Camping in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

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My secret to taking on adventures that scare me is that I make plans and put down money, so that when the day comes, I have no option but to go. If I take ten small steps in advance, then doing what scares me feels like only the next step, rather than a leap into the unknown. But camping in Kings Canyon National Park, which I’d been planning to do since I was first there last October, was just a matter of putting my tent in my car and showing up, and the night before I was supposed to leave, I considered not going.

When I woke up the next morning, I was excited to return to the Sierra Nevada, so I headed north early to make sure I could find a place to camp. My anxiety about camping without reservations (they don’t take them in Kings Canyon) was unfounded; I found a nice spot in Sentinel Campground and set up my tent and chair, which is about all the gear I have. There is only a small lodge, general store, and snack bar in Kings Canyon, and unless you’re a guest at the lodge, there is no internet or cell service.

When I visited Kings Canyon last October, it was all but abandoned for the season, but even in the middle of June, it’s fairly quiet. I ate dinner at the snack bar and spent the evening reading--by headlamp after it got dark and until the bugs started attacking.

The next morning, I continued to Roads End, which is the point at which the only way further into the canyon is on foot. I decided to hike the Mist Falls trail again, since I’d enjoyed it last time. There were more people on the trail this time, and not far from Mist Falls, a couple warned me that there was a bear further down the trail. I continued cautiously until I saw a small black bear pulling at the bark on a dead tree. If you really want to see a bear in the wild, I’d recommend this trail. I have seen one both times I’ve hiked it (and this time I got a picture). 

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It was still early when I finished, so I grabbed lunch, and headed down the road to Boyden Cavern, which is in the part of Giant Sequoia National Monument that you pass while driving between the two sides of Kings Canyon National Park. It’s a steep, but short hike to the entrance of the cavern, but very cool inside, which was a relief, since it was in the 90s outside. The cavern is lighted, so you can see all of the formations, but once inside, our guide turned the lights off briefly to give us a sense of what it was like when the original explorer of the cavern dropped his kerosene lamp and had to find his way out.

I roughed it again by eating at the snack bar (they had great wraps!), showered in the public showers (they cost a couple dollars, but were warm!), and then headed back to camp where a migraine sent me to bed early (it’s not all wonderful). I woke up in the early morning cold, but relieved to be feeling better.

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I wanted to do another good hike, but found my guidebook lacking in options, so I talked to a ranger and then decided on the Lewis Creek Trail. It was overgrown and I battled gnats and the sun to reach Cedar Overlook, which I had to myself. The forested area at the top of the trail was beautiful and full of stunning colors. Back on the ground, I stopped at Roaring River Falls, which was so beautiful, it didn’t look real. I continued to Zumwalt Meadow before heading back to the lodge where I put my feet in Kings River. Then I headed back to Roaring River Falls, because I had to see it again.

After a few days camping in Kings Canyon, I packed everything back into my car, and headed to the Grant Grove area, where I had my first internet access in days, and then up to Sequoia National Park, where I set up camp at Lodgepole. I then headed back down the road to hike Little Baldy Trail. I hiked Big Baldy Trail last year, so I thought this might be underwhelming in comparison, but the trail to Little Baldy was beautiful. I felt like I was going to turn around and see elves on their way to the Undying Lands.

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The next morning, I packed up camp again, and headed to Giant Forest. I had seen General Sherman on my first visit to Sequoia National Park last March, but I hadn’t done the full trail, which starts at the top of the grove of Sequoias and takes you down to General Sherman, the biggest tree (by volume) in the world. It was beautiful to be walking under the canopy of these giant trees with the light coming through.

Finally I headed back to Moro Rock, one of my favorite places in all the National Parks I’ve visited. It’s 400 stairs to the top and an easier hike each time. I still can’t believe the National Park Service hacked stairs into this rock and put a railing at the top, but it is a must see. Then I headed down Generals Highway toward home.

After this trip, I can say that I’ve mastered the level of camping where someone else makes most of your meals. Despite my initial hesitation at camping alone, which I had only done once before, I had the best time and never felt unsafe.