Kings Canyon National Park
[Kings Canyon National Park, Aug 25, 2020]
Kings Canyon was established in 1890 under the name General Grant National Park. In 1940, the park was expanded and renamed to Kings Canyon. It’s named after the glacier-carved valley more than a mile deep, making it one of the deepest canyons in North America.
With air quality and heat still on the oppressive side, we decided to spend our first full day visiting the parts of Kings Canyon that required the most driving and the least hiking. To get there, we took the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.
The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway began right where we were staying in Dunlap, CA, and continued for 50 miles into Kings Canyon where the road ends. The plan to extend it east through the Sierra Nevada was luckily abandoned, leaving this portion of the mountainous landscape undisturbed.
Starting off at 6,400 ft elevation near Dunlap, and gradually descending 5,000 feet to the valley floor and Kings River, the road was carved right into the rocks. This allowed for spectacular views, even with the smoke and haze from the wildfires.
Fire is very common here and we witnessed evidence of older fires everywhere. In 2015, the Rough Fire destroyed the historic Kings Canyon Lodge. Only the signs and the double gravity gas pumps from 1928 remain.
Close to the end of the road was the trailhead for Zumwalt Meadow, an easy 1.5-mile loop with no elevation gain. It offered magnificent views of majestic granite walls and the rich meadow it’s named after. It was just after dawn, still we suffered through several coordinated waves of mosquito attacks near the river. These guys really zero in on your eyes and ears, so you might consider a helmet or a burka with Elton John-sized sunglasses. A generous application of repellent later, and we were off on our first short hike.
From the parking lot, we followed the river until we reached a suspension bridge over Kings River.
Past the bridge, we glimpsed the serene meadow bordered by the smokey mountain ridge.
Unfortunately, the last part of the loop (featuring a boardwalk closest to the meadow) was washed out due to floods several years ago. Still a great little hike!
Heading back, we stopped by Roaring Forks Falls, considered among the best falls in the park. This late in the summer, you never know how much water will be there but it was still gushing.
The drive out of Kings Canyon gave us brand new, spectacular views as we ascended back to 6,400 ft.
With plenty of morning left, we continued on to Hume Lake via a turnoff right off the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. Initially, the lake was created in the early 20th century as a reservoir for logging, but a devastating fire in 1917 brought the logging operations to an end. The US Forest Service purchased it in 1935 and incorporated it into the Sequoia National Forest, reopening it for recreation.
We walked along the shore and enjoyed the perfect, mosquitoless weather. We were wishing we had beach chairs and reading materials with us so that we could have spent more time relaxing by the water.
We lunched at the nearby Hume Christian Camps, here since 1946.
We saved Grant Grove for last, likely the most popular place in the park. It’s home to the General Grant Tree, the second largest tree in the world. Only the General Sherman in Sequoia National Park is larger, which we planned on visiting the next day.
A short (1/3 mile) paved trail loops around the grove. I was pleasantly surprised to see other very cool trees along the way. The Fallen Monarch was my favorite. This hollowed-out sequoia was fun to traipse through! The Gamlin Brothers used it as temporary shelter while they built their cabin nearby. More on that in a bit.
The General Grant is colossal! It’s immensely tall, massively wide, and still alive and well, despite being over 1,600 years old. A fire scar in the back (gargantuan on a human scale) was little more than a blemish for this giant. The height made it nearly impossible to take good photos with both of us in them. Can you spot my head in any of these below?
A small trail behind General Grant led us to another fallen sequoia. It wasn’t big enough for a person to go through, but its mammoth root structure made for impressive photos.
Gamlin Cabin, the oldest surviving structure in the park, was also on the trail. Built in 1862, the logging Gamlin Brothers simply claimed the area around the cabin. Logging continued into the 1880s; the establishment of the area as a national park being the only reason it ceased. Amazingly, some of the trees destroyed by logging have begun to regenerate – a process taking hundreds of years. These trees are the epitome of resilience and are ready for the next apocalypse.
We finished the loop with a view of the Fallen Monarch from the other side.
All of this took us about 7-8 hours to complete. Due to our early start, we were back in our AirBnB before 3 pm. We were eternally grateful for the air conditioning, a reinvigorating shower, and that none of the mosquitoes followed us home.