Returning today to our September 2021 California vacation and visit to breath-taking Kings Canyon. It was the second of a trio of national parks we explored — beginning in Sequoia: Land of Giants and ending in a three-day Yosemite Vacation.

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Did you know that Kings Canyon is the deepest canyon in the US? It’s gorge reaches up to 8,200 feet; thousands of feet deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona!

A scenic road cuts through the park ‘s wide canyon, and along the Kings Rivers. In addition to its famous grove of sequoias, there are forests of pine, fir, and cedar, a rocky river valley, waterfalls, lakes, a marble cavern, and expansive meadow. So much of nature’s wonders to see and experience!

Apparently the most common way to “see” Kings Canyon is to simply drive though on Generals Highway —with a stop and short hike at Grant Grove Village. But then, you’d miss the spectacular vistas and deep river valley along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway!

Instead, hubby and I dedicated an entire day and overnight to Kings Canyon National Park. That allowed us time for the amazing roundtrip drive into the canyon itself, with time to explore the richness of the deep river valley.

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Generals Highway Links Sequoia Groves & Parks

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Panoramic Point Overlook with a view of Hume Lake below.

After breakfast, we left Wuksachi Lodge. Located at the northern edge of Sequoia National Park, it’s a short drive on the mountainous Generals Highway to reach Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon.

Along the way, a few quick stops provided close-up encounters with enormous sequoias. One overlook provided a vista of Redwood Mountain Grove, which holds two of the world’s heaviest trees. But that would require a six to ten-mile hike, so we contented ourselves with the scenery.

Grant Grove Village

Grants Grove Village in Redwood Canyon is the busiest and most popular section of Kings Canyon. There, General Grant Tree, Panoramic Point and Big Stump are the main attractions. It’s also the western hub of the park, where the visitors center, John Muir Lodge, restaurant, market, and gift shop are located.

Travel Tip: Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, the visitor center was closed when we visited in September 2021. But, you’ll want to stop there to learn about Kings Canyon. It’s also a good opportunity for a quick chat with a park ranger to discuss the best use of your available time, based on interests and accessibility.

General Grant Tree & Grove

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Near the park’s entrance is the incredible Grant Grove of sequoia trees. It’s a definite must-see on a visit — or drive-through—of Kings Canyon! There are many trails that loop through and around the grove.

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Also known as “The Nation’s Christmas Tree,” the General Grant Tree is the second largest tree in the world and thought to be about 1,650 years old. On the other end of Generals Highway, we saw the largest — General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park: Land of Giants.

Kings Canyon was established as a National Park in 1940. Later, in 1956, President Eisenhower declared the tree a “National Shrine”, and memorial to those who died in war. It is the only living object to be so declared.

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An 1/3-mile, paved loop path in Grant Grove provides easy access to the massive sequoias, along with interesting features like Gamlin Cabin, Centennial Stump, and the Fallen Monarch.

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Sitting in the shadow of the living General Lee Tree, Fallen Monarch is a sequoia believed to have succumbed to fire more than 300 years ago. Yet, the gigantic tree shows no signs of decay.

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It’s carved-out massive trunk provided shelter for Native Americans, served as a hotel and saloon, and as a stable for 32 horses by the US Cavalry!

Fire History

“The importance of fire to giant sequoias cannot be overstated. Other than the change of seasons, fire is the most recurrent and critical process in determining the life his­tory of this species.”

National Park Service
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Tree-ring records from giant sequoias help the National Park Service to understanding how often, when, where a tree burned in the past. It also helps to inform how to effectively restore and maintain healthy forests.

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However, the impacts of climate change and a mega drought have led to ever more frequent and destructive fires. We experienced it first hand, as the KNP Complex Fire began on our first day visiting adjacent Sequoia National Park. It’s estimated that 20% of the sequoia population of trees has been lost in just the last two years!

