I arrived at Kings Canyon National Park early on Thursday morning, and the first thing I did was check out the General Grant Tree. This tree is the second largest tree on the planet. It’s big. After staring at the tree for a while, I continued on Highway 180 through Giant Sequoia National Monument and back into the park. The road ends at the appropriately named Roads End Permit Station. Before reaching the end, I stopped at some viewpoints and at Roaring River Falls. Several trails begin at the permit station. (Permits are not required for day hikes.) I took the trail that follows the South Fork of the Kings River past Mist Falls and Paradise Valley for a 13-mile round trip.
The trail had rugged and beautiful canyon and mountain views along a raging river. It was a great hike. Mist Falls was pretty, but the biggest excitement on the trail was just ahead. On the trail just past the waterfall, I saw my first rattlesnake in the wild. I excitedly grabbed my camera, but I did not really want to wait for him to pose for me. I snapped one blurry shot and then moved on quickly. As if this weren’t amazing enough, I saw something even more amazing further up the trail. I am a very good hiker, but I do my share of huffing and puffing in the mountains. I saw a group of high school girls on the trail who were not huffing and puffing, but rather running up the trail. Not only were they running, but they were singing while they were running. Did I mention that we were at 5,000 feet and going uphill? It is a cruel fact of life that there is always someone better than you. I felt better when I came across two huffing and puffing college boys with whom I was able to share my amazement.
I continued up the trail for a while until it reached Paradise Valley. The trail continues for many more miles, connecting with the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail, but this was my destination. At this point the river was flat and smooth and there was plenty of flat space between it and the canyon walls. After enjoying the shade for a while, I started the return hike. My next stop was the Cedar Grove Lodge to check in and get dinner at the snack bar. After dinner, I walked 1.5 miles along the river and Zumwalt Meadow. The flat green meadow was a nice change from the rough gray canyon.
When I was done with this hike, I headed back up the road towards Grant Grove where I would be staying for the night. On the way, I stopped for a 3.5-mile round trip hike to the top of Little Baldy, one of the peaks along the road. There was an excellent mountain view from the top. Though I enjoyed my day at Sequoia, the park did not really thrill me. I might have a different view if I were a backpacker. After all, Sequoia NP is the home of Mount Whitney. Interestingly, you can't see Mount Whitney from the park without substantial hiking but you can see it from Lone Pine, near Manzanar National Historic Site, on the opposite side of the Sierras. Still, a visit is definitely worthwhile to see the General Sherman Tree, and it is a very short drive from Kings Canyon.
My last day was Saturday, and though I did not realize it at the time, I had saved the best for last. The Redwood Mountain Loop was a great walk in the woods, with the bonus of giant sequoia trees and a descent into a canyon with accompanying views. The trail starts high with the canyon and mountain views and then descends into the woods. There are several interesting hollow trees, including a fallen one through which the trail goes lengthwise. My favorite part of the hike was the lush forest where the trail crosses Redwood Creek. One thing that I love is a nice walk in the woods, and this trail does not disappoint. Though this was my favorite hike of the trip, there were two others that were very close: the Mist Falls/Paradise Valley hike in Kings Canyon National Park and the Lyell Canyon hike in Yosemite National Park. After completing the hike, I stopped at the Redwood Mountain Overlook and then returned to the Grant Grove Lodge to prepare for my return trip to San Francisco. I had only six parks left to complete visiting every National Park in the lower 48 states.
My visit: August 2006