King’s Canyon National Park

One tiny section of King’s Canyon


Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park lie east of San Francisco, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. These are an interesting combination – they’re jointly administered but remain separate parks. Kings Canyon actually has a small disjoint section to the west, next to Sequoia, that acts as a gateway to both parks, and which features only sequoias, while the main park is 30 miles to the east. Both parks are nestled inside a national forest, show the beauty of the Sierra Nevada, and prominently feature sequoias. It doesn’t make much sense to me. I knew little about King’s Canyon before I visited; apparently Muir called it a “second Yosemite,” which is strong praise!

General Grant tree: by presidential edict, the nation’s Christmas tree.

After passing through the entrance, I stopped to visit the General Grant tree. This is the 3rd largest living thing in the world; the trunk is 40 feet wide and it’s 280 feet tall.

Sequoias are a strange tree. They’re enormous – as big as a really big tree – and the larger among them have really peculiar bark. They really look like paper mache or something. The top of the trees is also misshapen, so they have none of the elegant beauty of redwoods. The same compound that allows redwoods to grow so large is present in sequoias: tannin, which limits damage from fire and insects.

After checking out the sequoias, I drove the 30 miles to the canyon itself. Along the way I stopped at one overlook and took a few pictures, not impressed. It looked like every forested valley, ever. But then the road turned a corner and I saw the true canyon itself. I was gobsmacked. It’s a huge canyon – measuring over 8,000 feet deep in most places – and composed mostly of exposed granite and sparse conifers.

I proceeded to the only accessible section of the canyon, Cedar Grove, at the very floor and next to the river which carved the canyon. It has a few campgrounds, a small lodge, a ranger station and a general store. An important bridge over the river was closed making travel between sections of this area circuitous.

The summit of the Lewis Creek trail.

After grabbing a camping site and talking to a ranger, I went on a hike. This was on the Lewis Creek trail; many of the trails are similar. The problem is that the walls of the canyon are quite steep before opening out into a somewhat broader highland meadow, so they are all strenuous to begin with. But, the views are just spectacular.

View of just a small section of King’s Canyon.

The next day I’d decided to do an overnight hike, and settled on Copper Creek. This was ambitious for a variety of reasons: it was an 11-mile trail, which gained a vertical mile and finished at 10,500 feet. And I would be carrying 20 pounds more than I was used to, with an overnight pack and gear rather than my daypack. I knew I was in trouble almost from the start – pretty quickly my legs felt like jelly and I was gasping for breath.

Ad hoc tent support…

I made it 5-6 miles and about 2500 feet up, and had to set up camp. Unfortunately, I discovered that my purification tablets were for *already* potable water and so useless with the mountain streams; my fiberglass tent pole snapped as well. So I was considering turning back – I knew the downhill trek would be fast.

But a Czech couple arrived and I was able to get some iodine tablets from them, and then improvised a support for my tent, so I stayed the night. The campsite grew quite crowded with at least 4 groups there, some noisily arriving at 8 pm, after dark and with everyone else in their tent.

Early morning view from the Copper Creek trail, I believe with aldens in the foreground.

I awoke very early, packed, and headed out. On the easy downhill jaunt back, I was treated to some great early morning views of the canyon. The air was cool and I was looking forward to the treat I’d promised myself the next day: an ice cream sandwich and Mountain Dew.

More of King’s Canyon

Driving back along the canyon road, I passed a few ranger SUVs and an ambulance; there was a pickup about 50 feet off the road and terribly smashed up. The driver must have been going incredibly fast to get that far, and cause so much damage. The speed limit was only 35 in the area.

Almost immediately after passing this worrying sight, my check-engine light came on. This was the second time it had happened. The previous time, it had gone out and I never noticed any problems, so I hoped the case was the same here. But of course it’s the last thing you want 60 miles from civilization.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing in the campground (and not driving…). By sheer luck I found a wonderful site on the edge of the campground with a little stream running through it, so I was able to read and relax, preparing for my trip to Sequoia the next day.

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