While there are a lot of interesting facts about Sequoia National Park, the most interesting fact is that the park is really part of a larger unit called Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Out of the two parks, Sequoia is the most well-known, mostly because of the Giant Sequoias present therein. And while Sequoia is a stunning park with remote wilderness areas that are only accessible by foot, Kings Canyon in my book contains just as much stunning scenery as Sequoia, if not more. One of the reasons Kings Canyon is not as well-known is its location, which is located deep in the Sierra Nevada. The canyon is located off of Highway I-180; and in order to pass into Kings Canyon, one has to drive through portions of Sequoia National Park, before descending into Kings Canyon proper through a series of winding roads.
The other reason that Kings Canyon is not as well-known as Sequoia is that most of Kings Canyon is not accessible by roads. While the I-180 heads into the canyon, and becomes Kings Canyon road, this road dead-ends mid-canyon, and is only open during the summer months. The remainder of the park – over - 95% - is only accessible by foot.
While these trails are amazing, and very popular with summer backpackers, these large expanses of open wilderness and long distances also dissuade many casual visitors to the park. In this respect, many people incorrectly assume that as most of the park is wilderness, they must be a wilderness expert as well to brave Kings Canyon. While it is true that one should be properly prepared before heading out into the backcountry, it’s also true that Kings Canyon has a number of trails for all skill levels that visitors can attempt. Case in point is the park’s most accessible – and popular trail, Zumwalt Meadows, which, with a little effort, can be combined with another trail to view a spectacular waterfall.
Directions: The Zumwalt Meadows trailhead is located 4.5 miles East of the Cedar Grove Village Road. There is ample parking, and there are also ample bear lockers for any smellable items. Do note that like Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, proper food storage is required for day hikers in Kings Canyon. From Sequoia National Park, follow the I-180/Kings Canyon Road East, to the main visitor area of Kings Canyon, Cedar Grove. Along the way, be sure to take your time in viewing the canyon, as there are many places to stop and look at the scenery, including a great spot by Convict Flat, and down at the Kings River by Boyden Cavern.
From the village, the road to Zumwalt Meadows is clearly marked by the Park Service. Again, bear in mind that this is a seasonal hike, as this road will not be accessible by vehicle during the winter months.
From the trailhead, the trail is apparent, and as it is a loop trail, it does not matter which direction you head: you will arrive back at where you began. The loop is a total of 1.5 miles long, and it is relatively flat. Along the loop, you will have great views of the Kings Canyon granite walls above you, and in certain areas, great views of the Kings River. This is a great trail for all skill levels, and a great way to get introduced to the hiking possibilities in the park.
Tips: In my opinion, while the Zumwalt Meadows hike contains amazing views, it can be made better with a little more hiking! If you feel like a little adventure, you will want to head out on the Zumwalt Meadows trail heading West (back toward the entrance to Kings Canyon). At the .45 mile mark, there will be a connecting trail that will take you to Roaring River Falls. This waterfall is always flowing; and is always stunning, and it is also a good halfway point for this combined hike. The trail to the waterfall is like the Zumwalt Meadow trail: mostly flat; and it too passes alongside the Kings River for most of its 1.4 distance (one-way). At the end of the trail, you will be at the Roaring River Falls, which is a great spot to stop for breakfast, lunch, or any other snack. On hot days in the summer, you can descend the boulders present, and cool off in the water (provided that you exercise caution from being swept downriver). From the falls, it is a 1.4 mile hike back to the remainder of the Zumwalt Meadows loop. If you follow this route, the total distance is 4.3 miles, which is a distance that is not overly long; and like the Zumwalt Meadows loop, this combined hike a great introduction to hiking Kings Canyon.