Let me start by saying that when you search information about Kings Canyon National Park (KCNP) you usually find it bundled up with Sequoia National Park. That’s because the parks are adjacent and if you drive long enough you’ll jump from one to the other. I will here, however, concentrate on KCNP since, especially now during the pandemic, it offers gorgeous views, often with no one in sight – it’s social distancing at its best.
This is a good weekend trip with a one (or two) night stay for which I’m recommending Visalia, a city much nicer than Fresno, in my opinion, and with lots of affordable hotel options. I stayed at the Lamp Liter Inn and it worked quite well. To give you an idea of what the drive is like, were you to start in downtown L.A., it’d take you just over three hours to arrive in Visalia. The best scenario would be to leave on Friday early evening after work so that you can be already in the area on Saturday morning.
From Visalia, it’ll be an hour and 20 minutes to General Grant, which is the giant sequoia that you must visit while in KCNP. From this city, the park can be reached by driving either north or east. Since I’m a fan of loops, I recommend that you go up one way and return the other. So, without giving you much detail since that’s what your GPS is for, you could go up on road 63 and switch to road 180 on your way there, and come down the mountain on road 245 and then switch to the 198 to Visalia.
A first stop at General Grant Grove is mandatory. After all, General Grant has been waiting 1,700 years to see you. “He” is 268 feet high and 40 feet wide and my challenge to you is to take a picture of yourself with the entirety of the tree. I failed. Once you walk around the Grove, which is an easy walk, drive north on the 180 towards Cedar Grove. Take your time on this scenic road. There will be mountains, a huge canyon in which you’ll see Kings River at the far bottom, and eventually you’ll reach the river itself, where you’ll have amazing photo opportunities. If you pack a lunch, the banks of the river is the perfect place to enjoy it. The sound of the roaring water is fabulous.
You’ll have to return to Grant Grove on the same 180, but then choose road 245 to get back to Visalia looking at different stuff.
Trust me, there isn’t enough day to see everything there is to see, so you’ll be glad to have Sunday. An idea is to go back up road 198, this time towards the General Sherman Tree and in that way see a bit of Sequoia National Park.
Find official information about these parks here.