Some Practical Observations About Visiting Kings Canyon National Park

blog_20100925_img1Most guidebooks and some online resources have great information about visiting Kings Canyon, but these sources often overlook some basic questions that families ask. Here are some practical ‘from the ground’ observations:

Can I buy basic food, supplies, and ice at the park?
Yes. Small grocery stores are located at the Grant Grove Village (at the park’s entrance) and the Cedar Grove Village (in the heart of Kings Canyon). Both stores have basic camping supplies, toiletries, canned food and a small selection of fresh fruits and vegetables and bags of ice. The store at Cedar Grove has fishing lures and tackle. The prices on most items were fairly reasonable. Obviously come to the park prepared, but if you forget something the stores should be able to help.

Are the restrooms flush or pit toilets? Are they maintained?
The restrooms at the Grant Grove Village and the Cedar Grove Village have flush toilets. Many of the camping and primary sightseeing areas have flush facilities. Note, the visitor center in Grant Grove has a very small restroom and a line can form quickly. If you are not fond of lines, turn around and walk about a minute – past the post office and just past the small grocery store – to a lesser-known restroom with flushers. All of the facilities we found, including a few of the more remotely located pit toilets, were all well maintained.

Where Can I Buy Gas?
Gas is not available in the National Park to expect only for emergency situations. Driving to the park on Hwy 180 the ‘last gas’ is supposedly at Clingan’s Junction in a little town called Squaw Valley. However, the adjacent National Forest lands do have several locations to purchase gas. We found gas at the Stony Creek Village located on the Generals Highway which connects Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks; a second location at Hume Lake about a third of the way to Cedar Grove; and at the Kings Canyon Lodge about half-way to Cedar Grove. This lodge did have a six-gallon minimum purchase but the prices were reasonable considering the distance out. What is interesting are the pumps themselves, these pumps are apparently from the 1920s and are supposedly the oldest gravity feed pumps in the country. Try to keep a full tank before you enter the park, but if you need gas to try these above-mentioned locations. We always fill up our tank in Fresno and have always made the return trip back to Fresno before needing to fill up again.

How far of a drive is it from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove?
We like to stop and smell the flowers so it takes us a little longer. Expect a drive of about an hour and twenty minutes one-way.

Where can I find out if any campsites are available?
Kings Canyon does not accept camping reservations, it is a first-come-first-served system. At the Visitors Center in Grant Grove is a whiteboard with a count of the camping areas and daily availability. We found that campgrounds in the Grant Grove area were very popular and almost always full throughout the summer. The sites around Cedar Grove (in the Kings Canyon Valley) generally had lots of availability during the weekdays. We found that arriving in the Cedar Grove area on Sunday provided the best opportunity for finding a choice camping space. The weekends were busy and the campsites around us filled up quickly late on Friday.

Note the location of your campsite’s food locker.
One item to be aware of when selecting your campsite is the location of the food locker. A food locker that appears to be in a shade location at 3 pm may not be at 10 am or noon. These lockers are made of solidly constructed metal and painted brown. If they are in the sun too long they can become an oven-like food locker – with your ice chest inside! When setting up camp take note of the shade and whether your food will be shaded in the morning and afternoon.

Are black bears a problem?
The problem is more with people not storing their food properly. Visitors should use the sturdy food lockers that are provided to store ALL food and non-food items that have a scent.

Will the altitude affect me?
It might, everybody is different. Some folks get a headache, some even a little nauseous. My experience is that the quick change in elevation, by itself, is not a big issue. But when a change of altitude is combined with a long day of driving, not drinking enough water and being tired a quick change in altitude can make even the nicest folks a little cranky.

Where can I get a map and learn more about the park before I visit?
Visit the Kings Canyon National Park website. You can learn more about the park, read the park’s newspaper and download a map at this address:
http://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/brochures.htm

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