I’m proud to have worked with the Sequoia Natural History Association for the past five years. My images helped the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks communicate their value to an enthusiastic public and generated revenue to support visitor outreach and interpretive services. [The Sequoia Natural History Association and Sequoia Parks Foundation merged in 2017 to become the Sequoia Parks Conservancy]
We were asleep in a tent cabin nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. In the still of the night, a visitor joined us.
We awoke that morning and were greeted by a huge moth on the wall â€“ almost 4 and a half inches across!
What was it? The moth was beautifully colored in burnt red and adorned with white and black that sometimes gently blended into one another.
It quietly sat on the wall, not moving. We inspected it closer and accidentally disturbed it causing it to clumsily flutter about the small tent cabin room. Interestingly, it found a resting space on a pinecone that was sitting on a small table. We carefully snapped a photo.
This time we gave the large moth more space so we would not disturb it. A quick rummage in a backpack produced a field guide after a few page turns we found the section on Butterflies and Moths. Our visitor was:
Ceanothus Silk Moth (Hyalophora euryalus)
Giant Silkworm Moth Family
We quietly dressed and departed for coffee and breakfast. The cool air embraced us as we opened the door and gave us a quick shiver. A light appeared as shafts breaking through the wall of tall trees that surrounded us. I understood why the moth found shelter in the moderate warmth of the tent cabin.
When we returned to the cabin the giant moth had departed. We later read more, we had seen an adult Ceanothus Silk Moth. These handsome moths just live for a short time; their primary purpose is to find a mate and lay their eggs to continue their species, after which they die. It seemed harsh, but it was part of a natural cycle. We wished the giant moth good fortune in having a family.
The short life of this moth provided reflection for everyone the rest of the day as we explored the woods.
Location: Sierra Nevada Mountains of California
Source: National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.
Most 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 â€˜from the groundâ€™ 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 parkâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€˜last gasâ€™ is supposedly at Clinganâ€™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 campsiteâ€™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 â€“ 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 parkâ€™s newspaper and download a map at this address:
A visit to Zumwalt Meadow is a great hike for families in Kings Canyon National Park. Everyone will enjoy an easy walk next to a river, through open forest and along the perimeter of a beautiful mountain meadow.
The trail leads downstream a short distance to a rugged looking suspension bridge. It is a great place to snap some pictures. On the other side of the bridge, several kids were splashing in a shallow pool. Dad was nearby about knee deep in the water keeping an eye on them. An older man about fifty feet away (possibly their Grandfather) was fishing.
The trail continued through an open forest for several minutes to an area strewn with massive boulders, this is the result of an avalanche. We walked along the trail between and over the debris left by the avalanche. The trail rose about 50 feet over the meadow and offered some fantastic views of the valley below. After about 15 minutes the trail leveled out and we found ourselves once again surrounded by trees. A large flat boulder sat next to the meadow and provided us with an excellent table for enjoying our lunch.
We walked down the trail and came to a junction. A sign pointed to the Roads End area and to Muir Rock, but we continued with our Zumwalt Meadow walk. The trail meandered through the upper section of the meadow. The shade from nearby trees kept us cool in the afternoon sun.
The river was just ahead. The cold blue and turquoise waters rolled past, in some areas the trail had been eaten away by the river and we had to step to one side to avoid falling in. Around us, the walls of Kings Canyon jutted far into the sky. Some of the peaks loomed almost a mile overhead! In some areas, the afternoon sun was blocked by their presence. The views were just amazing!
A wooden walkway now replaced the trail; it provided a transition between the meadow and the water without getting our feet wet. The views from the walkway were some of the most spectacular of the entire visit. Eventually, the walkway ended and we found ourselves in the open forest and on the trail near where we started. We had completed a loop. The suspension bridge was just a short distance away.
The trail is about 1.5 miles and can take up to an hour to complete, though our trip around the meadow took about 3 hours because of our numerous stops to enjoy this place and just to play. Bears have been known to enjoy this meadow just as much as humans – keep the camera handy.
