- Enter Kings Canyon National Park through the Big Stump Entrance on the west end
- Park at Big Stump Picnic Area and hike the Big Stump Trail (EASY forest path, about 1.5 miles round trip)
- Drive on Highway 180 to Kings Canyon Visitor Center and Grant Grove Village
- Hike the Grant Tree Trail (EASY paved loop, 0.5 miles)
- See Fallen Monarch, General Grant Tree (the Nation's Christmas Tree), Gamlin Cabin
- Hike the Grant Tree Trail (EASY paved loop, 0.5 miles)
- Continue driving on Highway 180
- Stop at Overlook of a wildfire site
- Take a right turn at Hume Junction Gate, and drive to Hume Lake
- Return to Highway 180 (also called Kings Canyon Scenic Byway), and continue northwest
- Stop at Junction View and see the Middle and South Forks of Kings Canyon as well as the Kings River
- Take other stops along the road for more scenic photo oportunities
- Arrive at Cedar Grove Visitor Center and Village
- Stop for some lunch and ice cream and enjoy the Kings River up close
- Continue on Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Highway 180)
- Stop at Canyon Viewpoint, and look at the "U" shape of Kings Canyon
- Hike to Roaring River Falls (EASY, paved path, about 0.2 miles round trip)
- Hike the Zumwalt Meadow Loop Trail (EASY, mostly a flat path with a short rocky section, 1.5 miles round trip)
- Drive to Roads End Permit Station and turn back around
- Stop at Knapp's Cabin
- Stop at any other scenic vista points along the way
- Exit the park at Big Stump (where you came in)
Exploring Kings Canyon National Park was our big plan for the day, and admittedly a place we didn’t know much about. The name certainly sounded majestic and grand, and we were eager to discover all the surprises hidden in this unfamiliar place!
Once again, our morning started in Tulare, CA at the Charter Inn & Suites with a filling continental breakfast. We ate fairly quickly, packed a few items for the road, and headed out to the park.
First Impressions of Kings Canyon National Park
We entered Kings Canyon National Park on the west end, through the Big Stump Entrance, and shorty thereafter reached the Big Stump picnic area. We parked there, and made our way to the trail head. The kids were definitely excited to find a big stump somewhere to climb on.
Looking for a Big Stump
The path led into a serene forest of old pine trees with giant Sequoias interspersed among them. It was a relaxing and quiet walk with only a couple of other hikers along the way. We didn’t get too far before we spotted an enormous sequoia right near the trail, and naturally, we were all drawn to it. After spending the previous day at Sequoia National Park, we had seen quite a few of these magnificent trees, but it didn’t really matter. Every new encounter was just as unique and exciting.
Like so many others, this particular sequoia had a trunk that was split, possibly by a wild fire. Its core however was intact, and the tree looked majestic and totally healthy.
A Big Stump Indeed
The trail kept on winding through the forest until it finally led us to what we had been looking for: a massive, and tall stump of a giant sequoia. The kids immediately started to look for a way to climb up, but it wasn’t easy. Hubby came to help, and after giving them a couple of pushes, they made it to the top.
After the kids had a few minutes of playtime up there, hubby helped them get down, and we headed back towards the car. The trail continued on, but we had to get back on the road because there was still so much to see!
Onto Grant Grove Village
We returned fairly quickly to the car, and continued our drive deeper into the park. Our next stop was the Kings Canyon Visitor Center in Grant Grove Village. We wanted get recommendations from the park rangers about hikes and points of interest. Being the National Park geek that I am, I had to make sure I marked it all down in order not to miss anything.
Genera Grant, the Nation’s Christmas Tree
Armed with information and a clear plan, we headed towards our next stop, and one of the most famous attractions in the park: The General Grant Tree. We had learned from the park ranger that this was the second largest tree in the world by volume. In addition, former President Coolidge had named it the Nation’s Christmas Tree back in 1926. The park ranger explained jokingly that they didn’t actually decorate it for Christmas because it was “a bit” tall.
We drove a very short distance from the Kings Canyon visitor center, and parked near the General Grant trailhead.
