‘shelter’ has been used in the past makes it even more interesting.
Cruise Down the Scenic Byway
The number one thing we recommend to do in Kings Canyon National Park is to take a drive along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. Here you can hike among massive sequoia stumps left from the logging days, visit Hume Lake, go caving at Boyden Cavern, see beautiful waterfalls and more. Ideally, you could easily spend an entire day doing this scenic drive taking in the vista points as well as going on a few hikes along the way. Don’t pass up the quick stop at Grizzly Falls on your way in or out of the canyon.
This beautiful lake between Grant Grove and Cedar Grove area was initially built as a water supply for a flume. Now it’s a recreation area where you can swim or paddle boat. Much of the area is run by a Christian camp, but it is still open to the public and a beautiful place to explore on the land and in the water. Note, there are rules for bathing suits on the Christian camp side of the lake. Also, the burger shack here is supposed to be amazing as are the shakes!
Pro Tip: Download this audio tour before you arrive to the park for your own personal guide through both Sequoia & Kings Canyon.
Earn Your Junior Ranger Badge
Did you know there is no age limit on who can earn a Junior Ranger Badge? Yes, I have child who is obsessed with collecting badges, but I will say that as an adult, completing the booklets has provided a great deal of history and information on the parks that I wouldn’t have received otherwise. These badges also make a great way to commemorate each of the parks you have visited – for free! It is always a fun moment for kids to be sworn in by a real park ranger as the newest junior ranger!
Hit the Hiking Trails
Big Stump Trail
Talk about a little known trail that packs a punch – it is Big Stump Trail. This trail is listed on maps and signboards as a picnic area, not necessarily a hiking area. Don’t be fooled though, this is one of the best short hikes in the park! Located just off Highway 180 near the Kings Canyon Entrance, this area has ample space to park as well as picnic as well as big stumps to climb around on!
Kids will love this area as they can see actual sequoia trees that have been cut down and in a few instances they can even climb up on the stumps to see the world from a new perspective.
Roaring River Falls
Not quite a hike, but rather a very short walk up a paved path takes guests to a beautiful waterfall rushing through granite rocks. This trail is often very busy as it’s easily accessible to day trippers and hikers alike. If you want to get off the beaten path a bit you can walk from here to Zumwalt Meadows!
Mist Falls Trail
Congratulations you have made it to Roads End! This is the furthest reach of road in Kings Canyon! Here, at the Road End is the start of the Mist Falls trail. This 8.7 mile trail is a bit strenuous for families with small children, but starts off mostly flat and meanders alongside a roaring river. For those who don’t have the stamina to make it the full way, you can always walk a bit and return the way you came once you start to get tired. But for those who can make it to the falls, you will be welcomed with some mist (hence the name!) and a beautiful scene unfolding before you. Again, this trail is quite far off the beaten path, so please come prepared with all your snacks, water and a full tank of gas!
For those who want to return a different way, you can cross at the suspension bridge and head back to the parking area along the Bubbs Creek Trail. This makes the trail a loop and around 5 miles total. In early season, be prepared for many wet river crossings on the Bubbs Creek side of the river.
Don Cecil Trail & Sheep Creek Cascade
The Don Cecil Trail beginning at the Cedar Grove Visitor center takes visitors across the road where it begins its climbs up the north-facing slope of the canyon. Since this is an out and back trail you can go as far as you would like. Part of this trail is also the Sheep Creek Cascade which is around 2 miles round trip with 600 feet of elevation gain.
|Need a backpack? Click here our guide to the best kids backpacks|
Immerse Yourself in Nature by Backpacking in Kings Canyon National Park
Redwood Canyon Trail
This is a great option for first time backpackers and day hikers alike. Sadly much of this area burned in the 2021 KNP Complex Fire and remains closed. (Updated Dec 2022)
Redwood Canyon trail is located down a rough dirt road (4×4 is not required, but high clearance vehicle is preferred) around 6 miles from Grant Grove Village. Redwood Canyon was one of the largest of all sequoia groves, but many were killed during the recent fire. Once this area reopens, the 16 miles of trail are perfect for short walks, day hikes and overnight backpacking trips.
Rae Lakes Loop
Rae Lakes Loop is the big daddy of backpacking trails here in Kings Canyon and one of the most beautiful and challenging too! This trail actually begins on either the Mist Trail or the Bubbs Creek Trail depending on which way you want to do your trip and which permit you managed to snag. This 42+ mile loop trail is strenuous, but you can shorten the trip by going only to Paradise Valley and Bubbs Creek Suspension bridge and then turn around and head back the way you came. For those with the willpower, continue on the trail to Rae Lakes, over Glenn Pass and then back down Bubbs Creek. It is one of the most beautiful trails and section of the 211 mile John Muir Trail which passes through the same area.
|For more information on backpacking, check out our top tips on backpacking.|
Explore the Cedar Grove Area
There are two Kings Canyon visitor centers. The one farthest into the canyon is Cedar Grove. This is a great place to come unwind along the river, grab some snacks and drinks and find out what trails you should visit in this section of the park. Note, the center is not always open, so don’t count on it for maps or snacks! If you have made it down this far into the canyon, it’s worth a quick peak and chat to the rangers to see what they recommend.
One of the most beautiful areas in the Kings Canyon area is down in the canyon at Zumwalt Meadows. This is a beautiful area with a super fun suspension bridge to walk across. This 1.5 mile walk is easy for families and offers stunning scenery. Since this area is quite far removed from other areas of the park, it is often quite empty. Perfect for a hot busy summer day!
Cool off in the water
While most of the signs around Kings Canyon warn of dangerous water flow, there are a few times of year and a few spots that are safe to splash around in the water. We love the area near Zumwalt Meadows when the water level is low and slow moving. Be careful though and always make sure the water is low and the current is slow because this water can really take you off your feet even when it’s shallow. Many guests also find Muir Rock to be a safe area for swimming during the heat of the summer. The Kings River here is very cold, but also very clear, often showcasing a beautiful emerald green as it deepens.
Another great way to experience the deep canyons of Kings Canyon is by horseback. Many families love adding something different to their national park itineraries, and this is a unique way to experience a national park. There are two stables in Kings Canyon National Park – Grant Grove Stables and Cedar Grove Stables. Both are approved to take visitors on guided rides throughout Kings Canyon. Rides range from 1 hour to all day, and they accommodate every level of rider. The trips are relatively economical as well, starting at $50 for an hour ride. You will need to make a reservation in advance as there is no service once you reach the canyon.
Tips for Visiting Kings Canyon National Park in One Day
If you only have one day to visit on your way to or from Yosemite National Park, don’t fret, you aren’t alone if you are visiting Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks on a day trip. It is said that more than 80% of the parks visitors visit this way. While there is so much more to be seen at the park than can be done in one day, you have to make the most of what time you have.
For those with one day to see both Kings Canyon AND Sequoia, I would highly recommend you do the following to make the most of your time.
- Start your day early
- Enter through one park and exit through the other
- Make a list of your top stops & hikes
- Pack in (and out!) all of your food and drinks
- Note, the Scenic Byway without any stops will add at least 2-3 hours to your day in only driving time.
Have you been to Kings Canyon National Park? What are your favorites?
Check out our other Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park posts to help in planning your visit.
- Driving the Scenic Byway in Kings Canyon
- Guide to Camping in Kings Canyon
- The Best Things to do in Sequoia National Park
- Sequoia National Park in the Winter
- Guide to Yosemite National Park
- Staying in Visalia? We have you covered here with all the Things to do in Visalia
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