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If you are taking a road trip through California, use this Kings Canyon National Park itinerary to explore this scenic park. One of Kings Canyon’s many attractions is that it has fewer crowds and doesn’t require reservations. To fully immerse in the beauty of California’s national parks, I recommend combining your trip with Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park as part of the Majestic Mountain loop.
Did you know Kings Canyon is the deepest canyon in the United States? Deeper than the Grand Canyon, this river gorge drops 7,993 ft (2,436 m). Comparatively, the Grand Canyon descends ~6,000 ft (1,829 m).
FUN FACT: On October 1, 1890, the General Grant Grove giant sequoias were protected as a United States national park, the third after Yellowstone National Park and Sequoia National Park. In 1940, Congress created Kings Canyon National Park and included Grant Grove within it.
Kings Canyon National Park Itinerary Stop #1 – Stop for Breakfast
After entering Kings Canyon National Park, stop at Grant Grove Restaurant for breakfast. They offer patio seating or to-go options. Personally, I prefer to bring snacks and picnic food with me for maximum flexibility whenever I visit United States National Parks. However, if you don’t have time, this is the place to stop to fuel up for the day ahead.
- 7AM-10AM Breakfast
- 11:30AM-8PM Lunch and Dinner
Salads, flatbread, pizza, burgers (including vegetarian options), grilled cheese and wraps are offered for lunch and dinner.
Kings Canyon National Park 1 Day Itinerary Stop #2 – Grant Grove Market
Seeking Kings Canyon National Park souvenirs or want to pick up snacks and drinks? The Grant Grove Market and Gift Shop are located next to Grant Grove Courtyard dining.
- 9AM-5PM General Store
- 11AM-5PM Gift Shop
Kings Canyon National Park One Day Itinerary Stop #3 – Visitor Center
Stop at the Kings Canyon Visitor Center to chat with rangers, inquire about recommended hikes and any road closures. Rangers are delighted to share their passion for all the wonderful things to do in Kings Canyon National Park.
TOP TIP: Get your National Parks Passport book stamped with the Kings Canyon National Park stamp. If you don’t have one, they are often available to purchase at the Visitor Center or gift shop.
Kings Canyon National Park Attractions Stop #4 – Panoramic Point
If open, follow the road to Panoramic Point behind the John Muir Lodge.
This short, paved .5 mile (.8 km) round-trip trail will allow you to gaze east and appreciate the Sierra peaks in the distance on your Kings Canyon day trip.
TOP TIP: This is a picturesque spot to return to for sunset and behold the alpenglow over the Pacific Crest.
Things to Do in Kings Canyon National Park Stop #5 – Roads End
To maximize your time in the park, drive directly to Roads End, the furthest point in Kings Canyon. You’ll drive to the end of Highway 180 (Kings Canyon Scenic Byway) and make your way back at a leisurely pace, thereby avoiding traffic.
From here, you can opt to walk the five-mile (8 km) River Trail that takes in Zumwalt Meadow and Roaring River Falls. Allot 2-4 hours for this hike. Alternatively, you can drive to each and hike them separately. I opted for the latter.
Kings Canyon National Park Itinerary Stop #6 – Zumwalt Meadow Trail
While this used to be a loop trail, flooding washed a bridge away, so it is now a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) out and back trail that takes an hour to complete.
For me, this trail is one of the best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park. It has a nice mix of “forest bathing” as you walk amongst the trees, listening to the relaxing sounds of a brisk flowing creek as you cross a suspension bridge, and then traversing some rocks as you make your way around the meadow.
The varying terrain and changing views remind me a little bit of the Mirror Lake hike in Yosemite.
TOP TIP: From the suspension bridge, I encourage you to take a long exposure image with your iPhone that will result in a silky water effect.
To do this, turn on “Live View” by clicking on the three circles in the upper right hand corner of the camera. Compose your image and take the photograph. After capturing the picture, click on the black box that has a circle and “Live” with a dropdown arrow and choose “Long Exposure”. Your image will then be converted to a long exposure photograph with a cotton candy effect.
If you are interested in 1:1 photography coaching to elevate your visual storytelling with an iPhone or digital camera, I offer photography mentoring services.
