Kings Canyon National Park
Named for its colossal glacier-carved valley, Kings Canyon National Park is another must-see experience for RV adventurers.
Kings Canyon National Park is the northern twin of Sequoia National Park. In fact, the terrain of these national parks are nearly identical, due to the fact that they share a border.
This national park falls due east of the Salinas Valley in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California.
Although Kings Canyon is often eclipsed by the more popular Sequoia National Park, it is undoubtedly a hidden gem. Kings Canyon is one of the least visited major Sierra parks, with roughly 700,000 visitors yearly, compared to 1.3 million visitors at Sequoia and over 4 million at Yosemite.
Despite its size, the park has limited services and lodgings, and the lack of road access to most of the park greatly reduces the amount of visitors inhabiting the park at any time. For this reason, Kings Canyon can be a wonderful place to get in touch with the quiet and calming essence of nature.
As you might expect, Kings Canyon National Park shares many of the same features as Sequoia. The park is brimming with towering sequoia trees, high mountain meadows, swift-flowing rivers, and dozens of 14,000-foot peaks.
The rugged natural beauty of the park was made possible by age-old glaciers carving out the deep valley we see today. For this reason, RV enthusiasts are rewarded with miles of hiking trails, various fishing hotspots, and unimaginable sights.
Taking some time to visit Kings Canyon National Park is well-worth the visit, even if Sequoia National Park is first on your list.
For that reason, we’ve put together this guide for RV adventurers to learn more about what exactly this park has to offer. Read on to find out more!
The History of Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon was originally established on October 1st, 1890 as General Grant National Park. The bill, signed into law by President Benjamin Harris, established the Kings Canyon area as the fourth US national park and it included provisions for expanding Sequoia national park.
Over the subsequent years, as visitation to the park grew, additional roads were put in and well-graded hiking trails were extended to give visitors better access to the backcountry areas of the park.
Much of the push to establish Kings Canyon as a national park was encouraged by one of Northern America’s most popular naturalists, John Muir. He was delighted to find that the Kings Canyon region was so similar to Yosemite, supporting his theory that the large valleys were carved by glaciers from the last ice age.
In the early days of the national park, the acreage was only about a quarter of what it is today. The region also faced a lot of controversy early on when the immense source of hydroelectric potential in the Kings River was recognized by cities like Los Angeles.
For forty years, development interests conflicted heavily with environmental legislation. It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that the US government hired Ansel Adams to photograph and document the area.
As it turned out, those photographs were enough to generate publicity for the preservation movement. On March 4, 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill to create Kings Canyon National Park, additionally adding over 400,000 acres of the High Sierra to expand the park.
However, far prior to the establishment of General Grant National Park, indigenous groups inhabited the region for about 6,000 to 7,000 years. The Owens Valley Paiute peoples (also known as the Eastern Monos) shared the land with the Yokuts ethnic group. Unfortunately, as European settlers began to arrive in the Kings Canyon area in the mid-19th century, many of these indigenous groups suffered from a smallpox epidemic.
The geologic history is as deep and colorful as the canyon itself. For over 2.5 million years, large valley glaciers carved out the distinctive U-shaped valleys of Cedar Grove, Paradise Valley, and Tehipite Valley. However, some of the canyons were carved by deep river gorges, giving them a characteristic V-shape.
Knowing this, the historical formation of the various canyons can be exciting to identify while within the park. The vast Sierra wilderness can be as thought-provoking as it is extensive!
Getting to Kings Canyon National Park
Although there is only one main road leading into Kings Canyon National Park, keep in mind that some of the other roads within the region are steep, winding, and narrow. It may be best to have a separate vehicle, such as a tow-behind, if you plan on exploring some of the more remote areas of the park.
There are a few roads with vehicle length limits and advisories, but most of them are within Sequoia National Park. However, the standard length limit for most of these roads is 22-feet, which can be helpful to know if you intend on visiting both parks.
The best direction to visit Kings Canyon National Park from is the west. CA-180 E heads directly into Kings Canyon at the Big Stump entrance of the park.
From the bay area of San Francisco, it’s about a 4-and-a-half hour drive and roughly 250 miles to reach Kings Canyon. The best way to reach the park is to take I-80 E to I-580 E, then merge onto I-5 N. From there, you will take CA-120 E to CA-99 S until reaching exit 133B onto CA-180 E. Once you’re on CA-180 E, it’s a straight shot directly into the park’s interior.
From the east towards Las Vegas, the fastest route is about 6-and-a-half hours and just over 400 miles. The best route is to take I-15 S to CA-58 W, and then head up CA-99 N until reaching exit 98. From there, it’s just a short jog over to CA-180 E to enter the park.
Keep in mind that there are no gas stations within the park boundaries. The closest gas stations to the park entrance are in Dunlap, about 20 miles west of Grant Grove.
Grocery stores can be found in the small town Oakhurst. For a much wider selection of fresh produce and goods, Fresno is also a great option for stocking up beforehand. If you’re in need of small items and essentials, like beer, wine, and camping supplies, the Grant Grove Market within the park has a basic variety of goods.
