Kings Canyon National Park
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Introduction

Just south of the famous Yosemite National Park, no trip to California should be without a visit to Kings Canyon National Park. Home to the deepest canyon in the United States, Kings Canyon National Park astounds its visitors year after year with distinctive outcroppings, deep valleys, and famous trees that tower mightily overhead.

While California’s enormous Sequoias and Redwoods are what originally entice travelers to venture into the celebrated groves, Kings Canyon National Park keeps its RV visitors enthralled with a whole host of recreational activities to enjoy throughout their stay. The glaciated valley features miles upon miles of hiking trails, plenty of chances to observe wildlife, multiple camping opportunities, and so much more. It’s a picture-perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts and an immense contrast to the coast’s beaches.

Adjacent to the park, Sequoia National Park shares similar features, yet tends to get most of the attention. That leaves Kings Canyon National Park much more open as a welcome getaway from much of the hustle and bustle of more populated parks. The park is divided into two sections: the Grant Grove, which is the most visited section, and the Cedar Grove, which is at the bottom of Kings Canyon.

Spend your days scaling mountains, wading through deep river waters, enjoying a scenic route, or simply taking the time to relax among the flowers. You don't want to miss the chance to take a picture of General Grant, which is the second-largest tree on Earth. The most breathtaking feature of the part is its namesake, Kings Canyon, which is a stunning landscape of a glacier-carved valley and rugged peaks that extends over a mile deep. With so many beautiful sights, Kings Canyon National Park is an excellent choice for RVers who want to beat the crowds but still enjoy the same spectacular views as the other national parks in the Sierra Nevada.

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RV Rentals in Kings Canyon National Park

Transportation in Kings Canyon National Park

Driving

Getting to Kings Canyon National Park is very straightforward, with access through CA-180 or by taking The Generals Highway. This highway connects both Kings Canyon and sister park, Sequoia National Park. This is extremely convenient for loop trips between the two parks. It’s important to note that construction may hinder vehicles, campers, or RVs longer than 22 feet from certain access points.

If you’re not a fan of winding roadways, CA-180 offers access with far fewer curves to keep you on edge. However, no matter which way you go, you are driving in a mountainous region, which means steep, winding, and narrow roads. Roadways within the park may be difficult for larger rigs to travel, as many roads become narrow and rough. Check vehicle length limits before driving around in the park, as some areas restrict RVs and trailers over 22 feet long.

Winter driving in this region is tricky and can be dangerous, so check for weather conditions and road closures before you head out. Some areas require tire chains or cables during the snowy season. Gasoline is not available within the park, so be sure to fill up just before entering.

Parking

Motorhomes and longer campers may run into a rough time finding spots available in park campgrounds. A number of campgrounds were originally designed with tent sites and travel trailers in mind, so rig length may be a limiting factor. Sites in Lodgepole, which is in a connecting area between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, are able to hold RVs up to 40 feet in length. Other campgrounds may have space as well, but available nights may be limited.

Public Transport

The park offers shuttles that service visitors from mid-May through early September. The shuttle is very convenient for those who don’t wish to haul around their rig to every outing. Plus, gasoline isn’t found within the park, so it helps to use your fumes sparingly. Park at any campground the Sequoia shuttle passes through and you are set. Basic shuttle rides are always free and run between parts of the Giant Forest and Lodgepole areas of Kings Canyon National Park.

Campgrounds and parking in Kings Canyon National Park

Campsites in Kings Canyon National Park

Reservations camping

Sentinel Campground

Sentinel Campground is open from the end of April and through mid-November, however, reservations are required during the peak seasons. Typically, this is from the end of May until the beginning of September. Otherwise, all sites become first-come, first-served. Located on CA-180 and near Cedar Grove Visitor Center, the campground is an ideal setting that lies in the canyon along the South Fork of Kings River.

Travelers will find 82 sites that are open to tents, RVs, and trailers. Some hindrances may apply if you are traveling with a particularly long vehicle. Sites vary in size, so not all may accommodate your vehicle. Flush toilets are provided, but you won’t find hookups or a dump station. Dumping can be done at nearby Princess Campground in Sequoia National Forest, but only in the summer. Other amenities are offered at the Cedar Grove Village. Here, you will find payphones, showers, a laundry facility, and a restaurant.

