Article Overview: Things to Do in Kings Canyon
The things to do in Kings Canyon National Park are as big as the sequoias that guard the land. Adjacent to Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park is a breathtaking wonderland in California’s High Sierra.
Kings Canyon is (often debated) the deepest canyon in the country, with only Hells Canyon holding a close competition. It’s even 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon. And you thought it was just about sequoias, eh?
From hiking the 50+ trails to marveling at towering giant sequoias to driving the exhilarating scenic byway, this park has something for everyone. Even the “Father of National Parks,” John Muir, said it was better than Yosemite in some ways.
“… far to the southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is a yet grander valley of the same kind. It is situated on King’s River, above the most extensive groves and forests of the giant sequoia, and beneath the shadows of the highest mountains in the range, where the canyons are deepest, and the snow-laden peaks are crowded most closely together.”
John Muir, “Father of National Parks”
Tackling the trio of national parks in this region is known as the Majestic Mountain Loop, visiting Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon in one trip.
In this article, I cover the most unforgettable things to do in Kings Canyon National Park and provide helpful trip-planning tips. Let’s get into it!
Things to Do in Kings Canyon
Table of Contents: Things to Do in Kings Canyon
Table of contents: Things to Do in Kings Canyon
- Things to Do in Kings Canyon
- Things to Know Before You Visit Kings Canyon National Park
- Where to Stay in Kings Canyon National Park
- Kings Canyon National Park Travel Tips
- List of Things to Do in Kings Canyon
- 15. Marvel at General Grant
- 14. Explore Zumwalt Meadow
- 13. Hike (or Snowshoe) the North Grove Loop
- 12. Climb Big Baldy
- 11. See Panoramic Point
- 10. Drive Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
- 9. Discover Grizzly Falls
- 8. Jump Off Muir Rock Into the River
- 7. Hike the Mist Falls Trail
- 6. Camp Overnight
- 5. Explore Boyden Cavern
- 4. Visit Roaring River Falls
- 3. Go Horseback Riding
- 2. Step into Big Stump Basin
- 1. Backpack the Rae Lakes Loop
- Map of Things to Do at Kings Canyon
- Summary of Things to Do at Kings Canyon
- Pin Things to Do at Kings Canyon
Things to Know Before You Visit Kings Canyon National Park
$35 vehicle and that gets you entrance to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. The parks border each other and are under the same management. If you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months, I suggest you purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more, including 2,000 sites for free after a one-time $80 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one, which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, Earth 🙂
The Best Guide Book for Kings Canyon National Park is this one, which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Kings Canyon National Park.
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps; this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay in Kings Canyon National Park
Where to Stay: This is our favorite hotel in/around Kings Canyon National Park.
Kings Canyon National Park Travel Tips
Without going into the politics of naming conventions and preserved land statuses, you can see on the map below how confusing it can be in this region to wonder, “Where am I?”
You’ll also notice the NPS website for the park is Sequoia and Kings Canyon, further confusing you when trying to plot a Kings Canyon itinerary. Additionally, you can’t really go wrong when exploring this area. You can get very turned around.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park have their own entrances, but the same pass gets you into both. There is no easy way to get between the two.
- You’ll drive through Sequoia National Forest to reach the bulk of Kings Canyon.
- These parks are EPIC for backcountry hikes, as roads only go so far before you’re backpacking the Sierras.
- The Monarch Wildnerness overlaps with the Sierra National Forest and other preserved lands.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Closures
List of Things to Do in Kings Canyon
15. Marvel at General Grant
Prepare to be humbled by the General Grant Tree, one of the world’s largest sequoias. The second largest, in fact, behind only General Sherman (which, as you might expect, is in Sequoia National Park). Standing 267 feet tall, just shy of 29 feet wide at its base, General Grant’s colossal presence has been around for at least 3,000 years.
General Grant has been fondly called the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” since 1926. To this day, the annual “Trek to the Tree” occurs on the second Sunday of every December.
The event honors members of the Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Experiencing it for yourself is one of the best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park, and it’s easy to do. Head to Grant Grove and take the easy 1/3-mile loop trail. You’ll pass other impressive sequoias, including the Fallen Monarch. This is also an excellent snowshoeing destination in the winter.
14. Explore Zumwalt Meadow
Meadows are a major aspect of Kings Canyon, and Zumwalt is arguably the most iconic. Meander through its serene beauty, a hidden gem in the heart of the park near Cedar Grove. Bordered by towering cliffs and situated alongside Kings River, the lush meadow offers the perfect spot for a leisurely stroll or postcard-perfect picnic.
Just seeing Zumwalt Meadow is among the best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park, but hiking the trail here makes the experience unforgettable. The 1.7-mile lollipop loop-style trail gently climbs a hillside and offers stunning views of the meadow but is also easy and family-friendly.
