The King of Canyons

Back in November we featured Big Bend National Park in Texas, which we nominated as the most underrated National Park in the entire system. It’s big, it’s wild, it’s scenic, and compared to other parks, it’s seldom visited.

However, there are many other very underrated National Parks. In fact, we can easily make a case that while Big Bend is the single most underappreciated, there is at least one park that is both under-appreciated and perhaps even better.

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It’s about as Grand as the Grand Canyon

In our opinion, the adjoining pair of Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park and the best unsung National Parks. Though they are easily among the jewels of the NP System, it is astonishing how few people have heard about them.

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What’s to like about Kings Canyon/Sequoia? Well…

  • The largest and most remarkable collection of Sequoia Trees anywhere. In fact, seven of the largest trees on earth measured by volume of wood live in this park.
  • The General Sherman (See ‘Tree, world’s largest by volume of wood.’)
  • The Giant Forest (see above.)
  • Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 United States (And one of our Bucket List Hikes)
  • The John Muir Trail AND PCT run through the park
  • The celebrated Rae Lakes Loop, one of Brian’s personally completed Bucket List Hikes
  • Astonishing Kings Canyon itself
  • The equally astonishing King River, which must be seen during snow melt to be believed
  • Mist Falls, Paradise Valley, Sixty Lakes Basin…This is a long list.

Most reputable authorities consider Kings Canyon to be very close, and in some ways superior to, MUCH more celebrated Yosemeti National Park to the North.

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Giant Sequoias are among the attractions at both King’s Canyon and Sequoia NPs. 

In fact, we just hit upon probably the main reason that this wonderful park is overlooked. It is overshadowed by Yosemeti, which is almost a brand name for the High Sierra. There’s no room left in the narrative for KC/SNP.

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There is abundant hiking in King’s Canyon.

Another reason might be that some of its signature attractions are not as easily accessible from the road. Yosemeti Valley, Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan are all clearly reachable or at least visible from the blacktop. To even get a glimpse of Mt. Whitney, you practically have to go to Nevada. You can’t see the mountain at all from the Western side of the park where almost all the developed areas are.

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The views from Glen Pass on the John Muir Trail are unparalleled. 

Still, it’s remarkable that this park gets such comparatively low visitation. Kings Canyon itself is absolutely stunning and is entirely accessible from the road. Also, the great hikes out of Roads End such as Paradise Valley/Mist Falls are within comparatively easy reach of a parking lot.

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In 2017, Kings Canyon ranked an astonishing 105th in visitation among the National Park Units, — and 30th among the true national parks — below popular Yosemeti, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but also below less famous Teddy Roosevelt, Crater Lake, Death Valley and Saguaro. It welcomed less than seven thousand visitors that year. That same year, Yosemeti welcomed 4.3 million…approximately seven times as many. Yosemeti is regarded to be the better park, but it sure ain’t seven times as good.

See the numbers here.

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Twice as many people visited the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in 2017 than Visited Kings Canyon…from personal attestation I can tell you that, not only is Kings Canyon MANY times larger than Chickasaw, but it is with all due respect one hundred times as good.

Why don’t more people go here? In truth we don’t know or really care. It’s our hope that is pretty much stays this way. But for the intrepid outdoor enthusiast, King’s Canyon’s relative seclusion is a boon.

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We visited The Canyon Twice. On the second visit, Brian completed the entire epic 40 + mile Rae Lakes Loop, one of the signature hikes in the High Sierra.

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As stated previously, we have unfinished business here as Mt. Whitney still occupies a spot of our Bucket List. So we will be headed back soon!

We’ll be showing some of our photos and adventures from our times in Kings Canyon, one of our all-time favorite places to hike, over the next few days. We hope you enjoy it!

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3 thoughts on “The King of Canyons

  1. One reason these two parks may lag with respect to total visitor numbers is that much of their considerable & very scenic area is not readily accessible from a road. There are only a few roads in from the west and only trails in from the east – and those cross wilderness areas with quotas. So getting into the back-country to see the scenery takes work and some luck if permits are required. But the effort is worth it to see the truly amazing vistas these parks have to offer. Rae Lakes has become one of the classic loops but let me put in a word for the North Lake – South Lake Loop, the Elizabeth Pass Loop, the High Sierra Trail, and several loops that can be done from the Mineral King trailhead. 🙂

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    1. I would definitely agree with that! Sequoia is the more road friendly of the two and the more visited. I also think that KCNP just gets overshadowed by Yosemeti, which definitely is more visitor friendly and has more mystique. In the same way Grand Teton to a certain extent suffers from comparison to Yellowstone, North Cascades is forgotten when compared to Mt. Rainier, etc. I would love to do North/South Lake. Evolution Basin looks great too…we need to go back for Whitney if for nothing else.

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  2. Pingback: East Coast vs. West Coast (Hiking) – BecauseItzThere

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