And as I write this, the Mariposa Grove and Grizzly Giant tree in Yosemite are being threatened by a fast-growing fire. As a result, it and the neighboring, historic town of Wawona are closed to visitors.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

After exploring Grant Grove, we got back into the car for the ten-mile drive to Jackson View and the start of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

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From there, you can get a look into Kings Canyon’s glacially-formed splendor. Look closely, to see where the highway is carved out of the mountain. Many switchbacks in the roadway allow it to eventually descend to the canyon floor and river valley.

Sheer granite cliffs line the canyon, while the road down below follows along Kings Rivers.

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Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is rated one of the best scenic drives in all of California. The drive is 50 miles long, and it traverses massive canyons, passes waterfalls, and follows a river. It takes two to three hours (without stops) to make the roundtrip drive.

Travel Trip: It’s recommended to allow an entire day to make the roundtrip drive, hike and explore the canyon. We spent about 2/3rds of a day, which made for a long day of careful driving for Mr. Buzz. There are limited options to overnight in the canyon, including camping and 21 rooms at rustic Cedar Grove Lodge. Located in the heart of Kings Canyon on the bank of Kings River, it’s near Road’s End. If you didn’t bring a picnic, you can pickup (limited) supplies at the little store, or food from the grill.

Cedar Grove

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Those that take the time to drive to the bottom of Kings Canyon to Cedar Grove are rewarded with stunning views of cliffs, rock formations, the canyon, and Kings River.

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This area of the park is one of the least crowded but offers some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery.

Be sure to head all the way to Road’s End, where there is a large parking lot and trailheads for several hikes. 

Muir Rock

One of those trails leads to Muir Rock, on a relatively quiet bend of the Kings River with a pebbly beach. There, naturalist John Muir would address anyone who would listen of his love of nature.

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Using the rock as a platform, swimmers jump 15 feet into the Kings River below.

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Tempting as it looked, hubby and I decided it would be a better use our limited time in the canyon exploring.

Zumwalt Meadow

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Next, we headed for Zumwalt Meadow. This stunning meadow with high granite walls is one of the best hikes in Kings Canyon National Park.

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At just 1.5 miles, the easy Zumwalt Meadow Trail offers visitors views of the canyon, meadows, wildflowers, river, giant sequoia trees and more. A little of everything!

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Have you ever been to Kings Canyon?

John Muir Lodge

Late in the afternoon, we returned back to Grant Grove Village. There we stayed at the stone and timber John Muir Lodge, amidst a forest of giant sequoias. After eating dinner at the restaurant, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

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We hadn’t spotted or smelled any smoke from the fires that had closed adjacent Sequoia National Park. However, I awoke in the middle of the night to the scent of smoke coming through the screen of an open window. This was particularly alarming because we also didn’t have cell or Internet service to check on current fire conditions.

I woke hubby and couldn’t go back to sleep. So we headed out early, before breakfast, and headed on for a wonderful Yosemite Vacation. By the next day, Kings Canyon National Park was also closing due to fire.

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Stuck at Home

After a wonderful weeklong July 4th holiday in Philadelphia visiting family and friends, I’m stuck at home isolating. We drove back to Pittsburgh with my elderly mom. By the next morning she was symptomatic and tested positive for COVID. A day later and I was the same, ;feeling like I had a severe cold. No fever, no cough. This despite being fully vaccinated and double boosted — it’s so frustrating and upsetting!

We both took the five-day therapeutic pills and are doing well. But, I also broke my right-hand ring finger in Philly — playing a card game (long story lol)! It’s hard to write, type, cook, walk the dog, etc. wearing the brace.

So, I’m not crafting or entertaining. In lieu of having anything else to blog about, I’ve returned to revisiting last summer’s vacation pictures. But, I think you may also enjoy, When Life Gives You Lemons, Set a Lemon Table. Mom and I set the summer table on the porch to celebrate her being Covid free.

Hope you are well and enjoying a safe and happy summer!

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