We had a great plan for our trip to Kings Canyon National Park. Since we only had one day to spend there, I had done a bunch of research to determine our best course of action, and we found an awesome “Kings Canyon in One Day” guide.
And then we got to the park and discovered that 99% of the park would not be accessible because the road was closed.
They close the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway in the winter, but since there wasn’t any snow, we figured it would be open. Apparently they keep it closed because rocks tend to fall from the canyon walls during the winter. Yikes.
Speaking of snow, apparently this area either gets a ton of snow or very little snow, depending on the winter. I read that the Giant Forest grove held the nation’s 24-hour snowfall record for many years from a 1930s storm that dropped 60 inches of snow in one day! Unfortunately for us, this year was really dry, so we didn’t get to see the grand sequoias covered in snow.
Anywho, even in normal conditions, Kings Canyon is already a pretty undeveloped national park. There’s only one road that goes into the park, and it doesn’t go very far. So it’s a great place for backpacking, but maybe not the best place for a day trip in the early spring. That being said, we’d love to come back in the summer one day and do some serious hiking.
Since our plan for the day was thrown out the window, we had to fly by the seat of our pants. We started out in Grant Grove on the General Grant Tree Trail. It’s an easy 1/3-mile walk around a grove of enormous sequoias, including General Grant, the widest sequoia in the world.
From there, we drove as far down 180 as we could (until the road was closed), and then took a windy side road down to Hume Lake. We found some pretty spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the canyon that we weren’t allowed to explore.
We enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch on the shores of Hume Lake, where some people were sunbathing in swimsuits and some were wrapped in parkas and blankets.
There were some pretty cool rocks along the river flowing into Hume Lake, so we explored those for a while. We could see a group of people on the rocks with their arms (and a few heads) underwater, so we stopped to watch what they were doing. A few minutes later, a fella pulled a fish out of the water with his bare hands. So there’s that.
We drove up to Panoramic Point, which is a short hike to an incredible viewpoint of the Sierra Nevada range. And they must have known we were coming because they had signs labeling all the mountains! I love nature labels.
I was pretty frustrated that it was only mid-afternoon and we were all out of things to do. But on the way up to Panoramic Point, we saw a sign for a fire lookout a few miles up the trail. We decided that a fire lookout must have an even more incredible view of the mountains, and since we were already on top of a mountain, the hike there couldn’t be too difficult.
Wrong on both counts.
What we need to remember is that a 5-mile round-trip hike feels much longer in the mountains. And that being on top of a mountain doesn’t mean you won’t have to hike uphill again. It was a long, up and down hike. And when we finally got to the fire lookout, it was a total disappointment. First of all, it was surrounded by power lines and propane tanks. Second, we couldn’t even get inside the lookout. And third, the view from the ground around the fire lookout was less impressive than the view from Panoramic Point.
At this point, we were hungry, thirsty, cold, and tired (having hiked at least 13 miles the day before in Yosemite), so we groaned our way through the 2.5 miles back to the car. We also hadn’t had a real meal since that heavenly lunch in Lake Tahoe (pb&j and granola make unsatisfying dinners), so when we got back to the visitor’s center area, we opted to dine at the only restaurant. It was pretty spendy and not particularly awesome, but a warm meal was what we really needed.
Thanks to some serious online deal searching, we stayed at the John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon, where we enjoyed a warm fire and an enormous portrait of John Muir in the common room.
We’re hoping to visit Kings Canyon again someday, hopefully in the summer, especially since I just read that Kings Canyon is the deepest canyon in North America! What?!