While it’s a hidden gem for backpacking, mountaineering, hiking, and many other things, Kings Canyon is a remote location to visit. Because of its location, many visitors lump in a day trip to Kings Canyon when visiting Sequoia National Park. While I think that Kings Canyon deserves a visit of a lot longer than just one day, there are plenty of things to keep a visitor busy from sunrise to sunset. In no particular order, here is my list of the top five things to do in Kings Canyon in a day:
1. Look Around. Yes, this sounds touristy, and yes no one appreciates the car that pulls out at every turnout. But let’s be honest here: if you’re only going into Kings Canyon for a day, that is what you are: a tourist! Embrace it, and take the time to look at the geologic features of the park, and take the time to marvel at the granite walls surrounding Kings Canyon that are part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There is a great viewpoint that is located just to the East of Convict Flat on the Kings Canyon Road that has excellent views of the Kings River. There are also plenty of other spots to pull out and gawk at the natural beauty that surrounds you. My recommendation: don’t just stay in the pullout – get out of the car! Down by the turnout for Boyden Cavern, the Kings River is easily accessible – get out, and see just how cold the snowmelt is when you are there.
2. Boyden Cavern. Did I just mention Boyden Cavern? I did. I also talked about it here. In short, even though the cave is not operated by the Park Service anymore, this is a great place to visit for all ages, and the guides will tell you all about some of the stranger inhabitants of the park. (Unfortunately, as of July 1, 2016, the cavern is still closed due to 2015's wildfire season).
3. Go For a Hike. You don’t need to be John Muir to enjoy Kings Canyon; you just need to be yourself. Although the best hikes go deep into the backcountry, there are plenty of hikes for all skill levels. The Zumwalt Meadows hike provides great views of the surrounding terrain, and passes along the Kings River. For a more moderate hike, you can also head out to Roaring River Falls from the meadow. If you’re interested in a longer hike, the Mist Falls trail, or the Don Cecil trail gives you a taste of the backcountry.
4. See a Waterfall. Kings Canyon has some great seasonal and year-round waterfalls that are easily accessible to park visitors. Both Grizzly Falls and Roaring River Falls flow year-round, and are both short walks from parking areas. Again, if you’re looking for more adventure, head out into the backcountry.
5. Explore. Although the Cedar Grove Visitor Center is not open year round (as access to the area is closed in the winter), during the summer months, the Visitor Center has great resources about the history of the park. One of the park’s not-so-hidden historic treasures is Knapp’s Cabin, which is also easily accessible from the road, and is a well-preserved structure from the 1920’s. Also, keep an eye out for wildlife during the summer months, and always remember to store food properly, even if you are away from your vehicle for short periods of time.