Panoramic Point is an aptly named location in Kings Canyon National Park. It is a short side trip by car from Grant Grove Village. The drive is about 15 to 20 minutes up a winding road that is narrow in some areas. At the end of the drive is a small parking lot surrounded by trees. Several picnic tables and a pit toilet are nearby. A paved walking trail guides visitors roughly 300 yards (275 meters) up a moderate incline to the Panoramic Point. What a great view! In the distance we saw peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains 30 miles away, several even further. Before us â€“ seen with a full 180 degrees – was the Kings Canyon valley. The valley appeared as though a giant furrow had been tilled out of the earth. To our easterly direction was a small structure on top of a granite dome. This was the iconic Buck Rock fire lookout about 5 miles away. We enjoyed this vista undisturbed for about 10 minutes before another family arrived. Like us, they were quiet, amazed by the view of this aptly named Panoramic Point. If you make it to the Grant Grove Village a side trip to Panoramic Point is worth the view.
Grandma recently became a Junior Ranger. Yes, Grandma at 67 years of age became an official Junior Ranger at Kings Canyon National Park.
During a Ranger-led campfire program, Grandma and her 9-year-old grand-daughter proudly walked up to receive their Junior Ranger badges.
Some adults attending the campfire program thought that an older person becoming a Junior Ranger was unusual. One woman thought that an adult receiving a Junior Ranger badge â€œwas just wrong.â€ Her gruff statement gnawed at me for several days. It demonstrated a common perception that Junior Ranger activities are just for kids and that an adult becoming a Junior Ranger is somehow â€˜strangeâ€™.
So why did Grandma become a Junior Ranger? Reason one: she wanted to learn more about the park. Reason two: it was a great way to help the youngest family member learn about the outdoors and share in cross-generation experiences. What can be better than that?
Grandma did have to complete an â€˜olderâ€™ section of the Junior Ranger activities to earn her badge while her younger counterpart completed another. Both worked together, learned something new, and had fun. In fact, the entire family was involved with the activities, visiting places, and learning about the park.
The park service has done a fantastic job of expanding the definition of Junior Rangers to â€˜kids of all agesâ€™ so it can more easily include parents and grand-parents â€“ a move that is welcome and will help many other families to become involved.
Hopefully, in the coming seasons, more parents and grandparents will be joining their children and grand-children at other campfire programs to receive their own Junior Ranger badges.
To my understanding, the oldest Junior Ranger is age 82.
Muir Rock is a large stone monolith bordering the South Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park. It is a short walk from the Roads End trailhead and is a popular destination for families.
Some of the first people I saw included a family with two children. The kids enthusiastically walked around the edge of the rock before plunking down at the opposite end of the great stone. They sat side by side and hung their feet off the edge. Their pant legs were rolled up and they wore shirts that were already splotched with dirt. Their appearance briefly reminded of the literary characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. The kids skipped some rocks then something in the emerald colored water captured their attention. One kid shouted, â€œI see one!â€ He pointed to a moving shape beneath the ripples. The second kidâ€™s head bobbed to the side to get a good view of the fish. The second one slyly said, â€œI wish we could eat it.â€ Then an invisible light bulb seemed to spark over their heads. They talked quietly for a few minutes about fishing equipment then bounded down the riverbank apparently toward their Dad.
Around lunchtime, a couple came with a large bag. They removed a picnic cloth and spread it over a section of the flat rock. Then removed some plump sandwiches. The rock was warming up from the sunlight and made for a comfortable and magnificent setting for any lunch.
More families had arrived at the rock and some of the older kids were starting to swim in the river. They yelped loudly as they jumped into the cold mountain water â€“ not realizing just how cold it was until they plunged into it.
Later in the afternoon, a good number of people had made their way to this large rock. I found the most interesting person at this time was an elderly woman sitting in the shade near the rock. She was knitting a small jacket that was sized for a baby. She worked quietly for a long time on her hand-made gift. Even after I returned from a short hike she was still diligently working on her gift. She must have eventually finished but I did not see her leave.
As the afternoon continued the rock became very crowded with people. Even though it was noisy and the surrounding area was also becoming too crowded for my own comfort it was good to see people enjoy the outdoors and appreciating these great natural gifts.
Returning to the area in the evening I found the rock was void of people. Morning also provides a similar opportunity to enjoy the majesty of this place.
The nearby interpretive display mentioned that conservationist John Muir often used this rock to address people who had traveled to the area to urge the inclusion of this watershed in a national park. The rock is named in his honor.
Buck Rock a great day trip for those visiting the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park and the Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park.
A visit to the Buck Rock fire lookout in Sequoia National Forest is a combination of adventure and play. Just getting there from the main road is exciting: you drive up a dirt road through forest lands, then climb a rugged staircase up to the side of a granite wall to a fire lookout on top of a massive rock dome.
