About the Site
Kings Canyon National Park  


Park History

Valley of Kings River

The Great Canyon

Grant Grove

Trees and Plants

Kings River


Zumwalt Meadow

High Sierra




Kings Canyon National Park is located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, south of Yosemite and directly north of and adjoining Sequoia National Park. The park features a number of scenic wonders, including some of the largest trees in the world, one of the deepest canyons in the U.S., and some of the highest mountain peaks in the contiguous 48 states. Over 2,000,000 people per year visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia parks.

Kings Canyon National Park currently consists of two distinct portions. The larger area to the east encompasses the vast majority of the land in the park, including the Kings River and canyon and the High Sierra including several mountains in excess of 14,000 feet. There is a small western portion of the park in the Redwood Canyon/Grant Grove area which contains the original park's land all of the parks giant sequoia trees. Most of the land within the park is wilderness and accessible only by trail.

Park History

Prior to the arrival of the white man the park was first settled by the Monache Indians. These Indians subsisted on a diet which included lots of acorns and traded with other Indians in the Owens Valley east of the park via high mountain trails through the Sierras.

Although the Spanish named the Kings Rivers, they actually never entered the park area itself. White explorers first visited the area in the 1820's, and by 1851 a military detachment was describing this land as about the roughest country anywhere. In 1864 William Brewer and Charles Hoffman of the California State Geological Survey reconnoitered the area providing much more information about the mountains, valleys, and rivers.

The famous naturalist John Muir first visited the area in 1873 and 1875 and quickly came to love it, but he became very concerned for its condition. Sharing his concerns, some began to consider the idea of preserving the natural wonders in the area. Considerable credit for the efforts which culminated in the establishment of the original park go to George W. Stewart, a Visalia newspaperman and conservationist, and Daniel K. Zumwalt of the Souther Pacific Railroad. The area surrounding the Grant Grove of giant sequoias was withdrawn from sale for logging in 1880. This same area around the sequoias was created as the fourth national park on the same day as Yosemite (October 1, 1890), in the same legislation and one week later than the second park. It was called General Grant National Park.

For potential visitors, ParkVision recommends "Story Behind the Scenery" guides and "Trails Ilustrated" maps.

Threats to the resources in the park area persisted into the twentieth century. In the 1920's a plan was created to create a reservoir in the Cedar Grove areaa. However, these were resisted and in 1940, Kings Canyon National Park was created, encompassing the original General Grant Park and a great deal of additional land north of Sequoia National Park. In 1943, as a wartime economy measure, the park began to be administered by the same superintendant as Sequoia, an arrangement which persists to this day. The park reached its present size in 1965 when the Cedar Grove area and the Tehipite Valley were included within its borders.

Valley of the Kings River

One of the most noteworthy features of the park is the canyon and valley of the Kings River. Although the canyon is very narrow just outside the borders of the park (see "Big Canyon" below), within the park it has been carved into a broader U-shape by glaciers. The floor of the valley is covered by forests, meadows, and is bisected by the Kings River itself.

This area is known as Cedar Grove, and it features some of the flattest areas within the park. It is bounded by canyon walls which are extremely steep and very beautiful, as can be seen in the picture below.

Because of its flatness, access to the river, forested areas, and vegetation, and food sources this area was inhabited by Indians before the arrival of the white man

The appearance of the valley is reminiscent of the Yosemite Valley to the north; John Muir himself called it "a rival to Yosemite." However, the sides of the cliffs are not as smooth and have a flaky appearance, as can be clearly seen in the picture below.

One of the landmarks along the side of the valley is the Grand Sentinel south of the Kings River and Zumwalt meadow. The granite peak looms above the river and the valley, as can be seen in the picture below.

There are some more pictures of the Cedar Grove area contained on another page.

The Great Canyon

The deepest portion of the canyon is not currently within the boundaries of the park but just outside it to the west. In that area both the middle and south forks of the Kings River carve steep, deep canyons through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. A portion of the canyon carved by the middle fork is shown below.

