While most of our 59 national parks stand very well on their own, a few can be viewed better when combined with another. One good example of this is the pairing of Sequoia National Park (SNP) and Kings Canyon National Park (KCNP) in central California’s Sierra Nevada Range. They have been jointly administered since 1943.
SNP was established in 1890 to protect several stands of giant sequoia (Sequoia gigantium) trees. The park originally included a portion of present-day KCNP. KCNP exists because of the singular beauty of the glacially carved canyon of the Kings River, a special favorite of legendary conservationist John Muir.
The shape of the road system through these two parks is similar to that of a horseshoe. The road enters from Three Rivers in the south as Route 198 and from the north as Route 180. Once within the parks, these roads are collectively called the Generals Highway commemorating some of the very biggest of the giant sequoias. What may not necessarily be apparent is that most of the KCNP portion of the road—including a good part of the section along the South Fork of the Kings River—actually passes through the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument rather than the national park itself.
When arriving from the southern entrance, your initial stop will be a right turn onto the winding and narrow loop road to Moro Rock, one of the very best places anywhere to photograph late light into sunset. Just climb the stairs and behold the Great Western Divide.
Also along this same little side road are the Parker Group of Giant Sequoias and the Soldiers Trail. In mid-to-late May, you can see a spectacular display of white dogwood blooms against the redwood trees. Unlike Moro Rock, the trees here are best photographed in the soft light of early morning.
Heading north on the Generals Highway, your next stop will be at Giant Forest. Here you will find the enormous General Sherman tree, purportedly the largest single living thing on Earth, and the Congress Trail. Strolling this gentle two-mile loop early in the morning and enjoying its serenity can be a truly memorable experience.
At the Lodgepole Visitor Center, you can purchase a ticket for the guided tour of Crystal Cave, accessed by a spur road back down the highway south of the Moro Rock road. It’s a bit of backtracking, but unavoidable.
Well north of the Lodgepole area—and past the side road to scenic Redwood Canyon—is Grant Grove. The grove’s star attraction is the General Grant tree, a slightly smaller cousin of the General Sherman. Expect this area to be relatively crowded.
Continuing deeper into KCNP, the road winds past some absolutely stunning mountain overlooks and waterfalls as it enters the distinctive U-shaped canyon. A stop here at Grizzly Falls can produce some nice images. Beyond tiny Cedar Grove Village are Roaring River Falls and Zumwalt Meadow.
Along the road are many lodges offering good accommodations, including the upscale Wuksachi Village in SNP; the Muir Lodge near Panoramic Point at Grant Grove Village; Kings Canyon Lodge; and the small but comfortable park lodge at Cedar Grove near the end of the road.
Beyond Zumwalt Meadow the only transport is four-legged. Horsepacking is a great way to experience Kings Canyon’s backcountry and can be enjoyed by almost everyone regardless of equestrian experience. This is a bit beyond the scope of this column, so please feel free to email me for further information.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry is a 2015 artist-in-residence in the Petrified Forest National Park. More of his work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email him at email@example.com.