Prior to getting to California, neither of us had ever heard of Kings Canyon National Park. Everyone we have talked to since has never heard of it, either. Maybe its because we’re East Coasters, but our only knowledge of the park was simply seeing it marked on the atlas. That, and its proximity to neighboring amazing Sequoia National Park, however, were enough to draw us in. After all, how cool is it to say you’ve been to a national park most people have never HEARD of, let alone been to?!
Turns out, the park has been around a while. Officially having been established in 1940, it also absorbed the former General Grant National Park, which was founded in 1890. Kings Canyon and sister park, Sequoia, represent over 1300 square miles of national preserve in the Sierra Nevada region. Its biggest attractions are the world’s largest preserve of giant sequoia trees as well as the magnificent Kings Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the United States, but the views of the Sierra Nevadas also can’t be beat. Over ninety-seven percent of the park is also designated as wilderness, hence why the culmonation of the scenic drive through the canyon is bestowed the name “Road’s End”, as the road truly does end and wilderness begins. There are a good number of established trails throughout the parks, but wilderness permits and some solid backpacking knowledge are required to explore the rest.
After learning from a park ranger that it would be about a three hours’ drive from our campsite at Horse Creek Campground to “Road’s End”, we almost wimped out as we had already been covering a ton of miles since getting to California. We figured we were so close though, we would at least take the time to make the scenic drive up Rt. 180.
Given the winding, climbing roads through Sequoia, we took a route outside of the park and entered the West Gate of Kings Canyon.
NOTE: Don’t be like us and overlook the fact that despite the park map having little gas symbols in some areas of the park, it ALSO has little red notes warning visitors that gas is no longer sold within the park (why not just remove the gas symbols, NPS?!). This made our day that much more exciting, especially as we accidentally went significantly out of our way by accident on the way back when we were already low on gas. Needless to say, this was the last time I let John pass up an opportunity to get gas to try and save ten cents per gallon without knowing if there is another station down the road!
Other than that, it was a day filled with spectacular views that definitely made us glad to have made the trip. The entire drive was gorgeous, even if driving through the actual canyon was a bit anticlimactic compared to the views on the rest of the drive and we were hoping “Road’s End” would actually be a dead end, not a loop. We also stopped to see a bit of the sequoia grovee, as well as a neat historic cabin.
On our drive home, we stumbled upon a cool old drive-in, called Woodlake Drive Inn. Large portions of comfort food for good prices and a little nostalgia – worth almost as much of a stop as Sequoia and Kings Canyon!