The canyons of the Kings River are actually the deepest canyons in North America, deeper even than Grand Canyon, although they lack some of the spectacular topography of that area. From the bottom of the canyon to the top is fully 8000 feet in places. One of the deepest portions of the canyon is at the confluence of the middle and south forks of Kings River, shown in the picture below.

The depth of the canyon decreases as the river flows west through dray foothills on its way to central California.

Grant Grove

Another of the park's famous attractions are the groves of giant Sequoia trees. Pictured below are trees in the Grant Grove area in the original portion of General Grant National Park.

Giant sequoia trees can be seen only in Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks, although their taller but thinner relatives the redwoods can be seen in Redwood National Park. The Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon contains some of the most massive trees on the planet.

Photographs do not do justice the mass and size of these enormous trees.

The size of the trees and the color of their trunks make for spectacular winter scenes in the sequoia forest.

Sequoias often cluster closely together, as in the picture below, creating a veritable wall of wood.

The largest sequoia in the Grant Grove is the General Grant tree, pictured below. This giant, which is the third largest tree in the world, is 267 feet tall and 107.6 feet in circumference at its base. Actually, at breast height its diameter is greater than any known tree in the world. The tree, believed to be about 3500 years old, was designated the "nation's Christmas Tree" in 1926, and a service is held at the tree on Christmas morning every year.

Sequoia trees are virtually impervious to disease, insect attacts, and even forest fire, to which their thick bark provides protection. In fact, they usually die only when they fall during a storm, slide, or other catastrophic event. When they do fall, these trees are so large that a grown person can walk upright through the hollow insides of a fallen tree, as can be seen below.

This particular fallen giant was hollowed by fire. In 1890 the U.S. Cavalry stabled 32 horses in it! This picture was taken from inside the tree, looking out at the branches and needles of living members of the grove.

There are additional pictures of giant sequoias in Kings Canyon National park on another page.

Other Trees and Plants

Of course, the sequoia is not the only variety of tree in the park. In fact, large portions of the park area are heavily forested. In the picture below a number of cottonwoods and incense cedar trees can be seen with the north wall of the valley in the background.

Another of the tall trees of the valley can be seen below on the left in a rocky area near Zumwalt Meadow.

The valley also features a large variety of wildflowers of many types. Some of these flowers can be seen below.


Another beautiful wildflower is pictured below.

More pictures of trees and other plants in the park are contained on another page.

The Kings River

The architect of the magnificent valley is the Kings River which flows down from the high mountains through the valley and the great canyon. This river drops 13,291 feet along its course, the greatest vertical drop for any undammed river in the United States. A section of this fast flowing stream near Cedar Grove is pictured below.

Additional views of the heavily forested banks, graveled bottom, and flowing water is shown below.

While the river seems relatively tame when these pictures were taken, in early autumn, it is a thunderous torrent in spring and early summer when the ice and snow in the mountains melts.

A famous landmark on the river in the eastern portion of the valley is Muir Rock, in the leftmost section of the picture. It has been a favorite gathering place for meetings or a just a place to sit and enjoy magnificent scenery and peacefulness of the valley.

Below are some additional pictures of the Kings Rivers as it moves swiftly through the valley.

The rocky river bed is clearly visible in the picture below.

There are more photographs of the beautiful Kings River on another page.


A particularly lovely spot in the valley is Roaring River Falls, which descends from the south wall of the canyon, pictured below.

Just below the falls the Roaring River flows into the south fork of the Kings River. A section of the Roaring River, which is really more of a stream or creek, is show below just beyond the falls itself.

Zumwalt Meadow

One of the lovelist areas in the valley, or throughout the park or in any national park, is Zumwalt Meadow. This extremely flat section of the valley on the shore of the Kings River, created by the titanic forces of glaciation, features a beautiful meadow with trees, wildflowers, and dramatic mountains along its edge. Some of the wildflowers can be seen below.

One of the landmarks just north of the valley is North Dome, at 8,717 feet, shown in the photograph below.

The meadow also contains a very pleasant 1.5 mile trail, the Zumwalt Meadow Nature Trail, which is show in the next picture as it crosses the edge of the valley.

Below is another section of the trail though a rocky section where boulders from the mountinas have tumbled into the valley.