General Grant Loop Trail
As we approached the entry point to the General Grant trail, we stopped near a large sign to look at the detailed map. It seemed that the General Grant trail was an easy paved loop about 0.8 miles long with several attractions along the way.
We started walking, and pretty quickly made our way near a fallen giant Sequoia with a long, hollowed trunk. It was named the Fallen Monarch, and it served as a connecting passageway between two sides of the General Grant loop trail.
Inside the Fallen Monarch, there were a good number of visitors looking around and taking photos. Naturally, we also had to go in and experience the thrill of passing through the hollow trunk of a giant Sequoia. Needles to say, our kids had an absolute blast running back and forth from one end to the other.
After about ten minutes of fun, we continued walking around the loop, and it wasn’t much longer until we saw the General Grant tree.
General Grant Tree
The first thing we noticed was a giant fire scar on the lower portion of the trunk.
Apparently, the Nation’s Christmas Tree has been through some rough times. Nevertheless, it was thriving, and looking magnificent. We read on a nearby sign that the General Grant was only 1700 years old, which is considered young when it comes to giant Sequoias.
After we admired it for some time, we continued following the trail, slowly making our way around the loop.
In a couple of minutes, we arrived near the next attraction, which was Gamlin Cabin. This was a small wooden cabin with a stone fireplace inside.
The sign nearby told the following story:
This cabin was built in 1872 by Israel Gamlin, who with his brother Thomas filed a timber claim to 160 acres within Grant Grove. They quartered here until 1878 while grazing cattle in the mountains. After General Grant National Park was established in 1890, the cabin was used as a store house by the U. S. Cavalry who patrolled the park until 1913. Later it became the quarters of the first park ranger stationed here.
At the Other End of Fallen Monarch
We continued our walk on the loop trail, and pretty quickly arrived back to the Fallen Monarch tree we had seen earlier. This time we were at the other end of its massive trunk, and the kids had to stop and play here once again. Admittedly, it was a big thrill for all of us to go inside the hollow trunk of a giant Sequoia!
After we all enjoyed a little more time here, it was time to get back to the car and continue our Kings Canyon National Park adventure.
Back on the Main Road 180
We got back on the main road 180 and exited the Grant Grove Area. I requested that we made a quick stop at a roadside overlook. After all, it was marked on the map, so I had to check it out!
Hubby pulled over, and I hopped out of the car. It was an area where a wildfire had ravaged through the forest and destroyed about 17,500 acres, according to the sign there. It always saddens me when I see this, but then I remember all the times I have heard park rangers explain that wildfires are actually beneficial. They allow seeds to be released from pine cones, which eventually helps regenerate the forest. I even heard someone say one time that a wildfire gives the mountain a facelift!
According to the sign however, this particular wildfire was unusually extensive and destructive, so it was taking a long time for the mountain to get its fresh, new face.
After snapping a few photos of the burnt sticks that were once living trees, we continued our journey.
As we kept on driving I entertained myself by closely studying the map of the park. I noticed that there was a side road coming up that lead to a blue spot called Hume Lake. I felt I just couldn’t miss the sight of a pristine mountain lake, and I asked hubby to take us there.
After we turned off on the side road, we didn’t have to drive for too long until we arrived at the Hume Lake parking area.
As I expected, the lake looked beautiful with its greenish clear water, surrounded by rolling hills covered in pine trees. It was one of those idyllic places where time passes unnoticed. Not only was it a beautiful place, but there weren’t many people around, which certainly made this stop more peaceful.
It was the kind of place that beckoned a long afternoon visit, perhaps with a boat, a picnic basket, and some swimsuits for the crisp, clean water. We spent a short while enjoying the view and lapping sounds of the water, then grudgingly parted with Hume Lake.
Onto Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
We drove back to the main Highway 180, and continued our journey. Before long, the road turned east, and this is where the views really started to change. We were now definitely driving along the rim of a canyon. This stretch of the highway was marked on the map as the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, and rightly so. The views were not only scenic; they were spectacular!
Our first stop along this stretch of the road was an overlook called Junction View. Here we could see an absolutely vast panorama of what was the Middle Fork and the South Fork of Kings Canyon. Way far down, the Kings River was carving its path.