What to See In Kings Canyon National Park Stop #7 – Roaring River Falls Trail
After Zumwalt Meadow, drive a short way to Roaring River Falls Trail.
This easy .4 mile (.64 km) trail is on pavement and will take you no more than 20 minutes. For maximum water flow, spring and early summer are the best times to visit Roaring River Falls.
TOP TIP: If you haven’t had lunch yet, there are picnic tables and recycling receptacles here, so this is a pleasant place to stop for a bite as you can hear the waterfall and rushing river while you are enjoying your meal.
This is another terrific location to use the Long Exposure setting on your iPhone to achieve the smooth water effect on this Kings Canyon waterfall.
Things to See in Kings Canyon National Park Stop #8 – Knapp’s Cabin
After exploring Roaring River Trail, make a quick stop at Knapp’s Cabin, which is only a hundred yards from the pullout.
FUN FACT: George Knapp, the Union Carbine founder, built this one-room cabin in 1925 to store supplies while adventuring, fishing and hunting in the area with clients.
Kings Canyon National Park Itinerary Stop #9 – Canyon View Overlook
A placard at this pullout will educate you about how glaciers carved Kings Canyon and resulted in this scenic landscape with peaks surrounding it.
FUN FACT: The glaciers in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are the most southern glaciers in North America. Sadly, they are melting at a rapid and alarming rate.
If we each make small changes in our lives to live more sustainably, including driving less, eating less meat, and reducing our plastic usage, we can aid with slowing down climate change. Check out my Sustainable Travel Essentials post for creative solutions and ideas for decreasing your environmental footprint.
Kings Canyon National Park One Day Itinerary Stop #10 – Grizzly Falls
Are you a waterfall lover like I am? Then, be sure to stop at Grizzly Falls, a short .1 mile (.16 km) walk from the small parking area.
Beware of potential rattlesnakes. Fortunately, I didn’t see any or my husband would have heard me screech back in San Francisco.
A picnic area, trash and recycling cans are all available here.
TOP TIP: This is another fun place to experiment with Kings Canyon waterfalls using the long exposure photography tip I gave in the Zumwalt Meadow Trail section above.
Kings Canyon National Park 1 Day Itinerary Stop #11 – Boyden Cavern
Admittedly, I’m typically not a huge cave fan due to the creepy crawlers that often lurk within. However, I really enjoyed admiring the different textures, stalactites and stalagmites within the Boyden Cavern Tour.
The delicate formations and shadows are fascinating to examine. Some reminded me of cuttlefish, which are a favorite critter to see when scuba diving. The Drapery room, at the end of the cavern, is my favorite part of the experience.
Boyden Cavern tour information:
- Guided 50 minute tours depart every 30 minutes
- Adult Cost = $16 weekdays/$19 weekends
Since some cavern sections are tight, they ask you leave backpacks and bags in your car. Also, tripods are not permitted.
iPhones’ advanced algorithms capture low light imagery within the caverns exceptionally well. Amazingly, the algorithm adjusts in dark situations, keeping the shutter open for two to three seconds.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: To ensure clear images, hold your hands very still while your iPhone is taking these photographs.
TOP TIP: As you are heading up the short and steep paved trail to the Boyden Cavern entrance, look back to admire the Kings River and peaks behind you.
FUN FACTS ABOUT BOYDEN CAVERN:
- The cave center is 55 degrees year-round. As such, I’d recommend a light fleece or puffy jacket for exploring inside.
- In the late 1800s, a survey crew discovered the cavern. Putnam Boyden, a cook at Hume Lake started offering tours for $.05 per person in 1907. However, since no roads were built until 1928, curious explorers had to hike five to six miles to the cave with him.
- It’s so dark 500 ft (152 m) into the cave you can’t see your hand in front of your face when the guide turns his light off.
What to Do in Kings Canyon National Park Stop #12 – Kings River
After admiring the Kings River from an elevated perspective as you head up to Boyden Cavern, listen to the cathartic rushing river sound from ground level.
Simply stroll across the street after or stop at one of the pullouts as you head back towards the Kings Canyon entrance.