Most people who see Buck Rock will view it from Kings Canyon Overlook along the Generalâ€™s Highway. The Generalâ€™s Highway is the primary road between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. From this often crowded car turnout folks who look east will see a small, and remote looking fire lookout about 2 miles in the distance.
We wanted to go exploring and take a closer look.
Our trip started from the Generalâ€™s Highway at the Big Meadows Road turnoff. We drove east on this paved road for about 3 miles through beautiful forest service lands to a Horse Camp. Here we turned north onto a dirt road and continued for roughly another 2 miles. The dirt road became a little rocky in some areas and was a little intimidating. We were glad to have a car with some higher clearance. [Note: later that day we did notice a mini-van and a small sedan that had made the drive.]
The parking area was essentially a pull-over along the side of the dirt road. A sign directed us to walk the last quarter-mile. As we rounded a bend in the trail and saw the impressive looking Buck Rock (shown); a chain of stairs rose from the base of great stone and directed people to the fire lookout at the top.
At the bottom of the stairs were several friendly volunteers from the Buck Rock Foundation, the nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the tradition of fire lookouts and other historic facilities. The volunteers gladly answered questions and told us more about the history of the fire lookout.
We started our ascent on some very rugged and sturdy looking stairs with equally solid side-rails. The wind was a little strong so we tightened down our hats and continued on. The stairs included 172 steps â€“ each with a breathtaking view. Finally, we reached the top of Buck Rock (shown) and entered the 14 x 14 foot, well-maintained fire lookout staffed by Ranger Kathryn. She is on duty 5 days a week during the fire season. Volunteers and other staff help maintain the station during her days off. This tiny station, located at 8,500 feet in elevation, commands some fantastic views!
In the corner of this tiny space was a small, but comfortable looking bed. In another corner was a tiny refrigerator and cooking stove, next to it was a miniature wood stove. All of the food, water, and firewood must be carried up the same 172 steps. One wall included a desk and work area. In the middle of the lookout was an Osborne Fire Finder device, an instrument that allows Rangers to sight a fire and determine the directional bearing (shown). The Ranger demonstrated how it worked by using two sighting apertures on the side of a large circular map. A fire was actually burning in the distance and from this high vantage point, we could easily sight it. The fire was burning 8 miles away! The sides of the lookout had large and roomy windows that made this small space feel spacious. I was surprised at how organized, comfortable and non-claustrophobic this tiny place was.
Outside, the building had a small walkway around the perimeter of the structure. Looking over the edge you felt as though you were suspended over open air. On the roof, hanging from one corner was a Hummingbird Feeder. During our visit, several times a Hummingbird (Annaâ€™s or Rufus) zipped up and drank from the feeder.
We thanked everybody for a great visit and slowly walked back down the 172 stairs enjoying amazing views with each step.
For her adventurous spirit and climbing Buck Rock our youngest family member (age 9) earned an â€œI Climbed the 172 Steps to the Top of Buck Rock Fire Lookoutâ€ certificate. All kids who make the ascent can earn this certificate.
A visit to Mist Falls in Kings Canyon National Park is one of the great sights of the park.
The hike is moderately strenuous with about 800 feet of elevation gain. The round-trip is roughly 9.2 miles and can take up to 5 hours to complete, though we took 6 hours with all of our sightseeing.
Our day began at 8 in the morning. We started at the aptly named, â€˜Roads End.â€™ This circular loop on Highway 180 is literally the â€˜end of the roadâ€™ as this main Highway in the Kings Canyon stops and doubles back. From this point, the rugged wilderness is enjoyed on foot.
Immense glaciers once ruled this place, everything has been scoured and etched in some way by their great presence. Perhaps the most dramatic result is the great canyon walls that rise from the valley floor several thousand feet.
The sand and gravel trail continued for roughly 2 miles through forests, past great boulders and along the beautiful South Fork of the Kings River. Near the Bubbs Creek Trail junction, we saw a Black Bear. It was a magnificent sight! We quietly continued on our journey and allowed the bear to enjoy his day.
At the Bubbs Creek junction, the trail begins an incline. Here the river can conceal emerald pools hidden like gems along the trail. Quickly these pools turn to gentle rapids then become a series of white-water cascades that continue all the way to the falls two miles up the trail.