It was hard to contain my excitement at this magnificent sight. I stepped up near the edge of the overlook to take some photos, making my hubby nervous. He often has to put up with this, although I honestly feel that I don’t compromise my safety in any way.
After a few unnerving-for-hubby photos, we got back in the car, and continued our drive further east.
Views from Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
The road continued to wind near the rim of the canyon, and after a while it started to descend. As we kept on going lower, more incredible panoramas opened before our eyes. The surrounding granite peaks looked taller, rising far up into the sky.
I remembered that the park ranger we had talked to earlier mentioned that Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in North America, and featured some of the longest drop offs. Judging by the towering monolithic rocks near the road, I could totally see that.
At my request, we stopped a couple of times at small pull-off areas just to take photos of this truly epic drive.
As we got further east, we descended all the way down to the level of the Kings River. The road followed the natural curves of its raging waters, which only added to the excitement.
Cedar Grove Area
Before long, we arrived at the next major area of the park, Cedar Grove. Our first order of business was to stop by the Cedar Grove Visitor Center and get recommendations about hikes and sites nearby.
We didn’t need to worry about Junior Ranger badges for the kids, since they had gotten them the previous day at Sequoia National Park. Both parks share one badge, which was a little disappointing for the kids.
After we got all the information we needed at the visitor center, we stopped by the little convenience store in the village for a late lunch. Then, we picked up some ice cream and walked over to the nearby bank of the Kings River.
There we sat on the rocks and looked at the rushing water for a little bit. It was again, one of those places where you could easily spend an entire day just enjoying the sights and sounds of Mother Nature.
Unfortunately, we had to get back to the car before long because there was still more to see, and we didn’t want to miss it!
As we continued our drive further east we were getting closer to the heart of Kings Canyon National Park. We pulled over to the side of the road at Canyon Viewpoint, where we could see its “U” shaped profile. Even though the canyon view was slightly hidden by the nearby pine trees, it was still truly spectacular. The rocks that defined it rose to unbelievable heights, leaving us in total awe.
Roaring River Falls
We drove a little further, and parked near the start of a short trail leading to Roaring River Falls. The path here was flat, paved, and shady, and it didn’t take us more than five minutes to get to the waterfall.
What we discovered there was so beautiful, it was almost hypnotizing! The waterfall itself wasn’t very high, but it contained a ton of fast-moving water, which rushed and crashed down with unbelievable roaring sounds. We were all mesmerized by this sight, and sat down on the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall to take it all in. It was yet another place we couldn’t easily leave!
After enjoying Roaring River Falls for a while longer, we walked back to the car, and continued driving still further into the park.
Zumwalt Meadow Trail
Our next and final major stop for the day was Zumwalt Meadow Trail. This hike was recommended to us several times by different people, and we just had to check it out. We parked near the trailhead, and started walking.
Earlier in the Cedar Grove Visitor Center, I had read that this trail was about 1.5 miles long, and it was a loop. Our kids were getting tired, and weren’t particularly thrilled that they had to walk yet again, but we all went regardless.
The trail started nice and easy, leading through a forest to a bridge over the Kings River. After we enjoyed the views from the bridge, we crossed to the other side where path took us back into the forest.
Zumwalt Meadow and a Couple of Setbacks
As we continued walking, views of the gorgeous Zumwalt Meadow opened up. The meadow looked like a painting with its tall, warm, green grass, surrounded by pine trees and gigantic boulders.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t enjoy it for very long because our older daughter Angie had just slipped and hurt her knee on a rock. She was already tired so this didn’t bode well for her mood, and she wanted to be done with the hike right then and there.
While this was happening, hubby noticed that there were some mosquitoes around that were starting to attack him. The man absolutely despises bugs, and admittedly, he is kind of a mosquito magnet.
So a decision had to be made. Hubby still wanted to see the trail, but didn’t want to stand around getting eaten by mosquitoes and listening to Angie whine about her knee while I took pictures. So he chose to take the kids and continue walking around the loop. Meanwhile, I continued as well, but lingered behind to take all my pictures. We all agreed to see each other back at the car.
