In our quest to visit all 61 of the National Parks in the United States, Kings Canyon marked our halfway point. With 30 parks behind us and one under our feet, we can safely say we have seen a good chunk of what the National Parks have to offer. Kings Canyon is little talked about and seldom celebrated in modern culture. However, I can safely say that it undoubtedly has the most beautiful scenic byway of all the parks we have been to thus far.
We started our day at Kings Canyon from our campsite at Stony Creek. We drove the Generals Highway into the park and made the General Grant Tree our first stop. The General Grant Tree is the tallest tree in the park. The trail leading up to the tree is fairly level and easy. It is an interpretive trail filled with a lot of plaques and landmarks that allow visitors to peek into the history of the park. I enjoyed this stop so much! It was mind-blowing to hear that when people first visited this area they would write to people back east about the giant trees. Except, no one believed them! The giant-ness was hard to believe and many people thought the settlers were trying to trick them. There is also information about conservation efforts in the park and the ecology of the trees themselves. I thought we were just taking the trail to see another tree but it ended up being much more fascinating. General Grant himself is a very impressive tree.
We visited this park at the tail end of a very snowy winter which meant that a lot of the roads and attractions were still closed due to snow. We had to skip a lot of things people normally see. So, after the General Grant Tree, we hopped on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway and pretty much stayed on it without very much stopping until the end of the road. The Scenic Byway leaves the park and spends most of its time in a national forest, reentering the park toward the end. Even though we did not stop very much there are plenty of opportunities to pull off and picnic or hike.
Let me say it again – this is a beyond GORGEOUS scenic byway. Much of it follows Kings River, a wide and lively waterway. Since we were there at the beginning of spring the rivers and waterfalls were bursting with snow melt. This added to the bounteous scene. The road winds in and out of forest and canyon views. If you look for it you can see the immense variation in trees, rock structures, and colors that surround the road. I regret to admit that I do not even have a photo that does this scenic byway justice – you will just have to go check it out for yourself!
We took the road all the way to Roads End, which is literally just the end of the road. It goes nowhere else. There are giant parking lots and an informational booth, where wilderness permits for backpacking can be obtained. Just steps from the parking lot is where the famed Muir Rock resides. This is not signed, so we had to ask the ranger at the information booth to point us in the right direction. From Muir Rock, visitors can jump off and swim in the river. It is a great place to bring a picnic and spend an afternoon chilling out and cooling off. Since the river was so turbulent from the amount of snow melt we opted to not jump into the river during this visit. The ranger at the information booth was very helpful in giving us an update on the river depth and speed, assisting us in making our decision.
We turned back around to backtrack down this beautiful byway, turning off at Hume Lake Road towards Hume Lake. Hume Lake is technically outside of the park but is a popular stopping point. It is an alpine lake so it remains chilly well into summer. It was not too cold to swim in the middle of June, though. It has a little waterfall, a boardwalk, and a nice long beach. Nearby, there is a little village with some amenities, like ice cream shops and cafes. The beach (and water) is good for swimming, paddling, and fishing. It is a friendly area. We met a group of really fun, chatty people ready to give us plenty of advice about visiting California and allowing us to take out their kayak.
Kenon’s favorite part about Hume Lake was the fools gold that mingles with the sand and lights up the water. Little flecks of it line the shore giving the lake an out-of-this-world feel.
We wrapped up our sight-seeing at Hume Lake. It was easy to waste the day away at the beach. We met so many people at Sequoia and Yosemite who opted to skip right by Kings Canyon. Take the time to enjoy this little-known park. You will not regret it!
Read more about Sequoia National Park here.
Learn more about our Kings Canyon / Sequoia camping experience here.