We rounded a corner and met a couple who had just returned from Mist Falls. We had seen several backpackers heading into the backcountry but these folks were the first-day hikers we had met. This active couple looked to be in their early 70â€™s. They must have started their hike at about 6 in the morning. We asked about the distance to the falls, both smiled but one answered, â€œIt just keeps getting better from here.â€
Soon afterward we stopped on an expanse of granite. This great monolith provided a good place to rest, drink some water and have a snack. From this place, we could turn around to fully see the valley below us. The view was jaw-dropping. Describing this scene is not possible, only that the word â€˜beautifulâ€™ is a weak word to define this spectacular sight. Dominating the view, 3 miles distant, was the uniquely shaped 9,146-foot mountain called, â€˜The Sphinx.â€™
Finally, we reached Mist Falls. We could hear a roar as white-water exploded over the falls and tumbled beneath. The wind moving over the falls carried a fine mist downstream and into the surrounding forests. It was actually chilly. After drinking in this view we continued up the trail to another vantage point. Here the riverâ€™s channel created a flume. The flume slammed into a submerged boulder and catapulted a frothy and boiling mass of water 20 feet into the air â€“ then disappeared over the edge of the falls. Further up the trail, we found a great view overlooking the falls. It was a sight. We enjoyed some lunch and this delicious experience.
Little did we know that in the perceived safety of a parking lot at Kings Canyon National Park that an accident was about to occur.
Possibly we were tired from the long drive that day, or maybe it was a change in altitude, but for some reason, Grandma went one way when the car was starting in another direction. Now, Grandma is tough – but not as tough as a two-thousand-pound car.
â€‹The result was Grandma tumbling on the pavement. Goodness help us, we hurt Grandma!
Within seconds of the accident, a bystander ran up and said she would call for help (kudos to this stranger). She bounded into the small market.
Grandma was talking and feisty â€“ which was a good sign.
A quick check revealed no visible broken bones and her head was ok. The tip of her shoe, but not her foot, was pinned by the wheel â€“ another two-eights of an inch and it could have been much worse. The shoe was removed from the tire. During the fall Grandma had turned to catch herself and badly tore back the nail of her big toe. It was bleeding.
A family member ran into the store for some ice. The manager of the small grocery store quickly brought out several bags of ice (kudos to the manager).
About two minutes had passed since the accident. As our family gave some very basic First Aid a Park Rangerâ€™s truck rounded the corner. The Ranger had been close by and just received a call about an accident. Shortly, a second Park Ranger arrived.
It was great to watch the two; they were calm, professional and in control of the situation. They quickly assessed the scene, did a great evaluation of the patient, calmly let the patient know about the situation and how they were helping. Their large bag of medical supplies seemed to hold just about everything and in no time Grandma had an examined, cleaned and bandaged big toe.
It was obvious from their professionalism and actions that were fully prepared to deal with some far tougher situations.
Their work impressed upon me that I need to brush up on my own First Aid skills.
For their professionalism and help – big kudos to the Park Rangers at Kings Canyon National Park!
After mentally collecting ourselves and counting our blessings we made sure to pay for the ice. As for Grandma, she was scuffed up a little but overall ok and ready to continue her trip.
Every member of the family can enjoy a quick visit to the Roaring River Falls in Kings Canyon National Park.
The falls are beautiful, picturesque and a short distance (.4 miles/.6 Kilometers) from the parking area adjacent to Highway 180, the major road in the canyon. The paved trail leads to an overlook making this a convenient destination for all ages.
Visitors can see about 80 feet of the falls as water tumbles through a gorge and unleashes a loud roar of water and spray into a turquoise pool below. Surprisingly, this visible section is only the lower third of the falls. The rest of the falls remains hidden â€“ except to the imagination. The trail ends at the overlook because of the steep and rugged topography.
The easy accessibility of visiting Roaring River Falls can make the trail crowded and parking hard to find on weekends and during afternoons. If possible, visit the falls in the morning or evening when your family might just be the only people witnessing the sights and sounds of this inspiring place.
Visitors to the Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park will notice this area is rich in Sugar Pines. You can identify a Sugar Pine by the extremely large pinecones that cover the ground at the base of these trees. In our photo, a dollar bill is used to show the scale of some typical cones located in the Grant Grove area. These giants measure 16 inches (40 cm) in length and 5.5 inches (14 cm) in diameter. Remember, this is a National Park â€“ and a treasure for all visitors to enjoy – these beautiful cones need to stay in the park where you find them.