Sunset Campground

Sunset Campground features 157 sites available for tent, RV, or trailer camping. Reservations are highly recommended, with the grounds open from mid-May until early September. Sites vary in size, so if you’re traveling with a larger rig or hauling a long trailer, you may have more difficulty finding a site that will accommodate vehicle size. As with all the campgrounds in this park, there are no hookups available, and there is no dump station. However, dumping can be done at Dorst Creek Campground nearby. The campground doesn’t provide anything too fancy, but you will find flush toilets and payphones here. Food storage is encouraged to be kept within bear food storage lockers in order to discourage wildlife. Lockers are provided at all sites.

Lodgepole Campground

This is a rather popular campground, so it’s a good thing it is also large. There are 214 individual and group sites available for tents, RVs, and travel trailers. Be sure to check in with the campground first before making this your destination in the fall. Certain loops will close during this season and RV camping tends to be limited to the central overflow parking area. It’s strongly recommended that you make reservations for camping to ensure space is left available for your stay.

This campground is in an ideal location tucked between both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. It lies just a few miles from the Giant Forest Sequoia Grove and has the perk of a free shuttle bus that stops in the campground, meaning you can park and still get around with ease. Reservations can be made in both the summer and fall seasons. The conifer forests here are a perfect setting. As part of Lodgepole Village, this campground provides its guests with ample amenities including a market, laundry, flush toilets, and showers.

Dorst Creek Campground

Just a 20-minute drive north from Lodgepole Village will land you at Dorst Creek’s campsites. It’s the ideal location to park if you’re planning on visiting both the Giant Forest and either Grant or Cedar Grove. This campground has the best of both worlds, where you can explore pieces of both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. Choose from 219 sites that allow tents, RVs, and trailers. Four group sites can also be reserved here. Typically, the campground is open from mid-June until early September, depending on weather conditions. Reservations for Dorst Creek are available to schedule online. While not as amenity friendly as Lodgepole Campground, Dorst Creek provides flush toilets and a free shuttle makes stops at the campground.

First-come first-served

Sheep Creek Campground

Sheep Creek Campground rests in the canyon, near the Middle Fork of Kings River. It’s about a quarter-mile from Cedar Grove Village and can be found just off CA-180. There are 111 sites available for tents, trailers, and RVs. Sites vary in size, so finding spots to fit a large rig or longer trailer may be tricky. While no dump station or hookups are provided, you will find flush toilets and other amenities features at the nearby Cedar Grove Village. There, you will find a laundry facility, payphones, showers, and a restaurant. Food storage should be contained to food lockers provided at each site in order to deter wildlife. The campground is open from late spring through early fall. Generators are permitted for used between 9 AM and 9 PM.

Moraine Campground

Located on CA-180 and less than a mile from Cedar Grove Village, this campground is another that is nestled in a picture-perfect setting. The campground features 121 sites near the South Fork of Kings River and boasts some of the best views of Kings Canyon’s spectacular, steep cliffs. Sites accommodate trailers of varying sizes but don’t expect to find a lot of options if you’re traveling with a larger rig.

As with all campgrounds in Kings Canyon National Forest, Moraine does not include hookups or a dump station. Dumping can be done at nearby Princess Campground. Flush toilets are provided at the grounds, and Cedar Grove Village supports visitors with showers, laundry facilities, a restaurant, and payphones. Generators are permitted for use after 9 AM and before 9 PM. Food storage lockers are also featured at each site to discourage rummaging wildlife.

Crystal Springs Campground

Just four miles from the park’s CA-180 entrance, this campground is another that nestles you among towering evergreens. It’s an ideal location, as it is only about five minutes from General Grant Sequoia Grove and an hour from Giant Forest. Camping is open to tents, travel trailers, and RVs from early spring into late fall. If traveling with a larger rig, be prepared to hop around looking for a site that provides a perfect fit. There are no hookups provided, nor a dump station, but dumping can be done at Dorst Creek Campground nearby. Each campsite features a large food storage locker and the grounds offer flush toilets. Generators are permitted for use, but only during the hours between 9 AM and 9 PM.

Azalea Campground

Lying under open stands of evergreens, this campground lies 3.5 miles from Kings Canyon National Park’s entrance on CA-180. When you park here, you get to stay within walking distance of the General Grant Sequoia Grove. The campground provides 110 sites and a fully accessible site as well, as more and more locations are working to make National Parks available to everyone. Tent stays, travel trailers, and RVs are permitted to set up at available sites all year long.

