Kings Canyon. Wow. What a sleeper favorite. And I don’t say “sleeper” because it’s boring- on the contrary, Kings Canyon is anything but. I say “sleeper” because this park sneaking into the number four spot on my list was completely unexpected. I didn’t know a lot about this park, and while I was looking forward to visiting, I’ll admit that I let my excitement for the “bigger” parks (Sequoia! Yosemite!) overshadow it a bit. I have mixed feelings about that, because while Kings Canyon and the Cedar Grove area in particular absolutely do not deserve to be overshadowed, I think having lower expectations helped this park really shine in my mind (funny how that works, isn’t it?). While this park wasn’t without a few downsides (we’ll get to those later), it was really spectacular and I cannot wait to go back and spend more time there.
We rolled out of our camp in Sequoia on the morning of the 7th and headed straight to the General Grant Tree. We stopped briefly for obscenely expensive gas and had a brief pocket of cell service that we used to check in on the dog, and then headed on our way.
Now, I don’t want to say “seen one giant sequoia, seen ’em all,” but I have to be honest with you here – I have minimal interest in returning to General Grant (at least in the summer). There were a gazillion people, the trees didn’t have quite the same impact (especially immediately following our day in Muir Grove), and I was just generally feeling a little antsy. So I’ll admit – none of the pictures I took in the Grant Grove ended up being worth editing, in my opinion.
After that, though, we got to spend more time driving and headed into the Cedar Grove area. I’ll briefly sum up this drive and say that it is very windy, and very hilly – rely on your transmission to help slow you down here or you’ll definitely burn out your brakes. It is also GORGEOUS. We rolled in camp, found an amazing spot (huge, right up against the river, with lots of trees), and headed out to do a few little short hikes.
The Cedar Grove area is obscenely gorgeous. I spent most of my time here with my jaw on the ground because there’s just so much beauty to look at. Between the serene crystal clear river, the soaring granite cliffs, and the expansive meadows, it’s stunning everywhere you turn. We stopped at Roaring River Falls to cool off a bit (Cedar Grove is also H O T, but in my opinion that’s one of the best things about it as it makes spending copious amounts of time in and around the river absolutely divine) before heading up to Zumwalt Meadow.
Zumwalt is a loop, which we did counterclockwise. As we were coming to the end of the loop, we ran into a ranger who asked if we’d seen a bear. Attempting (and utterly failing, I’m sure) to avoid seeming too eager, we told her that we hadn’t. We kept going and had just about reached the junction for the loop when we both heard something rustling – much too big to be a squirrel or bird, but seemingly too small to be a bear. We stopped, turned, and waited for a few seconds before a little adolescent black bear emerged from the bushes – right as the ranger appeared, having turned around and returning towards the trailhead. She started making a lot of noise to scare the bear off and was telling all of us to move away. In my rush, I couldn’t change my camera settings fast enough to get a good shot, but man I was so excited! A bear! I love bears, and we hadn’t seen any since our Canada trip the previous summer (where we saw three, but I was too much of a dummy to stop and take a picture because I didn’t want to seem like a dumb gawking tourist – these days, I’m like “screw it, I want a good picture of the cute bear!”).
The rest of the evening was spent relaxing by the river, enjoying the super excellent ranger program, and just having an overall great summer night.
The next morning we headed out to the very end of the road to do the Mist Falls hike, which still to this day is my favorite hike I’ve ever done. We saw less than a dozen people on the entire hike, and even though it’s 8ish miles, it didn’t feel like that long at all. It was a pleasant, enjoyable, and varied hike, with lots of places to stop and enjoy the river. Words are honestly inadequate to convey the experience, but it was bliss.
We spent effectively the whole day taking our time with that hike, and then playing in the river at camp. We had dinner at the village and braved the showers (which was one of those not-so-great things I mentioned earlier – we had to wait over 45 minutes just to get a shower as there were only four showers open for four pretty sizeable campgrounds, and when I say four showers, I mean four showers total. Brady and I ended up sharing, which was an adventure as there was barely room for one of us, much less two of us LOL. I try to shower every 2-3 days while camping, but this is one instance where I think bathing in the river would’ve been a better option – eek. Get your crap together, Delaware North!!) before heading to another excellent ranger program. Honestly, ranger programs are one of my favorite things about the Park Service and why I always love staying in the campgrounds in the parks.
The next morning we headed out with heavy hearts, wishing I’d scheduled more time at this park and promising to come back as soon as possible!
Our Sequoia National Park “Must Do”: Definitely, 100%, no question – Mist Falls.