Kings Canyon National Park
Guide

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Introduction

This Yosemite rival features terrain that will leave you awestruck. No trip to California should be without this stop. 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 visitors enthralled with a whole host of recreational activities to enjoy throughout the 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 and is a welcome getaway from much of the hustle and bustle of more populated parks. When you venture to one, you won’t want to stop. To get the most out of this California adventure, moving around is the key. A stagnant stay is never rewarded. Whether you’ve chosen by horseback, foot, car, or RV… you want to get out there.

Spend your days scaling mountains, wading through deep river waters, enjoying a scenic route, or simply taking the time to relax among the flowers. So many outdoor opportunities are in store. You may have a hard time choosing what comes first.

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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. Roadways within the park may be difficult for larger rigs to travel, as many roads become narrow and rough. 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

Lodgepole Campground

This is a rather popular campground, so it’s a good thing it is also large. There are 214 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 sister, Sequoia National Park. Choose from 219 sites that allow tent camping, RVing, and sites to park trailers. Four group sites can also be reserved here. Typically, the campground opens from mid-June until early September. It all depends on current weather and drought 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.

Sunset Campground

This 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 National 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 pay phones here. Food storage is encouraged to be kept within bear food storage lockers in order to discourage wildlife. Lockers are provided at all sites.

Sentinel Campground

The grounds are 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 tent stays, RVing, and trailers. Some hindrances may apply if you are travelling 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 pay phones, showers, a laundry facility, and restaurant.

First-come first-served

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 a.m. until 9 p.m. You’ll also find a large food storage locker at every campsite.

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 travelling 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 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Moraine Campground

Located on CA-180 and only ¾ of 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 travelling 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 pay phones. Generators are permitted for use after 9 a.m. and before 9 p.m. Food storage lockers are also featured at each site to discourage rummaging wildlife.

Sheep Creek Campground

This is another campground that rests in the canyon, near the Middle Fork of Kings River. It’s about ¼ mile from Cedar Grove Village and can be found just off of CA-180. There are 111 sites available for tents, trailers, and RVs from late Spring through early Fall. 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 nearby Cedar Grove Village. There, you will find a laundry facility, pay phones, showers, and a restaurant. Food storage should be contained to food lockers provided at each site in order to deter wildlife. Generators are permitted for used between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Alternate camping

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 ¼ mile away. Here, you have access to pay phones, 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. A permit is always required in order to camp outside of the designated campgrounds.

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. Kings Canyon National Park lies in a beautiful, almost unsurpassed band of forest that blends one protected park to another forest, and to yet another wilderness. The advantage of sharing time between areas means you get to really immerse yourself in all that this part of California is.

Seasonal activities in Kings Canyon National Park

Spring

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.

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 range in ability. 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. Climbing is free to continue at all other sites.

Take A Park 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 supplies a picnic lunch.

Play Paintball

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.

Rent A Boat

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.

Summer

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.

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 of 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 of 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.

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. Didn’t bring your bike? Rentals are available here.

Canoe At Hume Lake

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.

Fall

Wildlife Viewing

From fish to black bear, deer to falcons; you’ll never be without 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. They are the greatest tool to keep you safely watching wildlife from a distance.

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.

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 of 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 the 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.

Walk Through Grant Grove

Grant Grove makes up the western portion of Kings Canyon National Park and is home to General Grant Tree, the third largest in the park. 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 this part of the country is known for.

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 of 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 and through August.

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, 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 that 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 of 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 are available for rent in many of the nearby towns, prior to entering the park. This drive is spectacular, but, can be unnerving for those who aren’t used to driving in such conditions. To start, drive 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, CA 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.

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