The trail from here on continued leading through the forest and along the river. At this point, I had it all to myself, and I resolved to enjoy it and take my photos, while still keeping a good pace.
As I continued to follow the path, I noticed that it started to loop back around, taking me to the other side of Zumwalt Meadow.
The Rocky Side of the Loop
At that point, the trail took me out of the forest and over a series of granite rocks, which was quite a change. The afternoon sun felt a little hot, but the scenery was spectacular.
As I climbed up and down the rocky trail, I felt exhilarated by the mammoth rocks, the calm beauty of the Meadow, and everything else along the way. It was truly a magical place, one that should not be missed when visiting Kings Canyon National Park!
Back to the Car
The end of the rocky section of the trail marked the completion of the loop. At that point I was back in the forest close to the bridge. After I crossed it, it was only another five minutes to walk before I returned to the car.
There, hubby had things under control. The kids were eating apples while resting on a large rock, and no one was whining or complaining.
I pulled out a small first aid kit and some water from car, cleaned Angie’s knee scrape, and dressed it with some gauze and medical tape. A few minutes later, we were back on the road.
The End of the Road
We drove for a very short distance further into the park before we got to a point where we could no longer keep going. The only way to continue any further was to get on our feet and start walking. We had reached the Roads End Permit Station, where avid backpackers can obtain wilderness permits, and begin a journey to the High Sierra.
For us, this meant it was time to turn around, and drive back to where we had started in the morning.
On the Way Back
As hubby started the long journey home, I glanced at the park map one last time, and happened to notice one more point of interest that we had not visited. Of course, neither the kids nor hubby wanted to hear about it. They were tired, and just wanted to get back for a meal and some rest. I was tired too, but my mind wouldn’t settle down unless I stopped and checked out this final attraction: Knapp’s Cabin.
Fortunately, hubby didn’t need too much convincing, and when he saw the Knapp’s Cabin sign, he pulled over. His only condition was he wanted to stay in the car and rest. I agreed, and because I didn’t want to walk alone, I tried to convince the kids to come along. Angie, our older one, didn’t budge, but Dani seemed agreeable, which pleasantly surprised me. The two of us came out of the car, and started walking on a narrow path right near the parking area.
We didn’t have to go far before seeing a small wooden cabin.
According to the sign near it, a wealthy businessman, George Knapp, built it in 1925, and organized fishing trips into the canyon. He used this cabin to store all the gear.
While the cabin itself was nothing special, the scenery all around was beautiful. Dani and I continued walking a little further past the cabin to see if we could actually get near the river. It turned out that the bank was too steep, so we decided not to try to hike all the way down. Nevertheless, we discovered a beautiful view of the river, so we stopped to take a few photos before returning to the car.
Junction View Again
Before long, we were on the road again, the already familiar Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 180. This time, we drove pretty much straight through without making any stops, except for one or maybe two.
I requested that we pull over at Junction View once again so I could try to capture the vast panorama under the low light of the late afternoon sun.
After I snapped some photos, we were back in the car for good.
The End of a Great Day
We drove out of the park through the same Big Stump area we had visited in the morning. Right before we exited, I spotted a beautiful, large Sequoia. I felt the urge to go near it, and touch it one last time; I had to say my final goodbye!
This was not only an amazing day filled with unforgettable adventures, but it also happened to be Angie’s birthday. She was now a proud 10-year-old who wanted a birthday cake, and we had to find a way to deliver.
We got back to Tulare, CA and picked out a nice Italian restaurant for dinner called La Piazza Ristorante Italiano. We made sure to mention to our waitress that we had a birthday girl. After we finished our meals, we asked Angie to pick her favorite desert on the menu, which she gladly did. Shorty thereafter, a team of waiters brought a delicious chocolate creme brulee with one candle on top. They all sang “Happy Birthday,” and Angie delightedly blew out the candle.
After a tiring but amazing day with Mother Nature and a successful birthday dinner, we returned back to our hotel. It wasn’t long before we all drifted off to sleep!
Join us again for one more adventure, on our drive through Joshua Tree National Park!
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