13. Hike (or Snowshoe) the North Grove Loop
Back in Grant Grove, the North Grove Loop is another one of the top things to do in Kings Canyon National Park for those who want some alone time.
There are about a dozen giant sequoias scattered along the 1.5-mile trail, so it’s not the big tree hotspot that Grant Grove loop is, but still well worth seeing. The moderately difficult trail features varied scenery, going through thick forest canopies, by a creek that flows seasonally, and past a large area of burned sequoias.
If you want to see more of the burned area up close, the North Grove Loop connects with the Dead Giant Trail to form a 2.5-mile loop. The highlight of that trail is the Dead Giant itself, which famously remained standing after it died.
Insider’s tip: Do this loop clockwise, even though several sources online say the opposite. If you do it counter-clockwise, the largest concentration of sequoias will be at the beginning of the trail, making the rest of it somewhat boring. Plus, you’ll go up the steepest sections of the trail rather than down. This sounds counter-intuitive, but the trail is often muddy or snow-covered, and going down isn’t easy!
In the winter, when much of the park is closed, this trail is also excellent for snowshoeing. Rent a pair in the Grant Grove Market if you don’t have your own.
12. Climb Big Baldy
Big Baldy makes the list of best things to do in Kings Canyon because you can get that “summit a mountain” feeling while really just walking the ridgeline. While I wouldn’t call the trail easy, it’s the easy side of moderate for those with average mountain hiking experience.
The trail is less than five miles roundtrip, and you’ll get views of Kings Canyon in all its glory, Redwood Canyon, and the Western Divide.
FUN FACT: Redwood Canyon is not a collection of redwoods as we know them today. It’s actually the largest sequoia grove in the world. When early explorers and settlers encountered these towering trees in different regions of California, they often used the term “redwood” to describe any exceptionally large and reddish-hued tree. This terminology wasn’t always scientifically precise. Coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are distinct from giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), but both are part of the Cupressaceae family and are related.
11. See Panoramic Point
Close to the park visitor center, another stop that should be on your list of things to do in Kings Canyon National Park is spectacular Panoramic Point. This scenic overlook offers views stretching out hundreds of miles over the High Sierra, including Hume Lake and other parts of Sequoia National Park.
From the parking area, it’s an easy 0.5-mile stroll to Panoramic Point. If you can, time your visit for sunrise or sunset, and if you’re a hiker, continue past the viewpoint 2.5 miles to the Park Ridge Fire Lookout. During the summer, when the lookout is staffed, you may even get invited inside!
10. Drive Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
Even if you only have time to check out a couple of things to do in Kings Canyon National Park, this drive should be on your list. If you don’t have a queasy stomach, that is — this jaw-dropping drive takes you down to the canyon floor, descending 2,700 feet with tons of S-curves and sheer cliffs along the way.
You’ll enjoy mountain and forest views and pass waterfalls and through massive canyons as you make your way down to the river.
This drive isn’t for the faint of heart, but thankfully, the byway (AKA Highway 180) has plenty of pullouts. Take a minute to let your stomach settle, have a snack, or take in the awe-inspiring views from inside the vehicle. Note that much of this road is closed in winter.
9. Discover Grizzly Falls
Grizzly Falls is a captivating sight tucked in the forest along Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. The 80-foot-tall cascade is surprisingly accessible, requiring just a short walk from the parking area. If you’re visiting when Highway 180 is open, Grizzly Falls is understandably one of the most popular things to do in Kings Canyon National Park.
It’s only 4.5 miles from Cedar Grove, so it takes some serious effort and time to get there. We wouldn’t recommend making this your main destination, but it’s one of the best stops along the byway.
8. Jump Off Muir Rock Into the River
On hot days, there are few better things to do in Kings Canyon National Park than cool off in the Kings River. One of the best places to do that is Muir Rock, named after renowned naturalist John Muir. Legend tells that Muir spent tons of time on this rock, telling people about how this place rivaled Yosemite.
Muir Rock sits at Road’s End, the end of the scenic byway on the River Trail. It’s broad and flat, making the perfect natural diving board 15 feet above the river. There are also several small pebble beaches nearby. Of course, exercise extreme caution when jumping and swimming in the river, and understand that it’s entirely at your own risk.
7. Hike the Mist Falls Trail
Often called the best day hike among things to do in Kings Canyon National Park, Mist Falls is stunning. The trailhead is shared with Paradise Valley Trail, starting from Road’s End.
It goes just over four miles one-way and is relatively easy, with the exception of a steep 600-foot incline at the end. The good news is that Mist Falls itself greets you at the top. Along the way, you’ll hike through lush forest, beside cascading streams, and up the canyon.
