Kings Canyon and Cedar Grove Lodge

We often remember our first experiences with fondness, and such was the case after my first visit to Kings Canyon National Park in May 2021. It was so peaceful and relaxing that I knew that I had to return one day in hopes of repeating the experience. Delaware North, the concessionaire that runs the lodging in the park, made that easier when they offered discounted prices during a brief sale earlier this summer. I booked three nights in the Cedar Grove Lodge deep in the heart of the Canyon.

After my summer of cancer treatments, I knew that I needed this little trip both as a reward and as a respite. Going into it, though, I was concerned about how lingering side effects from the treatments may impact the trip. I’ll spare the details, but they did slow me down compared to what I was able to do on my first trip, and that was frustrating. Even so, I did most of what I wanted to do, just at a slower pace and with a nap or two when I got worn out.

The Drive Up

Depending on traffic through Los Angeles, the drive between my home and Kings Canyon National Park can take 7 to 9 hours, if all goes well. But it didn’t. My trip got off to a rocky start Monday morning.

Sunday evening, I went to the gas station and made sure my tires were properly inflated for the 408 mile / 656 km trip. As I turned onto my street, I heard this “tick-tick-tick-tick” sound of something stuck in my tire.

The tire pressure monitoring system didn’t indicate any leak, so I thought it was a rock stuck in the tread. I inspected all four tires and didn’t see any rock. Monday morning, I moved the car so the tires would rotate and, sure enough, there was a roofing nail stuck perfectly into my tire. My first stop on this mini-vacation was my local tire shop.

They repaired my tire and I was on my way, about an hour and a half later than I planned. In one way, that worked out for the better. The morning rush hour in LA was over and I just had to contend with normal midday stop-and-go traffic.

I arrived in Kings Canyon National Park just before sunset, and in time to catch the sun’s last rays lighting up the peaks. By the time I got to the Cedar Grove Lodge, it was nearly dark.

Sunset in Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon is the lesser visited component of the combined Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park unit, and that’s what’s so appealing about it. It has similar geology to Yosemite Valley, but a fraction of the visitors. During my visit–with some spectacular autumn weather–parking lots for even the most popular sites were no more than 50% full, maximum. Most had fewer than 10 cars. Amazing.

One notable difference between my first  visit in May 2021 and now was the amount of water flowing in the Kings River. In May, it was a torrent of spring melt water from the high Sierra mountains; I’m October, it’s something more than a trickle.

Roaring River Falls

During my first visit to the park in May 2021, I didn’t stop at Roaring River Falls,  so that was my first stop on this trip.

The falls are a short 270 yard / 250 meter walk from the parking lot with a 90 feet / 27 meter elevation gain.

Roaring River Falls

Zumwalt Meadow Trail

The Zumwalt Meadow Trail used to be a loop trail until a flood took out the boardwalk that protected the meadow. Now, it’s an out-and-back trail that has very little elevation gain. There is one section that’s several hundred yards long that takes you through some large granite boulders that must have been from a rock fall from the cliffs above.

The trail is readily visible, but you’ll be walking on rocks 3 to 5 inches large, and stepping up and down some installed rock steps that are taller than normal steps. It’s easy to twist an ankle or trip if you’re not careful; I’m glad I had my trekking poles for added stability.

This was the first instance where I could tell my treatments impacted my abilities. My legs felt weaker than they did when I made the same hike eighteen months earlier. I just took it slow and steady, and I made it happen.

Road’s End

Grant Grove Village would be considered the headquarters or epicenter of Kings Canyon National Park with its main visitor center, the John Muir Lodge, a general store, post office, and gift shop. But it’s nowhere near the canyon. In fact, it’s about a 35-mile / 56 km drive into the heart of the canyon from Grant Grove Village. Because it’s a twisting mountain road, it takes a full hour to make the trip each way, and that’s probably why many visitors don’t make it into the canyon.

At the end of the road (CA Highway 180, to be specific), there are a number of shorter local trails along the river, plus it’s the jumping-off point for many hikers going on extended hikes into the park’s wilderness areas.

Grants Grove

Not all of the Giant Sequoia trees are in Sequoia National Park; some are in the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park. Most notably is the third largest tree in the world (by volume), the General Grant tree, with its 40-foot / 12 meter diameter base.

Hume Lake

Hume Lake is technically not in Kings Canyon National Park, and it’s a small community with a Christian camp and general store with a gas station.

Muir Rock

Naturalist John Muir is said to have given speeches urging the protection of Kings Canyon and other places while standing on a huge boulder adjacent to the crystal clear Kings River.

Cedar Grove Lodge

Cedar Grove Lodge is a quaint lodge with only 21 guest rooms nestled beside the Kings River deep in the heart Kings Canyon National Park. But if you’re seeking modern amenities, this isn’t the place for you. The lodge is at 5,000 feet / 1,524 meters elevation, and is open only from May through October.

The Room

The rooms are basic but comfortable. There is no television, in-room coffee maker, iron, or hair dryer. There is only one electrical outlet in the living space (I had to unplug the table lamp to plug in my phone charger), and one more in the bathroom. There’s a wall-mounted HVAC unit to heat or cool the room, and WiFi is spotty and exceptionally slow (good for email and some light browsing, and that’s about it).

The Lodge

When you first enter the lodge, you’ll find the reception desk just inside the little general store / gift shop, and it isn’t necessarily staffed all the time. In fact, the receptionist leaves at 9 p.m. , and there is no staff on-site after 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next morning.

Next to the reception desk is a small area for a “continental breakfast” for guests each morning (included with the room). It wasn’t much: apples and pears; a pre-packaged blueberry muffin; a miniature bagel; and coffee or milk. Still, it was something to start your day.

Reception desk (L) and continental breakfast area (R)

Outside, on the banks of the Kings River,  are a number of lawn chairs and a few picnic tables for guests’ use.

General Store

The general store has snacks, some limited selection of perishable foods, beverages including beer and wine, and souvenirs. You can also mail postcards from the store.  The store is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

General Store

Snack Bar

There’s a snack bar in the lodge that offers a modest menu for lunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) and dinner (4 p.m.-8 p.m.). They also offer free ice if you need it.

Summary

The staff were friendly and helpful and, for me, the biggest selling point is the location right in the heart of Kings Canyon. I’ll definitely return.

When I checked out of the Lodge Thursday morning, I drove down the mountains toward Fresno and stopped at a random gas station just to park the car for a few minutes. I knew that the autumn colors were at or just past their peak in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains and I thought, “As long as I’m in the area, I may as well check them out.”

I hopped on my IHG hotels app on my phone and was able to book a room at the Holiday Inn Express in Bishop for points (free), and the shortest way to get there was do drive through the high country of Yosemite National Park over Tioga Pass and down U.S. Highway 395. I’ll write a second post for that part of the trip.

Autumn in the Eastern Sierra

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