The length of available RV and trailer accommodations will vary by site, so be prepared if you have a large rig. You’ll find no hookups or dump stations at the grounds, though Dorst Creek Campground is nearby with an available dump station. Flush toilets are provided, and generators are free to run from 9 AM to 9 PM. You’ll also find a large food storage locker at every campsite.

Alternate camping

Hume Lake Ranger District

The Hume Lake Ranger District lies in the northern portion of the Giant Sequoia National Monument. If you can’t seem to find space at some of the more populated Kings Canyon grounds, it’s another ideal area that is open all year round and hosts 14 other campgrounds. The advantage of sharing time between areas means you get to really immerse yourself in the gorgeous Sierra Nevada region.

Canyon View Campground

These grounds are reserved for only medium and large groups of visitors. The campground lies in the canyon, near the South Fork of Kings River. There are 12 sites for mid-sized groups of 7-15 people and four sites for groups of up to 30 people. These sites are only for car and tent camping. All RVs and trailers must camp in regular campsites in nearby campgrounds. There are no hookups and no dump station, however, flush toilets are provided, and Cedar Grove Village is only a quarter-mile away. Here, you have access to payphones, laundry facilities, showers, and a restaurant.

Wilderness Areas

Backpackers are permitted to camp in park wilderness areas as long as they acquire a wilderness permit ahead of time. A permit is always required in order to camp outside of the designated campgrounds. There are hundreds of areas in various parts of the park and many of them start at Rae Lakes Loop, which is one of the most popular backpacking trails. It takes you through Paradise Valley and over the suspension bridge over Woods Creek before getting to Rae Lakes. The Pacific Crest/John Muir Trail is also a popular trail that backpackers typically take to find secluded campsites. You should always be careful of bears and other wild animals out there and keep food in bear-proof containers.

Seasonal activities in Kings Canyon National Park

Spring

Caving

If you have never been inside a cave, Crystal Cave in the nearby Sequoia National Park is a great one to start with. This cave is open from mid-May until the end of September and is available to all ages. The Crystal Cave is actually a marble cavern that formed over thousands of years. The half-mile guided tour typically takes about 45 minutes, but you will wish it lasted longer so you may have to go again. You can buy tickets at the visitor center but it is best to make reservations online because this popular activity gets sold out fast.

Boating

Hume Lake Recreation Area offers sandy coves and beach-like shores where its visitors can readily enjoy all sorts of water sports. The lake is easily accessed off of CA-180 and is a popular spot to gas up, fill up on food, and get out for a day on the water. Many visitors take full advantage of Hume Lake’s boat rentals as well.

Sightseeing Tour

An all-day adventure awaits with a group tour of Kings Canyon National Park. The tours are offered through Sequoia Sightseeing Tours and run from May throughout October on all Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The tour starts from either the Wuksachi Lodge or John Muir Lodge and highlights the area’s must-see attractions. During the tour, you’ll witness the General Grant Tree, Grant Grove’s Visitor Center, some spectacular waterfalls, and so much more. The tour also supplies a picnic lunch.

Rock Climbing

Climbing in the canyon is a popular pastime by many of the park’s visitors. Kings Canyon offers rocky routes that challenge climbers of all ability levels. Some popular routes climbers often take include the Grand Sentinel, Chimney Rock, and Obelisk. The park brings special attention to its residents, the peregrine falcons, that typically will be found nesting in Chimney Rock. This area is closed off from April through August in order to protect the birds and respect their space.

Photography

Majestic sequoia trees and redwood forests compose one of the many awe-inspiring scenes worthy of capturing forever. There’s almost an endless supply of photo opportunities here. Whether novel in the craft or a professional, Kings Canyon and the rest of the park feature a landscape where every shot is perfect. Some popular places to get postcard-worthy pictures are the Redwood Mountain Overlook, Kings Canyon Overlook, and Eleven Range Overlook. However, don’t let these destinations limit you. There is plenty more to see in this photographer’s paradise.

Paintballing

Hume Lake Recreation Area is not only home to a popular lake but provides a comfortable, safe setting where many other recreational pastimes can be enjoyed. While here, many of Kings Canyon National Park’s visitors, young and old, get some good playtime in with paintball. The area’s facilities are a challenging, fun setup that the whole family can enjoy.

