You know when you’re excited for sweeping views, spring flowers, newborn baby animals and getting your first tan of the year? That’s where we were at prior to driving into Kings Canyon National Park. As we drove up into the hills from Fresno, California on our Mountain National Parks road trip we felt the temperature drop, but it was still sunny. We watched the darkest gray front move over the mountain tops…
And then we got into Kings Canyon National Park and it was freezing. As we wound up the mountain on our way to Sequoia National Park we went through fog, hail, rain and dead still air. It was eerie.
We expected this to all be cleared up by the time we returned to Kings Canyon National Park but it wasn’t, hence our plans were a bit foiled. We still had fun though! We’ve got some great tips for what’s fun, fascinating and different than what we encountered in Sequoia National Park. So, here’s what you can bet on for a great experience in Kings Canyon National Park in any season.
What you'll find...
- Kings Canyon National Park Visitors Center
- The General Grant Tree hike
- Other Kings Canyon Activities
- Staying in Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park Visitors Center
We got our National Parks Passport stamps here in Grant Village and had the best talk with the Park Ranger about all of the things we could do… if we stuck around for a few days and allowed the 80 degree weather to roll back in. Since that wasn’t going to happen, we explored more of the exhibits. The Grant Grove Visitors Center had some of the best wildlife informational displays we’ve seen in any National Park, including really beautiful bronze casts of some of the creatures you’ll see in the park.
The highlight of the Grant Grove Visitors Center was perfect for our family: a mural room. We often see murals in zoos and science centers, so finding such a great one here was a treat. The mural was beautifully painted and was synced up with a soundtrack of Kings Canyon National Park, with loads of creature sounds chitchatting at you as you circle the display. This was a highlight of our visit for Elliott, our youngest.
Tip: there’s this sweet-spot age with young kids where they are genuinely enraptured in Visitors Centers before they get super wild and just use the Visitors Center as a playground. Use this time to give them some hands-on exposure so they can start to make connections with the nature they’ll see outside.
The General Grant Tree hike
We have a new-found addiction to giant sequoia trees, so visiting the Grant Grove was wonderful for us. Having just come from Sequoia National Park and having those sequoia groves fresh in our minds, we can confidently say that the Grant Grove is very different and worth the visit, even if you think you just can’t look at another tree.
Need to Know about Trails in Kings Canyon
There are a few options for how to approach the grove, including some trails that lead you away from the primary area. We stuck to the well-designed loop since we weren’t sure if we were going to get hailed on at any moment, but next time we’ll for sure explore further. The loop takes about 45 minutes and offers plenty of variety when it comes to the forest’s sights.
One sight we particularly enjoyed that wasn’t on the main loop but just off, was a fallen sequoia that was fully hollow and really cool to explore. This fallen giant varied from the Fallen Monarch (below) in that it was still early in its decay process and showed the structure of the tree better. Oliver, our oldest, wanted to climb all of the way to the end of the tubular tree, but I nipped that in the bud real quick.
The Fallen Monarch Sequoia
Wow! You know when you see something from a distance are you’re like “That’s cool. Moving on…” The Fallen Monarch in Kings Canyon National Park is not like that. It’s really incredible. You can walk inside it from end to end; in fact it actually can split the Grant Grove loop trail if you’re looking to have a shorter walk.
This tree is in its final stages of decay and really tells a history, from the holes in the roof to its fire scars. It’s worth traversing the roots and stuff inside to experience it from end to end.
Tip: remember that you’re in nature and there aren’t many constructed storm drains, so an enormous pipe like the Fallen Monarch acts as an aqueduct for snowmelt and rainfall. Basically, your shoes may get SOAKED walking through.
Visiting the General Grant Tree
It’s really grand. Like, really. The General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park is incredible, but it’s among many other large trees that are pretty close and block in the canopy of the forest quite a bit. The General Grant sequoia has few other giants directly next to it and its enormity is well understood.
Tip: the trail takes you past the lower side of the tree, but if you take the detour trail up the hill a bit, you get to view the HUGE fire scar on the General Grant tree. It’s a testament to the incredible forest you’re in and makes you feel small and fragile. Seriously, this little trail gives you big perspective.
Accessibility to the General Grant Tree
The trail from the parking area up into the Grant Grove is well maintained and not too steep. The pavement is ideal for wheels of all sort as long as you’re sticking to the primary loop. It’s pretty clear where you shouldn’t go because the path is ROUGH directly off the main trail.
Note: we did take the stroller off-roading through the Fallen Monarch, but it was only because we knew we could help each other carry it out. If you’re flying solo or using a wheelchair, um yeah, don’t attempt it.
Other Kings Canyon Activities
Like I said, we had big plans for hiking and seeing several amazing sights in Kings Canyon National Park, but since we didn’t get to visit them, we’ll just give you some good ideas for a visit when the Park is fully open.
Hiking in Kings Canyon National Park
Hiking with kids is tricky, because you need to be sure that there is either loads of interesting stops along the way or something they’ll love at the end. Our plan was to do a nice hike in the Hume Lake area to get an incredible view of Kings Canyon, but that didn’t play out. This would’ve been great for the streams, wildflowers (Oliver loves flowers) and potential wildlife. Oh well, next time…
And we were going to do a hike in the Redwood Mountain Grove, but that stinkin’ snow and cautionary tales from the Rangers… More on this grove below.
More Giant Sequoias in Kings Canyon National Park
There are several other groves of giant sequoias you can visit if you haven’t gotten your fill yet. The Redwood Mountain Grove is south of Grant Village and is the largest in Kings Canyon National Park. There are a few different trails for hiking and are less visited or developed than Grant Grove. And there are other groves too (Cedar Grove being close to Grant Village)… because the Park is amazing.
Picnic Spots in Kings Canyon
We are such big picnickers. On this trip, due to our weather woes we only got to picnic in Yosemite and at the Oregon Caves. Kings Canyon National Park has loads of picnic areas, just like Sequoia National Park. Next time we go, we’ll be eating lunch in the open air as often as possible, so until then, if you have a picnic recommendation in Kings Canyon National Park, leave a comment and we’ll add it to this.
Staying in Kings Canyon National Park
There are several campgrounds and small lodging establishments within Kings Canyon National Park, but we didn’t camp on this trip because it was spring… and it was cooooold. We did stay at the John Muir Lodge in Grant Village and it proved to be a great option for us. It was close to the activities were were able to do and we had a comfortable place to unwind.
Although the John Muir Lodge at Kings Canyon National Park isn’t as night as the Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia or the National Park Inn at Mount Rainier, it’s the best option for visiting Kings Canyon and is very quiet.
On our next trip, we’ll be camping for sure and will share those details when it happens. And we know how to prepare for cold camping, so we for sure will be ready!
Kings Canyon National Park is a really cool place to visit. It’s very different from Sequoia National Park and will impress you in different ways. In the off season, a day or two is enough time to experience the highlights we mentioned, but it does seem that in summer three or four days is more appropriate.
Have you been to Kings Canyon National Park? What are your tips? Leave a comment to help us fill our weather-filled gaps.