Kings Canyon National Park Itinerary Stop #13 – Gas and Ice Cream
If it’s open, stop for gas and ice cream after Boyden Cavern at the Kings Canyon Lodge. Since no operating hours are posted, I wouldn’t rely on this being open as I found it open at 10:30, but closed at 3:30. It’s best to fill up your gas tank before heading into the park.
FUN FACT: The gas pumps are labeled with a sign indicating “Kings Canyon Lodge–America’s Oldest Double Gravity Pumps – 1928,” so they can make a fun photo opportunity. There is a can next to them to leave a small tip if you opt to take a photo.
1 Day Kings Canyon National Park Itinerary Stop #14 – Junction View Vista Point
Stopping here at the end of the day as you wind your way back up Scenic Highway 180 will cap off your Kings Canyon National Park visit, allowing you to appreciate the canyon’s scale. Peer into the Kings River canyon to see the Kings River south and middle forks. Spy Spanish Mountain, towering 10,050 ft (3,063 m) in the distance. And, marvel at how engineers and builders carved and built the switchback roads to allow you to appreciate this grandeur.
One Day Kings Canyon National Park Itinerary Stop #15 – The General Grant Grove
Meandering along the paved .3 mile (.5 km) Grant Tree Trail for 30 minutes will reward you with seeing the General Grant Tree, the second-largest giant sequoia based on volume. Ideal sunlight, nutrients and moisture have allowed it to grow so rapidly.
FUN FACTS ABOUT THE GENERAL GRANT TREE:
- Height = 268 ft (82m)
- Width = 40 ft (12m). It is the widest sequoia in the world!
- Age = 1,700 years old. Much younger than the oldest living sequoia, which is estimated to be 3,200 years old!
TOP TIP: To minimize damage to the giant sequoias’ delicate and shallow roots, remember to “leave no trace” and stay on the trail. Resist the urge to go off the trail for a selfie with the trees as every footstep has an impact.
Other highlights along the Grant Tree Trail include:
- The Fallen Monarch – 124 ft (38m) long, this massive tree once housed a saloon!
- Gamlin cabin – built in 1872 by the Gamlin brothers. They lived in the Fallen Monarch prior to constructing this cabin. It was also used for hay and grain storage in 1890. And, occupied by the first park ranger from 1902-1909.
Things to Know Before Your Kings National Park Visit
Kings Canyon National Park Fees
If you do plan to drive the Majestic Mountain loop and visit Sequoia and Yosemite in addition to Kings Canyon, buy the America the Beautiful Annual Park pass for $80 from NPS.gov or REI.com. Entrance to one US National Park costs $30-$35, so the pass makes sense if you will be visiting two or more national parks during a twelve-month period.
Distances to Kings Canyon National Park (Closest Airports to Fly Into)
Will you be combining your visit to Kings Canyon National Park with sightseeing in San Francisco or Los Angeles?
- Fresno airport (FAT) 53 miles (68 minutes)
- Sacramento airport (SMF) 236 miles (4 hours)
- San Francisco (SFO) airport 243 miles (4 hours)
- Los Angeles (LAX) airport 252 miles (4.5 hours)
Do You Need a Reservation to Visit Kings Canyon National Park?
Reservations are not required to visit Kings Canyon National Park.
To avoid sitting in long lines at the Big Stump Entrance via CA 180 East, arrive early. Weekends and holidays are especially busy times at the park. I relished having fewer crowds than at the Utah national parks, Yosemite, Death Valley and Grand Teton.
How Much Time Should You Spend in Kings Canyon National Park?
You can easily explore Kings Canyon National Park in one day.
Best Time to Visit Kings Canyon National Park?
Since snow can close roads and limit access in Kings Canyon National Park, it’s best to visit between May and October.
Where to Stay to See Kings Canyon National Park
Visalia, located only 56 miles (1.25 hours) from Kings Canyon National Park is an excellent base from which to explore this park and Sequoia National Park. Discover delectable food, cute hotels, and walking tours with my Visalia, California, post.
I hope my one-day Kings Canyon National Park itinerary and travel guide helps simplify your California road trip planning. To make the most of your visit, I highly recommend undertaking the Majestic Mountain loop and immersing in the beauty at Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park.