Summer

Whitewater Rafting

If thrills and chills are more your style, whitewater rafting may be exactly what you’re looking for. In the Kaweah River, about 20 minutes from the park entrance, you can find Class IV rapids for those who are experienced and can handle the tough stuff. The river gets pretty rough at times, and you are likely to fall in the water once or twice so make sure you wear a life jacket and helmet. Hire a guide to help you find the perfect trip for you, and spend the entire day on the water before heading back to your nice relaxing campsite. If you did not bring your raft, you can rent one, or they will provide them at the outfitters if you get a guide.

Join In A Ranger Program

The park’s rangers run a variety of programs that are designed to both entertain and educate visitors. Programs range from guided hikes to evening campfires. During these programs, you’ll be privy to all these local rangers’ insights. The park’s rangers have so many fascinating stories and facts to share that cover a whole host of topics. All the programs are free of charge and will rotate with the season and park region. Usually, most ranger programs are held during summer months, with peak times from late June through August.

Canoeing

The park is filled with lakes, but Hume Lake remains a favorite and the perfect setting to get out to kayak or canoe. The calm, clear waters of Hume Lake are utterly inviting, and the lake’s sandy shores provide a picturesque setting. Canoes are offered for rent on a first-come, first-served basis. Access to Hume Lake is fairly easy. Simply take CA-180 from Kings Canyon. Popular campgrounds lie up here as well, so if you are staying mobile for this trip, you may want to switch up where you’re staying. There are so many pieces of Kings Canyon National Park, so it really benefits to be able to experience what the different areas have to offer.

Mountain Biking

Kings Canyon offers vast caverns, deep canyons, enormous mountains, steep inclines, rugged foothills, and expansive forests. It is a perfect setting for those who like to go mountain biking. Many of the trails offer unique challenges and make for a fun setting. Hume Lake Recreation Area is a popular spot for mountain biking as well. If you didn’t bring your bike, rentals are available here.

Tour The Waterfalls

When you want waterfalls, you want to see the spectacular waterworks of Kings Canyon Valley favorite, the Roaring River Falls. Deeply situated within the valley, off CA-180, the falls rush 40 feet below through a narrow opening, creating a rushing foam that churns on the water’s surface. It’s a dramatic effect and part of how the falls got their name.

Up the valley is Roads End, where another Kings Canyon waterfall is sure to captivate. Mist Falls emerges after a short hike and the sparkling waters are a pleasant oasis. Finally, just off Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, Grizzly Falls waits as an impressive reward for such a short and easy hike. It’s a looming, 75-foot tall water tower with tremendous flow, and is the perfect ending to a tour of the area’s waterfalls.

Fishing

The many lakes, creeks, and rivers found in Kings Canyon National Park are sure to delight fishing enthusiasts of all ages and all abilities. Lewis Creek, Bubbs Creek, and Motor Nature Trail are all celebrated spots for anxious anglers. Hume Lake also sports stocked waters and are teeming with trout. In order to fish, you must have a license if you are 16 years of age or older.

Fall

Geocaching

This is a fun activity that you may have never heard of. Geocaching is really just a universal treasure hunt that takes place outdoors. All you need is a phone or other device with GPS, and you are ready to hunt. Of course, you will have to get on one of the geocaching websites to find some caches in and near the Kings Canyon National Park but that should be no problem as there are many. Once you find the treasure, which is typically inside a waterproof container, you will take out the logbook and sign your name and the date you found the cache. There are usually trinkets or tokens in the containers, which you are welcome to take as long as you replace it with one of your own. Then place the cache back where you found it so others can find it too.

Picnicking

Gather all your friends in the motorhome and head out to Kings Canyon National Park to enjoy a nice relaxing fall picnic. Grant Grove has two picnic areas open year-round with shelters, tables, and grills. Lodgepole and Giant Forest has three different picnic pavilions with water, BBQ grills, and tables. The Foothills Hospital Rock Picnic Area has water, grills, modern toilets, and outdoor exhibits as well. Mineral King and Cedar Grove have picnic tables and grills spaced out around the picnic areas, and they are open from April until mid-November.

