Kings Canyon National Park is the lesser visited of the nine California National Parks. If you’re looking for a gorgeous place to experience unspoiled, central Sierra Nevada Mountain wilderness, this is the park for you. There are so many things to do in Kings Canyon, and this guide will allow you to plan the best visit.
The Best Things to do in Kings Canyon National Park
There are so many amazing things to do in Kings Canyon National Park. Here are 9 ways to spend your time exploring Kings Canyon!
Drive Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
The drive along Highway 180 will be one of the most breathtaking in your life, I’m sure of it, but have your best and least distracted driver behind the wheel. Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in North America. Drive the 50 miles to Roads End and you will not be disappointed.
The barren, rocky outcroppings are absolutely stunning. There are multiple pull-offs and even trailheads to stop and enjoy. Plan to stop multiple times along the way to really appreciate the Canyon.
Take care to fill up your car with gas before embarking on this adventure; we stopped at Hume Lake for a few necessities on our way through and a quick fill up.
Visit the General Grant Tree
The General Grant Tree is the second largest tree in the world. A paved, .8 mile loop will bring you to this giant! SEKI is home to many giant sequoias, including the worlds largest tree – The General Sherma Tree.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to seven of the ten largest trees in the world. Out of the largest 30 trees in the world, 18 can be found in Seqouia and Kings Canyon National Park. The Giant Sequoia here grow thrive here because they receive ample water from the Sierra snowpack that accumulates over the winter months and soaks into the ground when it melts.
- Grizzly Falls
Grizzly Falls is located just outside of the Kings Canyon Cedar Grove area on Highway 180.It’s technically in the Seqouia National Forest, but located within Kings Canyon. Grizzly Falls Picnic Area is a wonderful place to set up and enjoy lunch with a view!
- Ella Falls
Take a hike from the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. A 5.7 mile loop will bring you past the General Grant Tree, along the sunset trail, and past Ella Falls. The waterfall itself is underwhelming in comparison to others, however, the hike provides a gorgeous way to experience Kings Canyon.
- Roaring River Falls
A worthwhile stop for anyone visiting King’s Canyon, Roaring River Falls waits at the endof a .3 mile paved trail. This short but violent waterfall is formed by a tributary of the Kings River. It’s a great little hike for family with small children!
- Mist Falls
Mist Falls is a moderate day hike located in the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon. The hike is explained in more detail below, but it’s certainly a wonderful way to experience a 100-foot waterfall!
Go for A Hike in Kings Canyon National Park
Trail suggestions are listed below and ranked in difficulty from Easy to Challenging.
Roaring River Falls
DIFFICULTY: VERY EASY
DISTANCE: .3 Miles
DESCRIPTION: A very short, shady, paved walk to a powerful waterfall rushing through a granite chute. About five minutes of walking will provide you with a beautiful view!
Muir Rock at Roads End
DESCRIPTION: This famous rock is where John Muir used to stand to give talks to visitors in Kings Canyon. It not only offers beautiful views of the South Fork of the Kings River but a great place to jump in and swim! As always, use your best judgment when entering the water; this is a strong river especially in May, June, and early July. Heed all warnings.
DISTANCE: 1.5 Miles
DESCRIPTION: This incredibly scenic self guided tour passes high granite walls, lush meadows, and the Kings River. Trailhead parking is 4.5 miles east of Cedar Grove Village road toward Roads End.
This trail is largely accessible and perfect for families with young children. Unfortunately, the river has washed away some of the trails hardened surfaces, so some spots are now more difficult for wheelchair travel.
Buena Vista Peak
DIFFICULTY: EASY – MODERATE
DISTANCE: 2 Miles
DESCRIPTION: This trail is located right off of Generals Highway just past the Seqouia National Park Boundary. We pulled over shortly after entering the Grant Grove Area coming from Sequoia National Park and completed this hike in about an hours time.
Beautiful wildflower filled switchbacks leave you to a rocky summit with a 360-degree view. There isn’t much tree cover on this hike either so on a hot, summer day be sure to have your sun protection available!
Mist Falls Trail
DISTANCE: 8.7 Miles
DESCRIPTION: This sandy trail begins at Road’s End and follows the glaciated South Fork Canyon through forest and desert-like terrain, past an impressive show of rapids and cascades, to one of the largest waterfalls in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
A day hike for the books, you’ll enjoy the close proximity to the thunderous Kings River, the cool coverings of cedars and ponderosa pines, the stunning views down canyon and finally a thorough soaking from mist falls.
The first part of this 9-mile round trip is relatively flat; during the last mile to the falls, the trail gains 600 feet. The average time for this trip is 4 to 5 hours, however, we hauled @$$ and finished the hike in about 3 hours and 10 minutes. Mist Falls itself isn’t actually all that exciting (personal opinion), it’s buggy and misty, however, the hike to the falls is absolutely stunning.