Zumwalt Meadow is named after Southern Pacific Railroad executive D.K. Zumwalt, who got land some of the land in this area set aside as a forest preserve in the early 1900's. Yet another view of the meadow is shown below. This view is from the southeastern edge of the meadow, looking northwest toward the north wall of the canyon. The valley contains ponderosa pine, sugar pine, and incense cedar, among other types of trees.

Several additional pictures of the Zumwalt Meadow area are contained on another page.

The High Sierra

Much of the eastern portion of the park is dominated by the southern portion of the Sierra Nevada range of mountains. These include some of the highest and most breathtaking peaks in North America. One of the best places to view these mountains is Panoramic Point in the Grant Grove section of the park at an altitude of 7520 feet. The shot below is taken from that viewpoint.

One of the nicest times to view the mountains is at the end of the day when the rays of the setting sun illuminate just the upper portions of the peaks, as can be seen in the two pictures below. The picture below shows the Monarch Divide area from Highway 180 east of the park.

The following picture shows the Sierras facing east from the Hotel Creek trail above the Cedar Grove area.

Below is another picture from Panoramic Point, showing some peaks covered by snow and ice even in early fall.

Park Buildings

In addition to the natural wonders the park also features a number of interesting buildings, including some remnants of earlier times. One example is Knapp's Cabin on the shores of King's River. A picture of the cabin is shown below.

There is another shot of the cabin in the picture below.

The views from the cabin are also quite spectacular. The picture below shows a view of the valley toward the west from the cabin itself.

Another view of the valley is seen here.

The Kings River can be seen in a view facing east.

The park also contains lodging facilities in both the Cedar Grove and Grant Grove sections of the park. Below is a picture of the Cedar Grove Lodge. This pleasant hotel contains 18 rooms, a restaurant, and a general store. It's located on the shore of the Kings River and provides spectacular views of the river and the surrounding mountains and canyon walls.

The other major cluster of buildings in the park is in the Grant Grove section of the park. Below is the lodge, visitor center, and store near Grant Grove.

Below is Gamlin Cabin, located in Grant Grove itself. This cabin was built in 1872 by homesteader Israel Gamlin. It was later used as the first ranger station in the park.

Park Roads

Most of the land within Kings Canyon National Park is wilderness. The only paved road in the western sectin of the park is Highway 180 which runs along the shore of the Kings River. It reaches a dead end 8.5 miles east of the park's west entrance at "Roads End", a popular jumping off point for expeditions into the Kings Canyon back country.

An extremely interesting road is the "Motor Nature Trail" which runs along the north shore of the river. This unpaved road provides easy access to some of the loveliest portions of the valley. In the first picture below a section of this road can be seen in a view facing west.

In some places the road runs through wooded areas on the banks of the Kings River, as can be seen in the photo below.

The road leads through all sorts of different kinds of vegetation, including trees and plants.

The motor nature trail is never far from the north wall of the canyon, viewed in the photograph below.


Information about Kings Canyon National Park has been drawn from personal experience, data available in the park itself, and a number of other sources, including:

  • National Geographic's Guide to the National Parks of the United States. National Geographic Society, 1992.

  • Sequoia and King's Canyon: A Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California. Washington, D.C.: Division of Publications, National Park Service, 1992.

  • The Sierra Club Guide to the National Paks of California, Hawaii, and American Samoa. New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Change, 1996.

  • Tweed, William C. Sequoia and Kings Canyon: The Story Behind the Scenery. Las Vegas, NV: KC Publications, 1980.

  • Our Natiohal Parks: America's Spectacular Wilderness Heritage. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1989.

  • Palmer, John J. Sequoia and Kings Canyon: The Continuing Story. Las Vegas, NV: KC Publications, 1990.

  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Magazine. San Francisco, CA: America Park Network, 1993.

  • Sorenson, Steve. Day Hiking in Kings Canyon. Three Rivers, CA: Manzanita Press, 1992.


  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

  • Commercial use of the images contained in this document without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

  • Comments and other remarks can be sent via e-mail to parkvision@shannontech.com