Hike The Hart Tree Loop

This is a far less-traveled hiking trail of Grant Grove. It is located in Redwood Canyon and contains the largest grove of sequoias in the park. The trailhead is accessible off Generals Highway from Grant Grove. The Hart Tree Loop Trail passes an old logging site from way back in the 1800’s, then Hart Meadow, Fallen Goliath, and through the famed Tunnel Tree. Roughly halfway through, a spur will be reached that leads to Hart Tree; the largest in the grove. While a little long, at just over seven miles, the hike is rather easy and provides multiple vista points along the way.

Horseback Riding

Riding along a trail atop the back of a horse provides a whole new perspective of Kings Canyon’s stunning scenery. With such a mighty animal as your companion, you can go farther, too. All this horsepower means you may be able to uncover more spectacular sights that you never would have discovered on foot. Two stables, Grant Grove Stables, and Cedar Grove Stables, offer horseback riding trips. It’s such a fun, convenient way to appreciate the General Grant Tree and surrounding giants. Reservations are highly recommended.

Wildlife Viewing

From fish to black bear, deer to falcons, you’ll never be without the opportunity to witness much of California’s wildlife in its natural splendor. A good portion of Kings Canyon National Park remains quiet throughout the year, making it much more popular with the area’s array of birds, mammals, and everything in between. Be sure to bring your binoculars in your motorhome. They are the greatest tool to keep you safely watching wildlife from a distance.

Walk Through Grant Grove

Grant Grove makes up the western portion of Kings Canyon National Park and is home to General Grant Tree, the second largest tree in the world. It’s a perfect setting for a nice stroll. The Grove also features a village where the Kings Canyon Visitor Center is located. Here, you can learn all the ins and out of the high sierras and the enormous trees that this part of the country is known for.

Winter

Cross-Country Skiing

When snow abounds, many areas of the park can be accessed by skiing. Grant Grove is a favorite destination for cross-country skiers, as it offers sublime trails through sequoia groves. Cross-country skiing is a favorite way to venture among the towering giants during winter. If you haven’t packed your own in the RV, ski rentals are available through the Grant Grove Market.

Snowshoeing

If you’ve never gone snowshoeing before, now may be the time to go for it. What better setting than among giant Sequoias? The orange trunks contrast so nicely against the white snow, creating a perfect backdrop for such a leisurely recreation. With weather permitting, rangers in Grant Grove provided guided snowshoe walks that are free of charge. They are perfect for beginners who also want to learn more about the park.

John Muir Lodge

The lodge is a setting many choose to stay immersed in, as it offers its visitors a quiet, comfortable in-park accommodation. The setting is rustic, cozy, open, and features a stone fireplace and redwood mantel. Guests get to enjoy a whole host of activities during their stay. Even if you’re not spending the night within the lodge, John Muir is the perfect location to end the day. Public balconies off the west end provide a picturesque setting for savoring the Sierra sunset.

Take a Scenic Drive

Winter is another great season to visit the park. However, the winter weather can make trips a little unpredictable. Snow can randomly fall on roads high in elevation during any time of year, but especially during winter months, the snow can accumulate quite rapidly and linger for quite some time. It’s best to be prepared with all sorts of creature comforts in case you have to wait around for the roadway to be plowed. Tire chains are highly advised and sometimes requires. They are available for rent in many of the nearby towns, prior to entering the park.

One particularly scenic drive is from Sequoia’s Ash Mountain entrance to Lodgepole. From Lodgepole, you’ll make your way to Grant Grove, and from Grant Grove to a final stop at Hume Lake. Another easy, pleasant drive to enjoy goes from Fresno to the Big Stump entrance station and to Grant Grove. No matter which route you choose, you won’t be disappointed with the views!

Snow Play

The Big Stump snow play area is a super fun and exciting hub for all your snowy day favorites. The sledding hills here are superb. When snow covers the park’s grounds in winter seasons, the landscape offers a whole other layer of fun. Play all day long in the snow and then be sure to visit the neighboring John Muir Lodge to warm up.

Skijoring

Are you planning a trip during the winter season? Pack your skis in the RV before heading to the park, and, if you have some canine kids that enjoy the snow, bring them along for a different type of ski trip. Skijoring is a fun and easy way to ski with a pair of pups pulling you along. Try any of the flat cross-country ski trails in the Kings Canyon National Park such as the 0.3-mile Roaring River Falls Trail or the 1.5-mile Zumwalt Meadow Loop. Grant Grove Market has skis and other essentials available for sale or rent as well as snacks and other goodies.

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