DISTANCE: 18.5 Miles
DESCRIPTION: This is a long haul most often done as an overnight (or a double overnight). You will start your hike at Roads End and the first 4.5 miles of the trail are the same as Mist Falls. They say the real climbing and the best views occur just after Mist Falls, so you’re in for a treat with this one.
At Mist Falls the trail begins to gain elevation and will become more difficult; don’t forget to stop and look back at where you came from because the views of the Canyon get better with every step.
At about mile 6 you will encounter campsites, this is a great place to turn around for ambitious day hikers! For some, this is your destination if staying the night or completing the Rae Lakes Loop. It can be used as an amazing basecamp for exploring more of Paradise Valley.
If you are backpacking on this route, you will pick up your permits at the Roads End Ranger Station and the start of this trail. The NPS typically reserves about 40% of its permits for walk-ups, but you would be advised to get here early, as anything along the Rae Lakes Loop is very popular. The station is open from 7:00 AM to 3:45 PM.
DISTANCE: 11 Miles
DESCRIPTION: Beyond Sheep Creek, using the Don Cecil Trail, the climb to Lookout Peak provides an incredible panorama of the park’s backcountry. This strenuous, all-day hike is 11 miles round trip and climbs some 4000′ to the summit. It is worth the climb!
From the summit, you will have splendid views looking right down into Kings Canyon. It’s comparable to the view of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point. However, unlike Glacier Point, chances are you’ll have Lookout Peak all to yourself if you visit.
Spend Time at Hume Lake
The picturesque Hume Lake is home to a popular campground, a gas station, market, and boat rentals. Hume Lake is located in the United States Forest Land just outside of King Canyon National Park.
Visitors can rent canoes, complete a 4-wheel off-road tour, partake in the Ponderosa ropes course, go mountain biking and play paintball on a first-come, first-served basis. Additionally, boat and kayak rentals are available beginning June 10.
Visit Boyden Cavern
Technically located in Sequoia National Forest, Boyden Cavern is a fantastic marble cavern. Book your hour-long tour to experience stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, pendants, and shields!
There is a short but steep hike to the cave that features spectacular views of Kings Canyon. It’s important to note that Highway 180 is a seasonal road and is often closed from November through March meaning this attraction is not available in the winter.
Go Horseback Riding
A great way to see Kings Canyon is to go Horseback Riding. It’s some of the top things to do in Kings Canyon National Park because there are stable located in both sections.
The Grant Grove Stables are located near the General Grant Tree and offer private guided tours. Routes from this location include the General Grant Tree, North Grove, Lion Meadow, and Dead Giant Loop.
Cedar Grove Pack Station is located just outside of Cedar Grove Village. This location offers day trips along the Kings Canyon River in the Cedar Grove area. Wilderness spot/dunnage trips are also available from the Cedar Grove Pack Station.
Additionally, you are able to bring your own stock animals to the park. Please read up on regulations and requirements before doing do. If you plan on riding the National Park Service’s horses, it’s important that you call the Stables in advance to book a tour.
Fishing and Fly Fishing
Kings Canyon’s Lewis Creek, Bubbs Creek, and the Motor Nature Trail in Cedar Grove are popular fishing spots within the park. The U.S. Forest Service stocks trout in the above mentioned Hume Lake. Fishing licenses are required for anglers age 16 and older.
One of the best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park is to go camping; you won’t regret it We arrived late in the afternoon and the Cedar Grove section of the park was empty. Hundreds of first come first serve campsites between the four campgrounds (Sentinel, Sheep Creek, Moraine & Canyon View) were available, and many for a mere $18 a night.
It is HOT with moderate coverage in the canyon, so we found ourselves the shadiest spot we could to set up our gear before slathering on sunblock and heading further down the road to the Roads End Permit Station where many trails begin.
Please note, the first section of Kinga Canyon National Park, Grant Grove, has additional accommodations as well. Campgrounds include Azalea Campground, which is open to tents, RVs, and trailers year-round, Sunset Campground, which is open to tents, RVs, and trailers from early spring through late fall, and Crystal Springs Campground, which is open to group camping for tents, RVs, and trailers from early spring through late fall.
If camping in a tent or RV isn’t quite your style, the beautiful John Muir Lodge is the pinnacle of Kings Canyon lodging; open year-round in the Grant Grove Village, offering 26 hotel rooms and a restaurant this stone-and-timber retreat is luxurious. Grant Grove Cabins and the Grant Grove Lodge are also available just .5 miles from Sequoia Grove, the visitor center, market, restaurant, gift shop, and post office. You can make reservations online or call (877) 436-9615 for any of the above mentioned.
Experience Kings Canyon
Judging by the number of people we came across in this park in early August, it is severely under looked, but that’s the beauty of it! Much less busy than its neighboring parks Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park. This allows you more opportunity to enjoy the natural world in it’s more natural state. Known as the ‘backpackers’ park, Roads End is a popular spot to enter the High Sierra.
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