Mist Falls earned its name, so you WILL get wet. The 100-foot waterfall tumbles dramatically over rocks, creating several small pools. While swimming in them is one of the top things to do in Kings Canyon National Park, doing so is, again, at your own risk and recommended only for advanced swimmers.
6. Camp Overnight
Getting to stay the night in this incredible, historic place is a privilege and certainly one of the best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park. It’s not exactly easy, however, with most campgrounds open for just 4-5 months a year and coveted reservations being snapped up in seconds. If you can plan at least 4 months ahead of time and have fast fingers, these are the in-park campgrounds:
- Grant Grove: Azalea, Crystal Springs, Sunset
- Cedar Grove: Canyon View, Moraine, Sentinel, Sheep Creek
5. Explore Boyden Cavern
One of the best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park is actually underneath the mountain. If the canyon is royalty, then this is where the family jewels are stored.
Step into a world of dripping stalactites and shimmering stalagmites, where time seems to stand still. Guided tours unveil the secrets of this underground realm, revealing intricate limestone formations that defy imagination.
Thrill-seekers can squeeze through narrow passages and marvel at the hauntingly beautiful “Crystal Palace,” a room adorned with delicate formations glistening like precious gems. Several iterations of tours are available, including a headlamp-only small-group tour of this underground lair.
The tour will also take you to the steepest part of Kings Canyon, offering an incredible view looking up. Who said the mountain summits get to have all the recreational fun?
4. Visit Roaring River Falls
Roaring River Falls is the other roadside waterfall along the park’s scenic byway, and just as accessible as Grizzly Falls. You may very well hear it before you even see it, as the waterfall got its name from the sound of water racing through a narrow rock chute. While Roaring River Falls is just 20 or so feet tall, its sheer volume and power make it one of the top things to do in Kings Canyon National Park.
If you’re up for a bit of an actual hike, take the River Trail past the waterfall. This takes you to Zumwalt Meadow on an easy, paved 3.9-mile lollipop loop trail.
3. Go Horseback Riding
One of the more unique things to do in Kings Canyon National Park is go horseback riding. There are two stables in the park, one in Grant Grove and one in Cedar Grove. This is a fantastic way to go sightseeing in Cedar Grove, in particular, where much of the park’s terrain is remote and rugged.
The season for both locations is roughly June through mid-October, although that changes slightly each year based on weather conditions. Tours from one to two hours are available from both stables for $60 and $100, respectively, and advance reservations are highly recommended.
The Cedar Grove rides are a bit more customizable, and ride options extend to all day for experienced riders.
2. Step into Big Stump Basin
The unique area known as Big Stump Basin is quiet and often overlooked, making it one of the best things to do in Kings Canyon National Park for people looking to escape the crowds. The easy, two-mile trail starts one mile past the park entrance on Highway 180.
The highlight is the massive Big Stump, the remnants of the Mark Twain tree cut down in 1891. It was 1,350 years old at the time it was felled. In fact, the tree was taken down and cut into slices to go on a global tour. Back then, people just didn’t believe trees could grow so large.
Today, there’s a set of steps up it (yep, it’s that big!), so visitors can walk or sit on top. Be sure to check out its growth rings!
1. Backpack the Rae Lakes Loop
For folks up for a challenging multi-day trek, the Rae Lakes Loop is among the most exhilarating things to do in Kings Canyon National Park. Backpacking the High Sierra is an unforgettable experience, but this epic 41-mile trail is a standout, gaining nearly 7,000 feet in elevation.
The loop showcases everything this region is famous for, such as mirror-still alpine lakes, wildflower-blanketed meadows, and jagged, jaw-dropping mountains.
From late May through late September, all backpackers must have a Wilderness Permit. They’re extremely limited and are issued six months in advance on a rolling basis. Outside of that period, hikers only have to get a free self-issue permit at a park visitor center.
Map of Things to Do at Kings Canyon
Summary of Things to Do at Kings Canyon
- Backpack the Rae Lakes Loop
- Step into Big Stump Basin
- Go Horseback Riding
- Visit Roaring River Falls
- Explore Boyden Cavern
- Camp Overnight
- Hike the Mist Falls Trail
- Jump off John Muir Rock
- Discover Grizzly Falls
- Drive Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
- See Panoramic Point
- Climb Big Baldy
- Hike or Snowshoe the North Grove Loop
- Explore Zumwalt Meadow
- Marvel at General Grant
Pin Things to Do at Kings Canyon
Helpful Related Links
Kings Canyon Facts: 10 FASCINATING Facts About Kings Canyon National Park to Know
Best California Park: 20 BEST California National Parks Ranked
San Diego: 7 Amazing National Parks Near San Diego
Find Your Park in San Francisco: 8 Best National Parks Near San Francisco
San Jose: 7 Best National Parks Near San Jose
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