Strong-willed, heartily disliked, and highly effective Interior Secretary Harold Ickes (1874-1952) took an interest in wilderness preservation that went beyond most: parks without roads. Wheeling and dealing—which inluded selling FDR on the idea with commissioned Ansel Adams photographs—Ickes got his wish in Kings Canyon.
Deep canyons with roaring rivers, vast woods interrupted by clear lakes, and groves of ancient forest
The park’s lone highway, Route 180, probably the most scenic dead-end you’ll ever drive, traces the South Fork Kings River for 50 miles, climbing the floor of a narrow gorge whose walls, at times, are nearly 1½ miles high.
At the park’s west entrance are two don’t-miss trails: The half-mile General Grant Tree Trail that passes sequoias that sprouted before Pompeii’s final days is a living treasure; the 2-mile Big Stump Trail through a logged ancient forest is a memorial to what we have lost.
General Grant National Park, formed in 1890 to protect the giant sequoia and its grove, was absorbed when the new park was created. In 1943, the administrations of Kings Canyon and Sequoia were merged as a wartime economy measure. Cedar Grove and Tehipite Valley were added in 1965.
568,000 in 2013; July is the busiest month, February is least-crowded.
$20 for a seven-day vehicle permit, which also allows access to Sequoia National Park.
$18 to $50 per site per night.
Seven campgrounds with 616 first-come, first-served sites and 51 group sites by reservation at recreation.gov; additional campgrounds in the nearby national forest and national monument.
Big Stump Trail, General Grant Tree, Muir Rock, The Sphinx.
Kaweah River at 3,480 feet, to the 14,242-foot North Palisade.
24 to 42 degrees in the middle elevations in January, 68 to 97 degrees in the foothills in August.
A trace in June through August, to 7 to 8 inches in December through February.
John Muir believed Kings Canyon’s similarity to Yosemite bolstered his theory that these valleys were made by glaciers, not earthquakes as John Whitney, chief of the California Geological Survey, contended. Muir was proved correct, but Whitney’s name was put on the Lower 48’s highest peak.
Black bears, mountain lions.
Cedar Grove Lodge, visitsequoia.com/cedar-grove-lodge.aspx
Grant Grove Cabins, visitsequoia.com/grant-grove-cabins.aspx
Grant Grove Restaurant, visitsequoia.com/grant-grove-restaurant.aspx
John Muir Lodge, 86728 Highway 180, Kings Canyon National Park 93633, 559-335-5500, visitsequoia.com/cedar-grove-lodge.aspx
Photographs by National Park Services
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.