Vehicle entrance fees cost $35, however, the pass is valid for up to seven days and is good for both Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, as well as the Hume Lake District of Sequoia National Forest.
RV Camping near Kings Canyon National Park
Unlike some other state and national parks, the campgrounds in Kings Canyon National Park operate on a first-come, first-served basis. In the busy summer months of July and August, campgrounds tend to fill up pretty quickly.
Fortunately, there are several campgrounds within the national park with accommodations for RV campers. If you are self-registering for a first-come, first served campsite, you can check in at any time of day.
Keep in mind that there are no RV hookups at any of the campgrounds within the national park. However, generators can be run from 9 am to 9 pm.
There are two main areas for camping within Kings Canyon. Grant Grove is located off of CA-180 near the entrance of the park. Many of the trails in the area lead to giant sequoia groves, meadows, waterfalls, and vistas of the high Sierras. Alternatively, Cedar Grove is much deeper in Kings Canyon on CA-180. The area is much more remote and many of the trails lead to meadows, waterfalls, and great views of the glaciated Kings Canyon.
Within Grant Grove, there are three campgrounds to choose from: Azalea Campground, Sunset Campground, and Crystal Springs Campground.
Azalea Campground in Kings Canyon National Park
Azalea Campground is the only RV campground within the park open year-round. In the summer months, Azalea shrubs bloom with showy, fragrant white flowers. In the winter, it’s recommended that campers bring a snow shovel. The length of RV or trailer that can be accommodated varies by site, but there should be sites available for most rigs.
Sunset and Crystal Springs Campgrounds
Sunset Campground and Crystal Springs campground also have a wide variety of sites available for variously-sized RV campers. Sunset Campground has the highest amount of campsites. Each of the Grant Grove campgrounds does not have dump stations. The nearest available dump stations are in Sequoia National Park at Dorst Creek Campground and Princess Campground.
Cedar Grove Campgrounds
Cedar Grove is an hour’s drive from Grant Grove, in a more remote area of Kings Canyon National Park. It is open from early spring to late fall. Each of the Cedar Grove campgrounds are open to tents, RVs and trailers, including: Sentinel Campground, Sheep Creek Campground, Moraine Campground, and Canyon View Campground. Canyon View Campground is only available for group camping.
The amenities and accommodations at the Cedar Grove campgrounds are virtually the same. There are no hookups or dump stations, but generators are allowed between 9 am and 9 pm. The Cedar Grove area is located on the South Fork of the Kings River and offers views of Kings Canyon.
Alternatively, if you want to camp outside of the national park, there are several options to choose from. Each offers additional accommodations, such as full hookup sites, dump stations, resort-style pools, and more.
Some recommendations are: Sequoia RV Park, Sequoia Resort & RV Park, Riverbend RV Park, Lemon Cove Village RV Park Campground, and Sequoia RV Ranch.
Attractions at Kings Canyon National Park
When you visit Kings Canyon National Park, there are several things to see and do.
At the top of your list should be General Grant Tree, named after the Union war general during the Civil War. It is the second tallest tree in the world, second only to the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park. This sequoia monster is estimated to be 1,650 years old and stands at 270 feet, measuring 107 feet at its base.
Driving down to Grizzly Falls is another great option while you’re in the national park. Grizzly Falls is at the base of the Kings River. There is a road that goes right to the waterfall, meaning you can literally drive up to the parking lot to see the waterfall without having to get out of your care.
Other awesome waterfalls to visit are Roaring River Falls and Mist Falls, a 0.3-mile hike and a 8.1-mile hike, respectively. Both of these hikes are great options for feeling surrounded and hugged by the peaceful presence of the natural high Sierra landscape.
If you’re in for a majestic drive, the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway has plenty of pull-off spots to take in the incredible views of the valley below. One of the best places to stop along this road is at Junction View, but there are plenty of great locations if you don’t find space at this one.
A Royal National Park
Although Sequoia National Park is more widely known across the country, Kings Canyon makes for a great experience as well.
The glaciated Kings Canyon itself rivals that of Yosemite National Park but with significantly less visitors. Casually strolling along the meandering trails while surrounded by massive sequoia trees certainly feels like an other-worldly experience.
RV adventurers will be delighted to find a wide variety of options for camping within the national park, with plenty of things to do for exciting daytrips. No matter whether you plan to stay for a day to get a taste of the region, or you plan to stay for a week-long trip to savor the high Sierras, camping at Kings Canyon National Park is truly an adventure to be had!
If you get excited about gushing waterfalls, colossal canyons, towering sequoias, and the peace of the getting away from it all, Kings Canyon should be at the top of your list.
To make the most out of your experience, try visiting during the early spring or late fall when the crowds are even less drastic. Plan on allocating some additional time as well to hit Kings Canyon and Sequoia in the same week.
You’re sure to have your soul touched by these glorious high Sierra landscapes.
Looking for more National Parks to visit, check out our National Parks checklist which includes all 62 national parks in the United States.